Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Venice: Tea at Jin Patisserie

This past Sunday, Ivana and I drove down to Venice's Abbot Kinney Blvd for an afternoon-tea-for-lunch adventure.  Our destination was Jin Patisserie, which looked charming based on its website and is also very popular on Yelp.  The patisserie is set a bit back from the street, and the main gate (more of a door) opens onto a small courtyard with tables.

It was drizzling quite steadily when we arrived, and there is in fact no indoor seating, but we got quite lucky in that the staff immediately offered to set us up inside - it turns out that there is just enough floor space inside the shop for a two-top.  The only other guests were five or so women having a merry bachelorette party on the porch.

First, the tea selection.  Jin Patisserie serves and sells teas from the French company The O Dor.  Ivana decided on Pu-erh and I chose a milk oolong, which is either an oolong tea that naturally has flavors of sweetness and creaminess, or has been flavored to a similar end result.  Given that The O Dor is supposed to be awesome, I'm hoping this milk oolong was the former, naturally-flavored type, but either way it was fragrant, smooth-tasting, and had a pleasant finish without any artificial aftertaste.  Ivana enjoyed the rich smokiness of her pu-erh, as well.

Pu-erh at top, milk oolong at bottom

The plates of savories and sweets were set down a bit later.  Each person's plate had two scones (served with clotted cream and jam), two egg salad sandwiches, a slice of spinach mushroom quiche, four little cakes (two chocolate-based and two fruit-based), a small piece of butter cake, and a little chocolate.

The scones and quiche were served warm, which was a nice touch.  I thought the scones were on the dry side, but still tasty, and the quiche was very tender and flavorful.  The egg salad sandwiches were simple, but contributed to the plate's savory side, and all of the cakes were delicious.  Our chocolates were herbal ganaches - I think a peppery flavor - with dark chocolate shells.

Photo courtesy of Ivana
We thought this afternoon tea was wonderful!  Each person's tea set - including a small pot of tea, which provided three cups, and the sweets/savories shown - was $19.  (Note that Jin Patisserie does not include free refills of hot water).  The quality of both the tea and the snacks, plus the patisserie's pretty atmosphere, made it a place that we'd happily return to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Potatoes, pancetta, pomegranates

Simple dinners have been the norm this week, with Trader Joe's purchases as a starting point.  Yesterday, I sauteed kale and paired it with a cup of that trusty tomato-and-roasted-red-pepper soup (the low-sodium version), which I simmered for a while with chopped shallot, frozen corn, and finally a beaten egg, salt, and black pepper.  Pretty good, especially with the thickness from the beaten egg.  Tonight I sauteed the shallot first before adding the soup, and then added some corn and a couple frozen shrimp.

Boring picture, I know

Over the summer, when there was plenty of white corn and cheerfully colored potato varietals at the Farmer's Market, I started making Smitten Kitchen's bacon corn hash, using pancetta instead of bacon, parsley or green onion, and loosely following the recipe's proportions.  Making a single big batch would provide me a week of breakfasts (usually reheated with an egg) in fine fashion.  Now corn is out of season, so tonight I just cooked potatoes with pancetta, adding some rosemary for extra flavor.

Dinner is served.

Corn may be out of season, but pomegranates are definitely in.  A family friend in Davis brought over some delicious homegrown pomegranates during Thanksgiving break, and on Monday Kelly surprised me with another lovely fruit from her boyfriend's tree.  That same afternoon, I listened to Martha Stewart's "Not My Job" interview on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me and learned about her technique for isolating pomegranate seeds.  I cracked open Kelly's pomegranate during tutorial on Monday night, breaking two plastic knives in the process, but without a bowl or wooden spoon, fingers were still the best (if very messy) approach.  Tonight, though, with one more pomegranate (from Trader Joe's, surprise surprise) sitting on my counter, and my full kitchen armament available, I decided to try Martha's technique.

Step 1: Make 4 cuts through the pomegranate skin, no deeper (so you don't cut into any of the seeds).

Step 2: Separate one of the quarters.  Hold the segment over a bowl and repeatedly whack it with [the edge of] a wooden spoon, which will loosen the seeds.  The whacking requires quite a bit of force, but provides excellent stress relief.

Whack, whack, whack!
One segment emptied, three to go.

Step 3: Repeat with the other segments. 

Step 4: Clean the counter (and in my case, cell phone as well).  Enjoy seeds.  This method is definitely less messy than picking out all the seeds with one's fingers, but some drops of juice still get dispersed.  It helps if one's shirt happens to be pomegranate seed-colored :-).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pear and chocolate chip scones

Last Tuesday evening, I was sitting at my desk feeling restless, and decided that instead of finishing my summary of the PBL journal club article, I wanted to bake.  So, I pulled out a recipe from Smitten Kitchen that, as is my habit, I had bookmarked a while back: roasted pear and chocolate scones.

My changes to the recipe:
- Instead of three Bartlett pears, I used two Bartlett and one Asian pear.
- Instead of 1/4 cup heavy cream, I used just under 1/4 cup soy milk combined with 2 tbsp melted butter.
- I added some cinnamon and vanilla extract.

I don't have a paddle attachment for my hand mixer, so instead, I worked the small chunks of butter into the dry ingredients with my fingers, and then used a spatula once the wet ingredients were added.  Two scones were baked immediately, and the other four were frozen on parchment paper.

The results were very satisfying: a crusty top, tender insides, lightly sweet, and with the surprisingly complementary bursts of chocolate and pear.  Perfect for breakfast!  Next time I might toss in some more chocolate chips, or actually use more substantial chunks as the recipe specifies.  Needless to say, the recently-released Smitten Kitchen cookbook just moved to the top of my cookbook wish list.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

West Hollywood: Animal

Sunday night was date night and a rather visually stunning one: Skyfall, followed by dinner at Animal.  I'd been thinking about trying Animal for over a year, since Andrew's first visit to LA, and his upcoming birthday seemed as good a time as any.  We arrived more than 15 minutes early for our 8:15pm reservation (turns out Sunday evening traffic is actually light in West Hollywood?!) and found that the restaurant was packed.  Animal doesn't have an inside area to wait, but their little heated "patio" outside the entrance is a surprisingly cozy place to peruse the evening's menu.

We were seated on time, water was poured, and our server soon came over and told us that for two people, 4-6 dishes is typical.  Here is what we ordered (names/descriptions copied directly from the menu):

Hamachi tostada with herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut:

Tandoori octopus, tamarind, mango, raita:

(Partly eaten before I remembered to take the picture)

Marrow bone, chimichurri, caramelized onions:

Grilled quail, plum char-siu, pear, apple, yogurt, pomegranate:

Our reactions to all of the dishes centered around the following three thoughts: "Wow, that's attractive," "Wow, that flavor combination is amazing," and "Wow, that portion is really small for the price."  The hamachi tostada - bracing, both refreshing and assertive - was Andrew's favorite; the tandoori octopus was velvety with some zing from the tamarind, and would be my choice out of the four.  Of course, all four dishes were beautifully presented, interesting, and delicious, and we understood why Animal is so popular.  That said, even being aware beforehand that it would be an expensive meal, we found it overpriced for the small portions, and I don't know that we'd go back even on a night when we were ok with splurging.  (After tax and a 20% tip, our bill was $73.30.)

Xavi, Elisa, and one of Xavi's coworkers had just been seated as Andrew and I headed out, which was a happy coincidence.  Nothing on the dessert menu had called to us, so instead, we went next door to Canter's Deli for some coffee and two massive hamentashen.  Less refined, yes, but it all cost less than almost any one dish at Animal, and in its own way, was no less satisfying.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Roast chicken and vegetables with rosemary honey glaze

Andrew came to visit this past weekend, and in anticipation of cooking dinner one night, we tossed around some food ideas last week.  "Maple syrup and pecans" came up, which evolved to "honey and pecans" (because I already had honey and didn't want to buy maple syrup).  Ultimately, we decided to make roast chicken, carrots, and potatoes with rosemary-infused honey glaze.

Chicken after baking (turned pink from the purple carrots underneath)

On Saturday morning, I bought potatoes (red, purple, and yellow), carrots (crazy purple- and rainbow-colored!), and rosemary at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market.  Boneless/skinless chicken thighs and pecans came from Trader Joe's.  The potato-stand owner at the Market gave me some tips once I told him what we were planning to cook: 1) Anything other than salt and oil will get scorched when roasted at 400 degF, so add pepper or glazes towards the end; and 2) Spread out potato pieces or else they won't get crisp in the oven.

Potatoes, dutifully spread out

In the evening, we arranged the chicken pieces on top of the peeled/chopped carrots, coated the chicken with some safflower oil and a sprinkling of salt, and baked it all at 400 degF.  The potatoes were baked separately.  Meanwhile, we gently heated honey with some rosemary on the stove for nearly half an hour.  The fragrant sauce was poured onto the chicken, followed by a generous sprinkling of pecans, for the final 10-15 minutes of baking.  On the side we had some salad (spicy lettuce/frisee blend plus cherry tomatoes) and a little raisin-hazelnut-multigrain bread, also from the market, and poured some Chianti.

Our verdict: this cooking experiment was a success!  The melding of sweet, savory, herbal, and nutty flavors, with contrasting textures from the chicken, vegetables, and nuts, made the dish particularly satisfying, and somehow reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner.  In any future iterations, we would want to add some acid, such as red wine vinegar, to help cut the sweetness; on Saturday, the salad (which we ate without dressing) provided that balance.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Guest post by the PNBC: Elementals in Whistler

Back in September, E sent me this great review of Elementals from her end-of-summer vacation to Whistler.  I'm finally posting it - better late than never, right?  Enjoy!


M and I took to the road last weekend and headed up to Canada for a last hurrah before the new school year.  Our vacation destination was Whistler, the beautiful ski resort and mountain village in British Columbia featured in the 2010 winter olympics.  Our hotel was at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain (Whistler's matching peak) and we spent a lot of time hiking by pristine lakes and streams. 

We made time for a romantic date night, though, and went to "Elementals Urban Tapas".  We've come to like the multiple small plate style of dining because it allows us to try a wider variety of dishes; the restaurants adhering to this model also seem to be typically trendy and lounge-like which we like for ambiance.  This restaurant was no exception, and the dim lighting and open kitchen set the mood and gave us a lot to watch.  We kept one of our menus so we could try to guess what the chefs were cooking.  The chefs were also very talented; the food was delicious and we enjoyed our meal enormously.  We started with a simple green salad, with apples, celery, toasted nuts, and arugula, dressed with a light and complementary vinaigrette. 

It was crunchy and good and helped us pace ourselves so we could prolong the evening with additional courses.  For our next course we chose the lettuce cups, which came on a long tray with ingredients for us to self-assemble.  There were bean sprouts, shredded carrots and cabbage, thin salty rice noodles, toasted cashews, and honey-chili tofu.

From the menu it sounded like the tofu was going to be deep-fried and M was a little disappointed to find it squishy, but it had a creaminess that reflected good cooking rather than its raw texture.  The build-your-own format was a little messy but also fun, and we could top them off with a delicious sauce I'd put on anything.

Our final course had prawn and scallop skewers, adventurous for me since I don't typically enjoy prawns; these prawns, however, changed my mind.  The perfectly caramelized outside made the scallops and prawns delicious, and they were very fresh and without any undue fishy flavor.

The coconut vermicelli noodles that accompanied were a little disappointing because they were cold, but the papaya slaw with brown sugar and bell peppers was unusual and delicious.

It was a lovely dinner and we were so grateful that Yelp steered us to this restaurant; it was just what we were hoping for and we would definitely (and will hopefully) return.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

West Hollywood: AOC

Now that I've taken a full two months off from blogging, the backlog of food pictures I have in Picasa is becoming distressing.  And when I realized this week that a guest blog post from E (my ever-enthusiastic Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief) had been sitting in my inbox for months now, my own slackerness (slackening? slackerhood?) started feeling shameful.  So, here we go.  This may be No Shave November for some, but as far as my food blog goes, I think I'll aim for No Negligence.

First up is AOC in West Hollywood, where I met David, Hua, and Hua's out-of-town friend Aaron for brunch on a weekend back in July.  AOC is a wine bar and one of Suzanne Goin's establishments; I hadn't been to any of them before AOC, so I was curious.  Parking is by valet or on the street, and we all got lucky with street spots nearby.  The interior is attractive in that high ceilings + clean lines + judicious use of dark wood way (very common these days but still appealing).  We were seated in the smaller half of the restaurant, of which I don't have much lasting other than the temperature; they really should have turned the thermostat down a little that day.

I ordered the soft-shell crab BLTA, which consisted of an entire whole soft-shell crab with lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, and garlic aioli on a brioche bun.   It looked quite impressive, and was definitely tasty if very rich:

David ordered the oven-baked pancakes with blueberries and pistachios.  I think this dish was definitely the winner on the table.  Toasty edges, fluffy center, some crunch from the pistachios, and some lemon flavor to round out the sweetness.  Delicious!

Hua ordered the "tavern pastry plate," which consisted of a chocolate croissant, a scone of some sort, and another pastry I don't recall, all very good.  She also tried a side of the thick-cut bacon and the fruit plate, which our server said was sourced from that morning's Farmer's Market.  Aaron ordered the duck confit with mushroom hash, poached eggs, and aged balsamic.  He asked for it to be prepared gluten-free, and the kitchen readily agreed to do so, although the first plate they sent out did have to be sent back.  (No pictures of the pastry or confit/hash, sorry.)  Portions here are certainly generous, so I think sharing any of these dishes would have been fine (and would have prevented a food coma afterward).

In general I'm very wary of driving to or from West Hollywood, since it almost always involves some congestion and a quest for parking.  AOC isn't exactly convenient, and on top of that, prices are on the high side (most brunch dishes are $13-17), so it won't become a go-to.  But if I already had plans in the WeHo area, and a friend (or two) were up for some indulgence, then I think sharing some of those pancakes and maybe the confit/hash would be an enjoyable option.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Palo Alto Sol

I lived on California Ave in Palo Alto for more than a year and thus walked past Palo Alto Sol countless times, but didn't actually eat there until last month.  Over the summer I started hearing much more about it, thanks to a) Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's well-publicized patronage, and b) Andrew's raving about the mole after having dinner there with his lab.  Accordingly, we (not including Zuckerberg and Chan) planned a dinner excursion for my most recent weekend visit.

With the no-reservations policy in mind, we arrived around 5:30pm and chose one of the tables tucked into the corners near the entrance.  A big basket of chips and three kinds of salsa were quickly set down, we ordered margaritas, and then we chose the following entrees to share:

Mole enchiladas with beef, served with rice and black beans.  The mole was delicious (certainly our favorite part of the dinner): complex, velvety, a little smoky, and with the perfect amount of chocolate flavor.  The sprinkling of sesame seeds on top was a tasty enhancement.

Pollo Guajillo, i.e. chicken in a sauce of sour cream, Guajillo peppers, and herbs.  Very mild, and just a little bit tangy.  This dish came with the same rice and beans, plus flour and corn tortillas.  We made little tacos, which were particularly excellent when topped with dashes of salsa.

Dinner was reasonably priced (especially for Palo Alto), and portions are generous.  We finished almost everything but were definitely stuffed, and thus well-prepared for a rousing round of mini-golf.  I won this time, but I'm calling it luck ;-).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scrumptious Seattle with the PNBC: Bainbridge Island

Today E concludes our Seattle series coverage with this post on our Saturday adventure.

Though the Seattle series has technically wrapped up, I wanted to make sure to get in a pitch for the lovely Bainbridge Island, a little island about a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.  All of us piled into the car on Saturday, parked on the ferry, and enjoyed the beautiful view of the city in the sunshine.

Picture by Andrew

It was morning so the natural first stop was Blackbird Bakery, a favorite among island visitors (and locals!) for their toast with jam.

Toast for everyone!

I'm not sure which of their simple, hearty breads goes into this perfection, but having had it before I recommended that everyone give it a try.  It's hard to believe that mere toast could be so delicious, but I think Andrew's picture, below, does it justice.  [Ed.: We also tried the plain croissant, the rhubarb tart, and the beach ball cookie.  The cookie won points for cuteness, but the croissant and rhubarb tart were strong contenders in the deliciousness category.]

Sometimes simplicity is the most beautiful.

Following a quick hike out at Gazzam Lake park, we decided that obviously it was time to eat again and headed to a little lunch place called Fork and Spoon just around the corner from Blackbird Bakery that offers simple sandwich/soup/salad fare.

Desserts from Blackbird are available at the ordering counter.

They had take-out figured out and put together a nice, multi-containered setup for us, but only those who had ordered a sandwich/salad combo seemed particularly satisfied with their meal.  P ordered a tabbouleh salad which she had intended as an entree but was really very small; I ordered a creamy polenta with roasted root vegetables, which was good but turned out to be 95% polenta.  [Ed.: The hummus sandwich, tuna sandwich, and meatloaf sandwich were also really good.]  When I return I think I'll opt to eat-in rather than take-out and see if that makes a difference.

Meatloaf sandwich with tomato relish, coleslaw, and tabbouleh salad

Despite the inconsistencies, this lunch was a solid way to kick off the rest of the day as we went wine tasting.  We headed north on the island and visited two wineries, most notably at Rolling Bay winery, which had a beautiful tasting room and garden and we whiled away the afternoon at a hefty wood slab table in the sunshine.

The wine was good and the winery provided bread and a Seattle classic, Beecher's cheese.  It was nice to slow down our pace and enjoy our time together - a great end to our adventure.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fig and blueberry tart

In celebration of summer produce, two weeks ago I baked a fig-and-blueberry tart, approximately following the same Amanda Hesser recipe that I've used so many times before (it's so easy, and works well with apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, and apparently figs and berries too).  The tart hung out in the oven along with some Parmesan potatoes, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers:

And then it was done: bubbly and quite fragrant.

Eaten with some soy frozen yogurt, the tart made for a tasty weekday dessert.

Yes, this picture was Instagrammed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Scrumptious Seattle: Dahlia Bakery

We left Seattle on Sunday afternoon, but fit in one last culinary excursion that morning.  Dahlia Bakery was just six or seven blocks from hotel, so after leaving our bags with the front desk, we walked up 4th Street until arriving at Dahlia Bakery (one of Tom Douglas' ventures, just next door from Dahlia Lounge and Serious Pie, and across the street from Lola):

Here is the display case of cakes and coconut cream pies:

Here's a close-up of the "famous" coconut cream pies in mini form.  I couldn't turn them down.

There is also a case of breads and cookies:

A mini coconut tart is called a "coco bite."  Mine got packaged in an unnecessarily pretty box, which opened to reveal a glorious little pastry that was both extremely creamy and somehow light-tasting, thanks to a fresh and crumbly crust and the feathery shards of toasted coconut.

I had read about the breakfast sandwiches as must-orders.  They are made with English muffins baked in-house, and come in three varieties: one with tomato, one with ham, and one with bacon.  We ordered the bacon (with arugula and egg) and the ham (with cheddar and egg), and found them wholly satisfying.  Andrew told me later that he had been skeptical - how good can a breakfast sandwich be? - but that these definitely hit the spot.

We finished with an order of the also-famous doughnuts (more like doughnut holes), which come six to an order, freshly fried and covered in cinnamon sugar.  They are served with some thick whipped cream (flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, I think) and some strawberry rhubarb compote, and it is way to easy to get through a bag.

And so, with happily full bellies, we left Seattle, looking forward to our next visit.  (Do stay tuned for one more post this week from the PNBC, about our wining and dining on beautiful Bainbridge Island.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Scrumptious Seattle with the PNBC: The best of all possible foods, at Fainting Goat gelato

As promised, here is the first of two posts written by E after our recent Seattle reunion.

There is a gelato shop in my neighborhood, Wallingford, called Fainting Goat.  It enjoys enormous popularity, and for good reason - my lactose tolerant friends say that their gelato, particularly the salted caramel (which C got both times we visited) is wonderful, but I just have to say that I think their grapefruit sorbet is the best thing I've ever tasted in this world.  I have thought long and hard about this and am actually not exaggerating.

I am lucky enough to be able to go there once a week or so, and despite my limited consumption possibilities I've been able to enjoy a wide variety of sorbets, all of which have been amazing, especially the lemon (and of course grapefruit).  They have an unusual mojito sorbet which is also very popular and realistic-tasting :)

One of the first things C and I did after I picked her up from the light rail downtown was head straight to Fainting Goat.  The clerk found us amusing and allowed C to try as many flavors as she wanted before she settled on a daring (but apparently amazing) combination of salted caramel gelato and grapefruit sorbet.  To bookend the trip properly, we all returned to Fainting Goat after dinner on our final evening, and P went for a winning combination of dark chocolate gelato and berry sorbet.

(This photo was taken from Yelp)

C likes samples.

*What is a fainting goat, you might ask?  It is an evolutionary mystery.  Fainting goats' legs lock in response to fear or surprise and they fall over until the shock wears off.  I hypothesize that the only reason such an easy source of prey has persisted is through humans breeding them for amusement.