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Archive for February, 2010

Chez Panisse: Like Big Game Hunting

Posted by Austios on February 26, 2010

Before I begin, think about this question: What are some of the hardest restaurant reservations in the world? Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin or Mario Batali’s Babbo in New York? Thomas’ Keller’s The French Laundry or Bouchon in Napa? What about Ferran Adria’s El Bulli? I think El Bulli is arguably the hardest reservation to get in the world. There are some who will agree with me on that.

If you have been fortunate enough to have dined at one of these restaurants, you are in a select group of individuals who have experienced and tasted culinary greatness. I equate it to big game hunting. The aforementioned restaurants are like the most prized game animals and once you’ve eaten at them, you feel like you want a trophy you can mount on your wall or mantle. Now, before I continue, I personally have to say I am against game hunting. Unless you plan on eating the animal, I don’t really believe in hunting at all.

But for arguments sake, I make the analogy. But I digress.

While the above restaurants are near impossible to get a reservation to the point where you have to plan a trip around the reservation and not vice versa, there are a plethora of other restaurants across the country and around the world that are not impossible to reserve, but for a variety of reasons, can be difficult to reserve. Some of these places require a reservation several months in advance or always have the prime dinner times filled up very quick, so you are essentially forced to eat dinner early at either 5 PM or rather late at like 10 PM.

Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse is considered to be in this category. They accept reservations up to one month in advance, so chances are if you make a spontaneous trip up to Berkeley and try to call for a reservation on the day of or a day before, they’re going to be booked. For me, I knew I was going to be in Northern California for a conference the prior weekend, and having decided to extend my stay a few extra days, decided to try and make reservations here. I called exactly one month to the day, so making a reservation for 8 PM on my desired day was not a problem.

If you knew anything about Alice Waters, you would maybe assume that this restaurant would be located on a more rural neighborhood or even on farmland (as I imagined it to be), but no, it’s located a less busy stretch of Shattuck Ave, about ½ mile North of Downtown Berkeley. I do, however, love the outside entrance of the restaurant, which does make you believe you are out in the countryside.

My dining companion was running late, so the host invited me to wait at the bar upstairs in the café. Even the café itself is really gorgeous with it’s own separate kitchen. I went up to the bar and ordered a glass of prosecco and texted my friend that I was upstairs.

Once she arrived, we went back downstairs and let the host know we were ready to be sat. The dining room is beautiful but not extravagant, which probably was Alice Waters’ intentions when designing this space. She wants the focus to be on the food and not on the décor. I mean, makes sense, doesn’t it? *sarcasm*

Our table was right next to the kitchen, so I had a great view of everything going on. We started with a nice crusty sourdough baguette and nicoise olives.

For those of you not familiar with Chez Panisse, the menu changes DAILY, a testament to Waters’ desire to find, cook, and serve only the freshest ingredients possible, getting all of their ingredients from farm fresh and local purveyors. For a chef, it’s quite a very bold practice to not know what you’re making until that morning, but all the more power to those who work there. I actually do appreciate the desire to put out only the freshest things you can find. Based on what they find, they will create a pre fixe 4-course menu for $75. Very reasonable for same day ingredients if you ask me.

There seemed to a seafood theme among the first 3 courses. The first course was a chicory (Annabelle’s chicory to be precise) salad with a creamy herb vinaigrette and bottarga. We initially picked out a seafood like flavor. I looked at the menu and I actually had to ask what bottarga was. He told us it was a cured fish roe, which explains the seafood flavor. The dressing, despite being “creamy”, was in fact quite light.

2nd course was Saffron tagliatelle with Dungeness crab, green garlic, and wild fennel. The tagliatelle was very nice yet I didn’t really taste much saffron, as it was overpowered by the delicate crab. The green garlic and wild fennel added nice earthy notes to the flavor of the dish. Only thing is my friend found a tiny piece of shell in hers. Oops….

Main course was grilled stripped bass with black truffle sauce, celery root and sunchoke puree, chanterelle mushrooms, and braised escarole. While everything on the plate was really great, the fish was DEFINITELY the star. Cooked perfectly, you know the fish is fresh if you can still taste the ocean. Yes, I could still taste the ocean on this sucker. I absolutely loved it and I wish I could have had another piece.

For dessert, meyer lemon soufflé. Simple, but very good. Garnished with a slice of candied lemon, the soufflé actually had bits of candied lemon mixed in throughout, so you got these little bits of citrus to texturally contrast the light soufflé. Great flavor and wonderfully executed. Though some sort of sorbet or sauce would’ve been nice, it didn’t need it.

We finished the meal with a pot of decaffeinated tea, which I forget the name but was good and a couple different mignardise.

Now that I have been to the famous Chez Panisse, I can essentially take this off my list of restaurants to try before I die and mount it up on the wall above my fireplace. Or maybe I should make myself a trophy and engrave it commemorating the evening.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 548-5049

Chez Panisse in San Francisco
Chez Panisse on Urbanspoon

Posted in food, Restaurants | 5 Comments »

New Feature: Video Blog!

Posted by Austios on February 24, 2010

I wanted to introduce a new feature that you will be seeing on Living To Eat: VIDEO BLOG!

I will at times use my iPhone to shoot a short video of what I’m doing or where I’m eating. I figured I have the technology, I might as well use it. I however do not have a data plan on my phone (shhhh!) and am not able to post videos right away.

This first one is actually a retro active video, since I shot it last Wednesday but am just uploading it now. In fact, all of my videos will be like that since, again, I don’t have data on my phone.

Posted in food, Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

Stir It 28

Posted by Austios on February 12, 2010

I am very proud to announce that I will be participating in Stir It 28 Multi-City US-wide fundraiser as we continue to aid those affected by the tragic earthquake in Haiti. Below is all the information for the Los Angeles area event, happening on February 21 from 4-7 at a private residence in Hollywood.

Purchase your ticket at http://flanboyanteats.com or http://cococooks.blogspot.com. Click the link that says “Purchase Tickets For STIR IT 28 Culinary Event-Feb. 21st”. Be sure to indicate you are buying a ticket for the LOS ANGELES event. Email chrystal@duodishes.com once you have purchased, and you will receive the address.

Free valet offered by Logistic Parking (http://www.logisticparking.com/) for the first 50 cars, so arrive early!

Enjoy a wide selection of food from:
Gisele, Small Pleasures Catering
Austin, Austio’s Catering
Barrie Lynn, The Cheese Impresario
Chrystal & Amir, The Duo Dishes
Michael, Southbay Foodies
Diana, Diana Takes a Bite
Cathy, Gastronomy Blog
Andrea, L.A. Easy Meals
Esi, Dishing Up Delights
Greg, Sippity Sup
Patti, Worth the Whisk
Erika, In Erika’s Kitchen
Cynthia, Furey and the Feast
Krissy & Daniel, The Food Addicts
Josie, Daydreamer Desserts
Jennifer, Domestic Divas
Nastassia, Let Me Eat Cake
Nancy Goodman, Food Art LA
Anisha, Food Is My Nish
H.C., L.A. and O.C. Foodventures
Mary, The Food Librarian
Craig, Hipcooks

Grey Goose vodka and LA brand attaché Christophe Namer partner with Natalie Bovis-Nelsen of TheLiquidMuse.com to create a signature cocktail, “Hearts for Haiti”. The Liquid Muse’s wine bar will present sangrias featuring Fre Alcohol-Removed Wine and Sutter Home Wine and the Sparkling Pomegranate Snowflake “mocktail”.

Dollar raffle tickets for purchase at the door with a variety of great prizes!

Additional sponsors include Trader Joe’s, Ralphs and Party City.

Publicity and outreach thanks to A Juke Joint Promotions, AtoZ Productions and Sillar Management.

Posted in Catering, food, Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

Jar Restaurant: Duke Ellington Called

Posted by Austios on February 11, 2010

When I agreed to join Andrea at Jar for dinner during DineLA restaurant week, I simultaneously knew what I was and wasn’t getting myself into. On one hand, Chef Suzanne Tracht is a well-known chef who I have heard about and have followed relatively closely, especially since her appearance on Top Chef Masters in which she triumphantly was able to advance to the champions round. On the other hand, I inversely knew relatively very little about her restaurants in terms of how they actually were thought of by the general public and my friends. I knew that this restaurant was one of the more sought after reservations in town, but again, I unfortunately had not heard much about the food itself.

Just as with Petrossian, this location is near but not among La Cienega’s “Restaurant Row”. I especially appreciate that because it allows the incoming guests to not lose the restaurant among the ones next door.

It actually took me to look at the website to find the words, but upon walking in, I felt as if I was transported to the 1940s. It had that classic kind of feel, from the furniture to the lines to the fixtures, the décor screamed Duke Ellington. The only thing missing was a live jazz band in the corner featuring none other than, Duke Ellington. I say all this not as a bad thing, but it was kind of cool and I liked it. A little pleasantly unexpected I should say. I checked in with the hostess and once I realized I was first to arrive, I took a seat at the bar. The bartender immediately came over and I ordered just a water. I actually kind of liked the coaster with the logo/restaurant name in the corner and the baby blue color.

Andrea arrived shortly thereafter and went back to the hostess. After a brief blank stare, she realized I had already checked in and that we were ready to be seated. We were lead to our table relatively in one corner. The furniture kept very well with the theme of the décor. Andrea sat on the inside, which was padded bench seating, and I sat on the outside. What was interesting was that my chair, which resembled more like an egg chair, was is had rollers. Not that I had any problems in those regards that night, but I’m just saying.

What happened next probably set the tone for a majority of the evening. Where is our server? We seriously waited almost 5 minutes before we decided to flag down a busboy to get our server. Then when he did finally come, he took our drink orders and I asked him to decant the bottle of wine we had brought, but he apparently “forgot” to give us the menus. He seemingly avoided us for a few minutes before we could flag him down to give us menu. By this point, I was getting quite upset.

Looking over the menu, the choices seemed pretty straight forward. However, it included an amuse bouche. There was a choice between a crab deviled egg or a char siu pork croissant. I ordered the crab deviled egg while Andrea ordered the croissant. My appetizer I ordered the apple and celery salad with arugula and watercress. I decided on the Jar signature pot roast as my entrée, and for dessert, the famous chocolate pudding. Andrea ordered the roasted beet salad, lemongrass chicken with kaffir lime leaf, and banana cream pie.

Within a few minutes, our amuse bouche arrived. Now, I have to tell you, I personally am not that big a fan of deviled eggs. I love eggs and I will eat them scrambled, fried, over easy, poached, but just when it comes to deviled, something about it just isn’t all that appealing to me. However, the fact that Andrea ordered the croissant, I, on autopilot, ordered something else so we could try each other’s food. It was just ok, but at least the crab wasn’t overcooked.

However, I liked the char siu croissant better. The pork had good flavor. I mean, meat stuffed in pastry. How can you go wrong with that?

Our salads came out and they looked pretty good but straightforward. My salad had a good mix of apples and fennel and wasn’t overly dressed. The dressing provided nice balance to the crisp apples and celery.

I had a beet from Andrea’s salad and well… it’s a beet, what’d you expect?

When our entrees arrived, I was ready to dig in and I was actually quite excited. My pot roast was simply presented. A small block of meat topped with caramelized onions and braised root vegetables, all in a beef broth. The pot roast was pretty good, maybe a little underseasoned and seemed it could have been just a touch more tender, but I still enjoyed it very much. The broth was not salty. Not perfect, but solid.

Andrea asked if I wanted some of her chicken, and next thing I know, she’s loading up half of it onto my bread plate. She claimed there’s no way she could have finished it all. She’s actually told me that before yet I don’t believe her for some reason. However, the chicken was really good and I definitely could have ordered it as well. Well seasoned, cooked perfectly. Definitely had plenty of Asian influence with the lemongrass and kaffir.

For DineLA, we each had a choice of 2 side dishes to choose from about 6 or 7 options. Andrea ordered the purple potato and the pea tendrils. I ordered the French fries and creamed spinach. The fries were good as was the creamed spinach. I did not try the pea tendrils or the purple potato.

We arrived at dessert and I think I became more excited than I was for the entrees. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a pastry chef and while I love most foods, one of the things I get excited about the most is dessert. I will have dessert anywhere and after any meal. I will even have dessert when I haven’t even had dinner. The chocolate pudding was magnificent. You could really taste the quality of the dark chocolate. The crème fraiche provided a sweet balance to the subtle bitterness of the chocolate. I absolutely loved this and desperately attempted to get every last bit with my spoon.

The banana cream pie was really good as well. With whole slices of banana, the custard wasn’t too sweet, the crust just perfectly sweet and flaky, and the whipped cream and caramel on top to add another dimension of sweetness, what would have sent it over the top is maybe some chocolate shavings or melted chocolate smothered on the bottom of the tart shell. I’m just saying.

The entire night, I was tempted to ask if Chef Tracht was in the kitchen or not, however given the environment, it just seemed it would have been a little awkward? *shrug* Perhaps our paths will cross some other way.

Now that I have knocked this off of my list of LA Restaurants to try, I look back and consider it a very great meal, despite the so-so service, with solid food.

Jar Restaurant
8225 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-6566

Jar in Los Angeles
Jar on Urbanspoon

Posted in food, Restaurants | 3 Comments »

Petrossian: All Talk, All Bite

Posted by Austios on February 2, 2010

There are not many things in life that truly and fully live up to its hype. Perhaps a handful of bands and musicians, movies, automobiles, tech gadgets, and other means of entertainment. One such of these things, especially, can be restaurants. Because food is very subjective in itself, it is often difficult for food establishments to please everybody and live up to the reputation that some people build up for it.

However, there are some restaurants that do succeed in living up to the hype of its loyal patrons. I personally do not allow a restaurant to become too hyped up in my mind, as speaking from personal experience, makes the dining experience more pleasant. But not to worry, I do not let myself lower my expectations so much that my experience thus becomes biased. I’m not that naïve.

No matter whichever way you slice it, any place will never satisfy everybody’s appetite or palate, but it’s the places that don’t allow the subjectivity affect their execution of their cuisine.

One such place, I believe, is Petrossian Boutique & Café in West Hollywood. Situated in the somewhat “middle ground” that is between the Sunset strip of WeHo and Beverly Hills, this little gem sits in a rather more quiet neighborhood along Robertson Blvd, away from the hustle and bustle of the Beverly Center and La Cienega’s “Restaurant Row” just a quarter of a mile away. In fact, I am glad that this is away from restaurant row, otherwise it would have to constantly compete with the guys next door.

The space is simple but beautiful. A primarily a white color scheme, its subtleness disallows the diner to become distracted from what truly matters: the food. I came here with Felicia, Andee, and ’Nish, however the latter 2 were running late respectively from Irvine and Riverside, so it just ended up being just Felicia and I. She had apparently already arrived while I was circling the block in an attempt to find parking, finding her sat in the dining room. However, the restaurant being relatively empty at the time, she asked if I wanted to sit in the boutique, in which we would have a view of the relatively open kitchen. I say “relatively” because there is a somewhat of a lattice looking shelf/wall in the way. I mean, there are open spaces for where the dishes come out, but it was a little disappointing to have the view partially obstructed.

We were in fact here for DineLA, however we knew when I first had made this reservation that we were going to order off the a la carte menu, refusing to skip out on the infamous truffle mac n cheese. I had brought a bottle of wine, so Felicia offered to pick up the tab on one other dish in lieu of splitting the corkage fee. So right off the bat, we were transforming our 3 course DineLA menu into a 5 course menu.

For my appetizer, I ordered the shrimp papillote with passion fruit and chili/ginger sauces. For the entrée, I could not resist ordering the braised pork belly with soft polenta and balsamic relish onions. And for dessert, the Petrossian Chocolate Moelleux, which was described to me as being a fudgy cake.

Executive Chef Ben Bailly started us off with an amuse bouche, sending out a platter of assorted blinis with caviar, salmon roe, and trout roe. Ok seriously, caviar? YES PLEASE!!! I’ve had salmon roe before (if you love sushi, you probably have as well), but I’ve never had trout roe before. The trout roe was subtly different and I loved all three.

Our appetizers then came out. We actually had both ordered the shrimp papillote, and looking back in retrospect, we should have ordered different items so we could try more. Oh well, c’est la vie. But this dish was great. The shrimp was perfect, the exterior was perfectly crunchy, and the sauces paired very well. I attempted as much as I could to get as much sauce as I could on the 3 pieces. These would make for an awesome finger food.

Next came our 2 supplements. I probably could have attacked the truffle mac n cheese as soon as it hit the table, but being the Asian foodie blogger that I am, I grabbed my camera instead. We took turns taking pictures of both the truffle mac n cheese and the napoleon tartare. The tartare was beautiful with a thick layer of caviar sandwiched in between 2 generous layers of raw chopped steak. I knew we were in for a treat

Oh…my… GOD!!! The truffle mac n cheese is BEYOND phenomenal!!! There is a lot of hype over this dish and it did not fail to deliver. In fact, it went beyond the hype and easily blew us out of the water. The beautiful al dente orrechiette pasta in a rich parmesan cream sauce with bacon, chives, and sliced black truffles hit it out of the park. The entire time while devouring this dish, we could not stop saying how good it was. Who would have though of taking such a simple and comforting dish such as macaroni and cheese and making it into such an indulgent and luxurious delicacy? I probably could have eaten an entire bowl of this and be set for the night.

Not to take a back seat to the mac n cheese, the napoleon tartare was great as well. A quite large portion, the fresh steak with a touch of mustard was a great balance to the salty caviar. We probably could have used a couple more pieces of crostini to eat with it, but not that it needed it. We also were a little surprised given the amount of caviar in this dish and the sheer portion size, it would be more than it actually is. What I loved especially about this is that, according to Dan, our server, Chef Bailly “seasoned it himself personally”, which makes it sound like he normally doesn’t. *shrug*

Just as we were expecting to receive our entrees, Chef Bailly sends out another complimentary dish, the wild mushroom cappuccino. With braised chestnuts and croutons, this complex soup has such a depth of flavor that inferior soups can only imagine in their wildest dreams. The braised chestnuts resting at the bottom offered great texture and added further to the flavor profile of the soup. Needless to say, I forewent the spoon and sipped it as if were actually a cappuccino.

When our entrees finally arrived, I felt like as if I had already had an entrée. However, who could succeed in resisting pork belly? I thought so. A large piece in itself, the top was glistening like the moonlight off of the ocean surface from all the melted pork fat. I was ecstatic to see that my camera accentuated the gloss coming off the pork belly. Served on a bed of polenta and topped with a quenelle of balsamic relish onions, it was just a sight to be had. The succulent pork belly, cheesy and smooth polenta and sweet onion relish was a match made in heaven of flavors. Though I used my knife, it didn’t need it. And while this polenta doesn’t compare to Ludo’s version, it was still really good. The onions added just a touch of sweetness to help balance the dish.

We FINALLY arrived at dessert. While my Chocolate Moelleux was good, I do have to grudgingly admit that it was the least exciting dish of the night. Though the caramel ice cream rolled in pistachios was good. Presentation was rather simplistic as well.

Felicia ordered the Sicilian pistachio crème brulee. The burnt sugar on top had the perfect thickness and that wonderful “cracking” sound. Trust me; gently tap on the crust with the back of your spoon. You’ll know it when you hear it. Served without any garnishes, this dessert had a very complex yet wonderful flavor. I actually had picked out green tea, but Chef Bailly told us later that there was not any green tea in it. I actually felt ashamed that I had mistakenly picked out green tea. It wasn’t too sweet either. I really loved this dessert.

When our dessert course had arrived, following almost right behind was another dish that the chef sent out, the third dessert on the DineLA menu that neither of us had ordered, the vanilla panna cotta with strawberry jam. The panna cotta itself was light and had perfect texture. The strawberry jam was more like macerated strawberries, but they were just really good. The crushed pistachios sprinkled on top added that touch of textural contrast that I always look for in dishes.

When all was said and done, we laid our spoons in pseudo defeat. We were incredibly full, considering our planned 5 course meal turned into practically a 9 course meal. We finished the meal with a cappuccino. This is when apparently Chef Ben looked over at our table and Felicia gave him what I think was an “a-ok” sign. It was rather quick. It was then that he decided to take a moment from cleaning up.

I gotta say, Ben is probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Yes, you’ll need to get past his rather heavy accent, but as a fellow chef, I could tell he just absolutely enjoys what he does. While his following may not be as large Chef Ludo (but still growing), he’s very good about responding to others’ tweets, retweeting mentions, and overall interaction. As we were chatting about this and that, he offered up some chocolates from the boutique. Despite being very full, I cannot turn down chocolate. I forgot exactly what I had or to take a photo, but they were very good. My favorite was probably the one that was similar to a Ferraro Roche, but much better.

Service was outstanding. Dan was a superstar the entire evening. He was very courteous and very attentive, constantly filling our wine and waters without us needing to say a word. He actually casually had said when he brought our check, “You have inspired me to follow more chefs on Twitter”, after we had mentioned a couple of times that we’ve interacted with Chef Ben on multiple occasions but had never met him. In fact, the rest of the staff was very courteous as well. I’ve always believed that attentive and friendly service is what completes a fabulous dining experience filled with fantastic food.

There is no doubt that this restaurant and the food lived up to the hype. In fact, I would say this went above and beyond its hype. Felicia and I agreed that despite only being January, this may have set the bar very high for best meal of 2010.

I cannot WAIT to return. Merci Chef!!!

Petrossian Boutique & Restaurant
321 N. Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 271-0576

Petrossian Boutique & Cafe in Los Angeles
Petrossian Boutique & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in food, Restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »