Monday, August 25, 2008
McDonald's French Fries and Helena's Pipikaula Short Ribs
Flying through Chicago usually means one thing: delays. It's gotta be one of the shittiest airports in the world to fly through because it's horribly situated in Illinois where snowstorms and weather cause constant delays year round. And today is no different.
Today is a two-hour delay. But why? Is it because of equipment? Personnel? Who knows? Airlines refuse to tell the truth on anything, much less the cost of fuel - why expect them to come clean on delays? Bastards.
What we really need is a one hundred dollar per person tax on flight delays levied on the airlines. That would cause them to get their act together. Or force them out of business.
Meanwhile, I'm eating my favorite pipikaula short ribs from Helena's (I kept them in the fridge over the weekend) and some french fries from McDonald's while reading The Judas Strain.
First Class on United 843's Boeing 757.
My two week odyssey out west is ending and I'm on the way back home through Chicago. In the news, you always hear about airlines and their troubles. One thing I've noticed is that the airplanes are always full. If they're so full, how come they keep saying their losing money?
And the flight to Chicago was jam-packed. Overbooked. Crap, I should have chosed the upgrade last night while checking in online. Now I'm screwed. Destined to wedge myself in-between some jerkoff and Vince Vaughn - I don't know which is worse.
Apple juice and hot nuts.
Happily, days of sitting on my ass flying around the world is about to pay off. They've called my name over the loudspeaker and asked me to come to the counter. Of course, there's six LA Airport Police officers standing there too and I can't help but think they're here to arrest me for some past indiscretion. Luckily, they're arresting the drunken lady that wants to fly on our flight and not me (this time).
As I saunter up to the counter, I'm handed a different boarding pass. One that puts me on the other side of the curtain and into the comfortable environs of First Class. It's a domestic flight so I'm not expecting much, but am very glad to be out of the fracas in economy.
Pastrami Sandwich with bread, rice salad and ginger ale.
While waiting for boarding, I spot a book that someone has left on a table. I grab it and start reading. It's pretty interesting and since I have no other reading material, I co-opt it for myself. It's called The Judas Strain by James Rollins and it's about some sort of virus that's about to be unleashed upon the world by a shadowy organization that must be stopped by the hero.
Moments later, a young man approaches a black man in a baseball cap and holds out a book for him to sign. I never would have noticed him otherwise, but the man signs the book and after a few minutes, I realize that the man in the cap is Don Cheadle with his two children. Figured he would be in the front with me, but evidently he's crushed somewhere in the back as well. Poor bastard.
The flight to Chicago is pleasant. The First Class seats are actually better and more comfortable than the ones on the 767 to Hawaii. In fact, this First Class makes the Hawaii first class downright paltry. I was expecting the worst and it turned out great. They even used real linens. And gave me warm cookies.
Milk and Cookies.
Sunset across America.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Ian awaits his meal at Sanuki No Sato.
DJ Un-G and the Fried Shrimp Udon
Hiyashi Kaisen - Soba with assorted sashimi, salmon roe, seaweed, cucumber and sansai vegetable.
Special Hamachi and Uni sashimi.
Hormone Yaki - soy seasoned stir fried intestines.
Surumeika Shioyaki - lightly salted grilled whole squid served with ginger.
Horenso Bacon Salad - Warm spinach and crispy bacon topped with dried bonito.
Chilean Seabass Yuanyaki - grilled in a sweet soy and sake marinade.
Sanuki No Sato
18206 South Western Avenue
Gardena, CA 90248
Christine with the goods from Porto's.
Who are these Cubans and what is their secret?
Christine arrived at the house fresh from her trip to Palm Springs with a small box from Porto's Bakery in tow. I had never heard of Porto's and Christine was quite passionate about their stuff so I had to give it a try. Inside were Porto's most cherished item: the Refugiado which, I'm guessing, means "refugee" in Spanish. Whatever the true meaning, it only means one thing to me: delicious or sabroso.
Strudel filled with guava and cream cheese. Good Lord, it's amazing. I want to chow down on it hard. Very hard. I don't know how we're going to make it to dinner with all these side snacks...
315 North Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91203
1/3 pound beef burger with gruyere cheese, hard boiled egg, black olives, roasted chiles, honey cured bacon and caramelized onion marmalade on a toasted English muffin.
For the past six months or so, burgers have been on our minds. Not just eating burgers, but exploiting them. About bringing a new class of burger joint to the denizens of Baltimore. So when we zipped by The Counter in Marina del Rey, we had to go back and check it out.
I really wasn't hungry, but I had to taste it and ordered it "to go." It took quite awhile to get the burger and then we drove it home to Hermosa Beach and waited for Un-G and Christine to arrive before tearing into it so it had cooled down quite a bit. But the flavors were good and it's got the mind churning for new ideas for our Project Burger.
4786 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Hummus - fresh garbanzo beans, garlic & tahini blended together topped with olive oil and paprika.
1/4 Dark Chicken Plate - thigh and leg served with hummus, diced tomatoes, garlic spread, pickles and pita bread.
Falafel Wrap - two pieces of falafel, sliced romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes and tahini wrapped in pita bread.
1716 South Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Brewing a vac pot of Hacienda Esmeralda.
As much as part of my ego hates to write this:
LA Mill is the best coffee experience in America and perhaps the world.
Yes, there are other good and great coffee shops out there, but so far, no experience in coffee matches the care, thoughtfulness and approach as LA Mill.
And it's not necessarily to my taste.
From the moment that we walked into the place, I was impressed. Impressed by the approach, if not the execution. The decor is well done. It's chic, it's gaudy, it's kinda 70's French renaissance retro with an L.A. twist. Toss in some Chanel, some baby blue hues and all that's bad about Los Angeles culture and design and that should give you an idea how LA Mill looks. It's everything about L.A. that I dislike but gosh, they executed it well.
Coffee and a Jelly Donut - strawberry essence layered with donut-infused milk and topped with espresso.
Like a lot of Hollywood and L.A., LA Mill is a place to see and be seen. The servers are good looking, they're dressed sharply but unlike what you'd expect from a "Third Wave" coffee experience, they're actually friendly and helpful. Only one of the owners seemed a bit stiff and standoff-ish. And it started the moment we walked through the door.
Quickly a young lad came up to welcome us and ask the number in our party. I asked him to be seated at the open banquette four top and he was quick to accommodate and rushed off to clear and reset the table. In the three or four minutes that we stood waiting by the door, no less than three other servers (who happened to walk past us on their way doing something else) each paused and asked us if we had been helped yet. Gone were the apathetic and can't be bothered attitudes so prevalent in coffee shops across America.
Once seated, our server Kristen (a stunning blonde apparition reminiscent of Maria Bello) appeared and quickly welcomed us and brought water.
Blanco y Negro - coffee granita, Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream, vanilla scented chilled.
LA Mill offers both a coffee and a food menu. The food menu isn't overtly large or extensive, but remains focused on just a few items. In some ways, it seems limiting, but as long as it's good and thoughtful, I can live with it. The menu is broken down into dayparts, with each daypart offering four or five items. The All-Day menu offers a variety of simple fare that kind of fills in the holes, so to speak.
The coffee menu offers the usual triumvirate of espresso, cappuccino, latte drinks plus a selection of Signature Beverages like "Mojito" - limes muddled with fresh mint, organic green tea and topped with a splash of soda, or Liquid Tiramisu - chocolate and Grand Marnier creme anglais topped with espresso then garnished with house-made whipped cream. It's different and appealing and most coffee shops just can't bother themselves with creating and offering anything more than the usual triumvirate and the typical commercial syrup-laden latte drinks. Ugh.
Since I'm a proponent of offering a retinue of Signature Drinks, I'm excited to see LA Mill doing so. However, the presence of "Coffee and a Jelly Donut" leaves me a bit torn. Probably more than any other barista on the planet, I'm guilty of riffing on the works of Thomas Keller. In a discussion with 2007 World Barista Champion James Hoffmann, I stated something to the effect that no idea is truly original and that each of us builds upon our experiences. The discussion back then was centered around places like LA Mill lifting drink recipes without asking "permission" of the barista who created it.
Orange Infused Cappuccino with Cacao
Since I tend to publish my recipes and approaches, I'm rather open to people using the ideas and creating something of their own with it, but actually seeing Coffee and a Jelly Donut on the menu sat uneasily with me. It seemed too much of a riff on Keller. Too close to what he had created - even though the actual drink was nothing like Kellers' version. Maybe in the end, James and I are more in agreement than we thought.
The problem with coffee is that it's an absolutely terrible ingredient to work with. Sure, the flavors can be spectacular but the color is so unfortunate. Dark brown. God, it's absolutely an ugly ingredient. Want to use ingredients with colors? It becomes a muddle of brown. Milk? Brown. Red? Brown. Crickey, anything you add to coffee turns brown. It's absolutely horrific and never looks truly appetizing in a clear glass.
Prosciutto Cotto/Reblochon de Savoie - on French baguette, hand cut Yukon Gold chips, preserved cippolinis & olives.
LA Mill's Coffee and a Jelly Donut is served in a bulbous glass atop a tall acrylic cylinder. It's a handsome presentation with a demitasse spoon balanced precariously on the cylinder - though it would have been nice if they had actually polished the spoon instead of sending it out spotted (I have pics). There's a layer of strawberry jam (essence?) on the bottom that's topped with donut infused milk and espresso poured in a heart pattern on top of the frothed milk. It's about as nice a presentation as you can do with a macchiato-style drink.
It's nice. It's sweet. Unfortunately, it's not revolutionary. The flavors blend well but the donut infusion gets lost in the battle between strawberry sweetness and espresso bitterness. More donut and more creaminess would make it better. In the end, it turned out to be more a novelty - just one and that's enough. What I want is a signature drink that captures the mind and begs you to order another and another.
Polly went with the Orange Infused Cappuccino for six dollars. It was okay. Again, nothing revelatory. Just orange-infused milk that's two dollars more than the standard capp. Not bad, just not amazing.
Al ordered the Blanco y Negro - coffee granita, ice cream and espresso. How could you go wrong? I only took a sip and it was pretty good. A bit sweet but tasty. Once the ingredients start to blend I'm sure it was even better.
But LA Mill isn't just a coffeeshop, it's also a restaurant - table service and all. In that reign, our server was good. She was there when needed, kept our water pitcher full and was friendly. And like everyone in L.A., she turned out to be an aspiring actress who has done a couple of roles on tv. Personally, I thought she looked like Katherine Heigl, but Polly turned out with the better likening to Maria Bello - a younger Maria Bello. Hailing from the Midwest, she was here to get her career going.
Huevos "Blanchet" - soft scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, chives, beurre blanc, asaparagus.
We ordered a couple of items from the food menu. Al ordered the prosciutto on French baguette which turned out really nicely. And I went with the Huevos "Blanchet." While not scrambled the way I would do it at home, the eggs were good but the dish as a whole was fantastic. Soft scrambled eggs matched perfectly with the salmon and the grilled asparagus tips - and the toasted brioche gave the whole thing a crunchy counterpoint. Me likey.
The interesting thing about LA Mill is that they offer coffees brewed in a variety of methods. You can order your coffee as a French Press, a Vac Pot, Drip Filtered and more. Each coffee lists the brew methods available to it and the differing price points. I suspect that the differing prices reflects the different sizes of each brew method.
For a treat, I decided that we would order the Panama Esmeralda in a vac pot for twenty dollars. Twenty dollars sounds like a lot, and it is, but why not? We're here to get the full experience and we're gonna go for it.
The nice thing about the vac pot is that they prepare your coffee tableside. An Asian lady (who later said she was one of the owners) came out and prepared our coffee. Using a butane burner, the lady stood there heating the water then stirring the slush and brewed our coffee. They use a bit of a different approach at LA Mill than I prefer (they have a longer brew cycle) which I think muddles the flavor a bit, but we're rolling with it. The girl is a bit stiff and not as warm and friendly as her staff, which is a bit disappointing since you'd like to have someone with a modicum of enthusiasm about what they're doing serving you.
The Esmeralda was basically as you'd expect. Sweet, floral, nice. I thought the flavor was a bit muddled because of the longer brew time than I prefer, but could that be just my own mind telling me so? You be the judge. The coffee was good but it wasn't great. It wasn't the mind-blowing experience I was hoping it to be. But it was good and I think Al and Polly enjoyed it enough. Though they probably still wonder why I would rave about such an expensive coffee - if only they could have a sample of some of the Esmeralda I've tasted.
In the end, going to LA Mill was a good experience. They've raised the bar for coffee houses across America. Currently, there is nothing that rivals their approach anywhere in the world that I've visited.
But, with any luck, they won't be the only place like that for long...
LA Mill Coffee
1636 Silver Lake Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Saturday, August 23, 2008
A slice from Red Ribbon on the left, a silvana from Goldilocks on the right.
Nothing warms my heart more than this classic Filipino dessert. It's what I grew up dreaming about. Crispy sweet, baked meringue layered with sugared butter and chopped cashews. Immense. So good and so desired that for many years I was forbidden to eat it. It's that good.
As I got older and started leaving the nest of home for the great expanses of the world, my dreams of Sans Rival went with me. During my years in Hawaii, I would have the odd occasion to sample it here and there. Then I started traveling to the Philippines and found it occasionally there as well. Typically, I'd find it in the form of something called "silvanas," a sort of mini-Sans Rival. One of the best I found there was at a cafe called Figaro.
Fast forward to today. I haven't had Sans Rival in at least a year. Last year, we introduced the Sans Rival to our customers at The Spro. It sold decent numbers and we'll re-introduce it again this fall. I can't wait.
But today, we've decided to have a Sans Rival Shootout.
In Manila, one of my favorite bakeries is Red Ribbon. I just love their ham and cheese ensaymada. It's killer. In fact, whenever someone comes to visit from the Philippines, I always ask them to bring me a few. Please. Some people are fanatical about Goldilocks, but for my money, I prefer Red Ribbon.
While driving around Cerritos, I spotted the Red Ribbon and we stopped in to see if they had the ham and cheese ensaymada. No luck. Evidently, they just don't make the ham and cheese ensaymada in America. Bastards. But they do make Sans Rival and for eleven bucks you can have one to take home.
How could I say no?
With Sans Rival in tow, we pressed on and happened upon the local Goldilocks. Unlike Red Ribbon, they make ham and cheese ensaymada in the United States, but you've got to get here early because they sell fast. Too late for us. And while they also sold whole Sans Rival cakes, I thought that bringing home two would just be gluttony - even though it was in the name of science. We opted for the small, single serving Silvana instead.
Back at the house, it was time to put these two rival Sans Rivals head to head. Which one would prevail? Freshly brewed coffee was at hand and we were ready with our forks.
The Silvana from Goldilocks had more of a dry texture. Crumbly with a light sweetness but a waxy finish. The Sans Rival from Red Ribbon had a more pronounced butter flavor but also a light sweetness. It's meringue texture was softer and slightly chewy.
Truth is, both had their pluses and minuses, but neither emerged as the definitive leader.
To my mind, the perfect Sans Rival features chewy layers of baked meringue, with just a slight crisp resistance and is layered with sweet butter frosting that leaves a clean finish on the palate and some bits of cashews to chew on. It's addictive and evil in it's intent to lure you to continue eating the whole thing. It's sinful pleasure that you fantasize about after without guilt because you covet it so.
Someday, I'm going to find Sans Rival perfection. Until then, I'll be forced to make it at home.
Red Ribbon Bakeshop
11900 South Street 106
Cerritos, CA 90703
11489 South Street
Cerritos, CA 90703
Pan de Ube and Special Pandesal
My brother was probably too young to remember this, but when we were children on a family trip to the Philippines, we stayed at my lolo and lola's house in Tondo, Manila - a veritable "hood" of rascally characters, hooligans, rough kids and the like. Our father grew up in Tondo, around an area known as Triangulo, which is considered to be the world's most densely populated district.
While we were shielded from any of the rough life existing outside the family compound, a small bakery sat on the property and every morning the smell of fresh Pandesal would emanate from the small concrete bakery. It was this flavor of freshly baked pandesal and butter that would forever tie me to happy memories visiting Tondo, always reserving a special place in my heart for this simple bread of the people.
That's why I found it so exciting to be in Cerritos today visiting Valerio's Bakery. It's chock filled with good memories - even though I've never eaten any of their breads. Coming from a culturally void place like Baltimore, it's nearly shocking to see entire towns filled with ethnic communities, restaurants and bakeries, like you find here in Southern California. Looking for serious Japanese? No problem. Hawaiian? Got it. Korean? Of course. Filipino? You bet you're ass.
Pan de Siosa
And when it comes to Filipino bakeries, SoCal has them in spades. Whether it's Pandesal or kutsinta or otap or bibingka there's a place somewhere here that you can buy it baked fresh today. It's lovely.
If only I lived here, pops to mind. Not because I'd really like to live in SoCal, but rather because it would be nice to have this available at any time I desired. Like Polly, I could stock up on breads and have them for breakfast all week long. Suddenly, visions of hot pandesal slathered in butter are dancing in my head. I must have some now!
I better get outta here before it's too late!
Valerio's City Bakery
17210 Norwalk Boulevard
Cerritos, CA 90701
Friday, August 22, 2008
Bleu Cheese Fries
Back in L.A. for the weekend after a whirlwind trip to Hawaii. My flight arrived sometime after 9:30pm and after waiting around for the baggage and going back to my brothers house, it was already pushing 11pm. And we were hungry.
Luckily, there's the Internet and after a barrage of surfing, we decided to ride into L.A. from Hermosa Beach to check out Pete's Cafe and Bar on Main Street. I find it rather odd that a major metropolis would actually have a street called Main. It seems that Main Street should be limited to those quaint and quiet quintessential American small towns rather than the hustle, bustle and grime that is downtown L.A.
On a weekend night, the traffic along the 110 Freeway is happily light and free flowing. It's a testament to the possibility that L.A. would actually be a great place to live - if you could get around this easily. Void of the traffic and congestion, it's amazing that you can cover the distance in less than half an hour.
Located in the heart of the real, downtown Los Angeles, Pete's is a bustling bar with outdoor seating and valet parking (this is L.A. afterall). Once the valet rockets away with Polly's BMW we're whisked away to our corner table and await DJ Un-G's arrival. Across from our table, the ruckus of a Friday night is taking off as the group of girls start to get louder with each passing beverage. Of course, there's a pretty fine looking Filipina girl and I'm enjoying the view.
Fried Calamari Strips
According to the Internet, Pete's is known for their fries. Specifically, their bleu cheese fries. Take some freshly fried fries and pile on some mayonnaise (aioli in Hawaii), fresh herbs and lots of blue cheese and you kinda get the idea. Darn good, I say. Give me more, I say. Please don't stop, I say again.
DJ Un-G arrives and he's ready to drink. His estate in Silver Lake isn't that far from here and it only takes him a few minutes to get here - which explains why he's late. It's one of those things where you live close enough that you don't have to worry about being late, so you hang out and relax and end up late anyway. At least there's good beer on tap.
Next comes the fried calamari strips. They're kind of like calamari french fries. Lightly battered, fried and offered with cocktail dipping sauce. It's basic, simple and tasty.
Mac & Cheese - Vermont sharp white cheddar, asiago, and goat chese with tarragon and a side of mixed baby greens.
Polly's Mac & Cheese arrives and we start to dig in. This is good stuff. It's not the wet and drippy kind of mac and cheese you find at other places. This one is dry and almost crumbly on the inside. The cheese sticks to the macaroni and you dig and dig to your heart's content. I think I need more.
There's a side salad and I wonder why they even bother. Perhaps there's a percentage of the population that actually eats the salad. Perhaps the remaining populace merely looks at it and uses it as a crutch to feel good about themselves eating something so sinful and delectably delightful as mac and cheese.
Lamb Bolognese - pappardelle pasta, braised lamb, tomatoes, garlic and cream.
My Lamb Bolognese arrives and I wonder why I ordered it. I'm already full. But it looks so inviting. Pieces of shredded lamb - delightful. Al dente pasta in a not too heavy sauce - just right. I want to eat it all, but can't.
We continue at Pete's until around 2am. The girls get drunker and louder. They start to dance. It's jiggle me this and juggle me that. Un-G and I are delighted.
Pete's Cafe & Bar
400 South Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
The First Class Cabin on United 82.
I'm back on the way to Los Angeles and have scored an upgrade to first class. It's slightly disappointing because I'm traveling alone once again and the food is the exact same meal that we had on the flight out here. Boring.
Since it's the same, there's really not much to write except that United needs to bring back the ice cream cart. Now, dammit!
Salad with ranch dressing and mango cheesecake - again.
More mai tais to smooth the way to L.A.
The filet with asparagus and potatoes.
Starbucks Coffee and mango cheesecake
The Porn King
All this time, I had been thinking that I wasn't going to be able to eat at my favorite: Helena's Hawaiian Food. When asked about "the" place to go for Hawaiian food, most tourists and locals name Ono's as the place. Not me. Ever since Aunty Helen Kwock had her old joint on North King Street across from the old halau studio, I've been going to Helena's and have never looked back.
Whether it was the old place on King Street or this new place on North School Street, Helena's can only be called rustic, perhaps hole in the wall. It's decidedly so. They've got the same formica tables they've had for years and the same decorations hanging on the wall, with the early 2000s addition of a James Beard Award.
Unfortunately, Aunty Helen is gone now, having passed away last July. With the passing of the matriarch, one might worry that standards might slip, but her grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi, still mans the stove and you know all is well. Aunty Helen is just watching over from a different location now.
Helena's has been making Hawaiian food now for over sixty years. They've got to be doing something right.
We're here today because of The Porn King. It was his birthday recently and while he thought he was supposed to arrive in Honolulu yesterday, he arrived today - and hungry for Helena's. The text message was simple enough: meet at helena's at 10. I didn't need further encouragement.
There's really nothing at Helena's that I haven't liked. It's literally "all good." Just keep the dishes coming. Today's meal is going to be a tasting meal, of sorts. Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon (with real, honest to goodness chunks of salmon), Squid Lu'au, and my absolute favorite: pipikaula short ribs. Oh, and lots of rice.
It all arrives at once, allowing us to bite and sample to our hearts desire. The Kalua is moist and tender, with just the right amount of Hawaiian salt. The Lomi is chunky with salmon - unlike so many other places where its tomato, onion and the essence of salmon. The squid lu'au is just delicious. Tender, pink pieces of squid stewed with lu'au leaf until milky and sweet. Unreal.
But the true piece de resistance is the pipikaula short ribs. Years ago, when I had first moved to the mainland, I tried to convince Craig to take pity on me and share with me their recipe. He refused. Now I long and yearn for these ribs. They're truly something special.
To make, they take thin sliced crosscut beef ribs (like for Korean Kalbi) and marinate. Then they hang the strips from the range hood in their kitchen until dried. Once dried (or perhaps sort of dried) they cut and pan fry until done and serve. Eat the short ribs with a generous amount of chili peppah watah and Hawaiian salt and you believe that there is a God in the Universe. It's amazing. It's sublime. It's true beef perfection. I can't get enough.
Sliced Sweet Onions, Haupia and Alaea Salt.
And apparently neither can The Porn King. He's ordered three additional orders of pipikaula short ribs to take to his staff. Two for the staff and one for the ride back to work. I, on the other hand, order only one serving, but with two scoops of rice for the plane ride to Los Angeles. In my minds eye, I imagine the envious looks of other passengers as I dine on Helena's Pipikaula Short Ribs while they gnaw on some unidentified kind of meat and potatoes. Poor bastards.
The morning is growing long and I'm gonna be late for my flight back to the mainland, but I leave with a pound of shortribs in a plastic bag and the hope for a quick return to Helena's.
Pipikaula Short Ribs
Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 North School Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817