y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: November 2010

Maui Series: Sunsets

Almost every day in Maui I saw a breathtaking sunset laid across the water. The colors were so dazzling, I often closed my eyes, trying to save it in my thoughts. The glow seemed to remove all stress and confusion. There can be no better end to the day than the beauty of these sunsets.

 Click on photos to enlarge.

“I didn't ask for it to be over, but then again, I never asked for it to begin. For that's the way it is with life, as some of the most beautiful days come completely by chance. But even the most beautiful days eventually have their sunsets.”

Cove Park - waves

Cove Park

Cove Park
Cove Park

Cove Park
When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the Creator" - Mahatma Gandhi

Cove Park: Moon - during sunset

Cove Park - Coconut palms after sunset

Maui Series: Makena Landing Beach Park

Our recent family trip to Maui was full of beach time. One beach really stood out to be blissfully relaxing. Makena Landing Beach lies along the south shore bay and is the first of four beaches to be located along Makena Road. The water is known to be cloudy after a 1999 storm killed off the coral reef. The shore is rocky with a small strip of sand that feels like talcum powder between one's toes. There is no snorkeling, diving, lifeguard or facilities.

This makes for a serene beach experience of watching and listening to the fluctuating tides and breathing in the negative ions in the ocean air. It provides a great mood lift.

Click on each photo to enlarge it.

We topped off this incredible beach with a sunset stroll through Cove Park Beach in Kihei. Stay tuned for more of the Maui series.


Pre-Holiday Celebration at Cube Los Angeles

A couple of weeks ago I attended a lovely, autumnal evening to kick off and celebrate the holiday season with friends. Of course this involved friends breaking bread together. We met at Cube Los Angeles in one of the intimate, private rooms and feasted on the 6-course chef's tasting menu.

Upon arrival, the table was set with tulip bouquets, menus, name cards and place settings. The table also included a bottle of Nicodemi, Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo 2007, a red, earthy, spicy wine that was served during the whole meal, and our first course of artisanal cheese and cured meats served with bread. This is the area where Cube really shines and all diners were thrilled to have this course.

formaggi e salumi

Loma Alto - an organic cow cheese from California
Challerhocker - a Swiss, firm cheese made from partially thermalized cow’s milk aged about 10 months in a cellar
Taleggio - a raw cow's milk, washed rind Italian cheese that is semi-soft and aromatic yet mild
Verde Capra - an unusual Italian blue cheese made with goat's milk with vertical marbling
Beecher's Reserve - a 16-18 month aged cheddar from Washington that are aged in the form of cylindrical wheels wrapped in cheesecloth
Barely Buzzed - a cow's milk cheese from Utah. The rind is rubbed with espresso coffee and lavender, and the flavors delicately permeate to the core of this semi-soft cheese as it ages

The platters included the accompaniments of  pomegranite seeds, balsamic vinegar, figs, candied spiced pecans, cinammon infused dark chocolate and cashews.

Cacciatore - a dry-cured Italian salami
Cullatelo - this prestigious air cured ham from Parma is a refined variety of prosciutto

fall crunch salad

This refreshing, crunchy salad contained fall flavors of cabbage, apples, fennel, crispy bacon all tossed in a grain mustard vinaigrette. It was hearty enough to stand up to the crisp, cool weather.


This feather-light gnocchi was like biting into a cloud. The rich, meaty and slightly spicy bolognese sauce was made of Broken Arrow Ranch venison sausage and gracefully topped with pecorino cheese. It harmoniously added some weight to the gnocchi. For me, this dish was easily the best course.

seared Maine boutique scallop

This extremely fresh, seared and browned scallop was perched on top of a rustic, creamy polenta which was so different in texture from polenta I've eaten in the past. It was a slightly more grainy and coarse variety that added texture and a bite to the side dish. Another side dish was seasonal, sauteed beet greens. Everything was plated with a smoked serrano pepper vinaigrette, continuing the spicy undertones found on many of the dishes.

Piedmontese beef medallion

The tender beef was nicely seasoned and portioned to round out this filling meal. Parsnip mash was a suitable autumnal side dish and the baby broccoli added another touch of freshness and crunch.


By the time dessert came to the table, most diners were completely full, but decided to try the offerings. The dessert trio began on the left of the plate with a sticky date pudding drenched in a salty caramel sauce. The middle had two mini, fresh donuts cooked in bacon fat with a creme anglaise. They were a bit too heavy and doughy for my taste and hearing about the rich cooking medium was a lot of flavor for our diminished appetites. The third component on the plate was a simple chocolate chip cookie sandwich filled with a creamy espresso ice cream.

Throughout the meal there was a large platter filled with mesh golden bags. After finishing dinner, our hostess Briley, thoughtfully offered each diner one of the bags filled with home baked fall flavored biscotti and seasonal decorated cookies. It was a lovely treat on top of a warm, enjoyable evening.

This meal provided another instance of why Cube L.A. is one of my favorite restaurants, just after a couple of times eating there. The ambiance and service were top rate as well. During the holiday season it provided a proper setting to feast and be thankful for the nutritious meal and fine friends with which to enjoy it.

Happy holidays!

Cube Cafe on Urbanspoon

Popping Up at The Un-Curry Table

People often ask me for recommendations for good Indian restaurants, which stumps me. So few L.A. restaurants capture the depth of flavor found in Indian food. Chef Kaumudi Marathe's response to that frequent question is "come to my house". With The Un-Curry Table, L.A.'s first Indian Pop Up Restaurant, she has managed to bring a home cooked dinner party feeling to the lucky attendees.

Chef Kaumudi was born in the state of Maharashtra on India's west coast and also lived in the U.K. and North America. Her cooking is what she describes as California Indian, combining her culinary traditions with local ingredients. She aptly describes her food as organic, locavore, made-from-scratch regional Indian cuisine.

For the Pleasure Palate dining group, I hosted a private session of her Spices 101 class about 1 year ago and was thoroughly impressed. Her knowledge of Indian regional cooking coupled with her passion for food, which she prepares with the highest quality ingredients, really sets her apart from the usual Indian restaurant buffet with which many people are accustomed.

The Un-Curry Table menu told the story of her life in food, including her favorite dishes freshened up with her own twists.

California-Indian - Click on photo to enlarge it

The California-Indian amuse bouche kicked off the meal as a small bite containing a big flavor explosion that was a synopsis of her style and what was to come. It contaned a blend of avocados, mustard seed, chilies, lemon juice, minced onion, garlic, cilantro and cumin seed powder. The mixture rested on a soup spoon and was topped with even more seasonings including ghee (clarified butter), curry leaves, salt and a pinch of sugar. The menu, also shown in the above picture, introduced a very creative and modern logo for The Un-Curry Table.

kitchen prep for the appetizer course

khandvi, kolambi kothimbir ghalun, carrot slaw

A plate of appetizers came next, including khandvi a Gujarati snack of tart mini, spiced chickpea flour crepes coiled into tight rolls, filled with fresh coconut, mustard seeds and topped with a cilantro dipping sauce. Renowned food critic, Jonathan Gold, wrote about his love of khandvi, describing them as 'slender jelly rolls'. The second item on the plate was kolambi kothimbir ghalun, a tender and perfectly cooked cilantro pesto shrimp. Paneer (fresh cheese) was offered in place of the shrimp for vegetarian meals. The plate was rounded off with a fresh and crunchy carrot slaw, tossed in a savory vinegar.

santosh: tomato-coconut soup

santosh soup course: our table of empty bowls (within 5 minutes)

The high point of the meal for me and all diners at my table was a rich, comforting soup called santosh. One of my dinner companions is a tomato lover like myself, and as we took a bite at the same time both our eyes widened and locked gazes. She described it as the best tomato soup she's ever had. This fragrant soup revealed scents of tomato, coconut, ghee (clarified butter), cumin and coriander. A mound of short grain rice was dropped at the center of the bowl. It was also Chef Kaumudi's favorite dish growing up, as prepared by her grandmother.

entree: beef biriyani, brussels sprouts, ambyacha loncha

Most of our table wanted to ask for seconds of the soup, but then the main course arrived. Our entree consisted of meat biryani. Originally mutton (lamb) biriyani was listed on the menu, but due to popular requestl it was substituted for beef. The dish consists of layers of basmati rice and beef, mint, cilantro, carmelized onions, cooked low and slow under a lid until all the flavors mesh. It is then stirred and served. There were some fresh onions on top, adding freshness and crunch once again.

The vegetarian menu offered sabzi biryani of layered basmati rice, paneer (fresh farmer's cheese), fall vegetables and carmelized onion. A fellow diner at the table gave me a taste of her sabzi biryani and it was tasty and perfect for the fall. 

This dish fell more on the California vs. Indian end of the spectrum. Having grown up eating biriyani with bone-in, fall off the bone lamb or goat, I was missing that famiiar and slightly more gamey taste. The beef was cut into large cubes and in my opinion, competed with the rice a bit. Most of the other diners, however, were fond of the dish and enjoyed it.

The side dishes, served on the same plate, were brussels sprouts cooked in a large wok with turmeric and other spices. They definitely retained their bite and freshness despite the spices. The menu originally listed Chef Kaumudi's mother's dish of bharli bhendi which is tender okra stuffed with spices, tamarind, onion and coconut. We were told the market's okra supply was low, Thus the menu substituion. Ambyacha loncha was also served on the plate. It is a fresh mango pickle with finely chopped chunks of mango including the thick mango skin with turmeric, asafetida (pungent Persian spice used in Indian food) and  jaggery (unrefined, brown cane sugar).

boorani: mint and garlic yogurt side dish

Served alongside the entree, in a separate family style bowl, was boorani, a mint-garlic yogurt. Yogurt is often served as an accompaniment to Indian food. This boorani was a perfect counterpoint to the meaty entree and helped cool off the palate. By this time I grabbed and bit into a chili pepper from the table centerpiece, so the boorani really served its purpose!

Chef Kaumudi piping out the shrikhand dessert

The meal ended with a splash, not to be outdone by the spices of the previous courses. The dessert shrikhand, also prepared for Chef Kaumudi by her grandmother, was a slowly strained yogurt which thickens to a consistency thicker than Greek yogurt. It's mixed in with saffron and nutmeg. This dessert was part of the Spices 101 class and it's one I made many times since then using her recipe. It never fails to impress my guests.

Most Indian dishes are served in a rustic style. Chef Kaumudi elevated this already outstanding dessert by piping out the shrikhand with a pastry bag, then serving with a mango-vanilla bean coulis and topped with a cardamom-rosewater shortbread cookie. I loved the play of tart yogurt with tart mango, tempered with the subtle sweetness of the other seasonings. The cookie also provided a crunchy textural component.

badshahi chai

Dessert was accompanied with a cup of badshahi chai,black tea spiced with milk, sugar, nutmeg and cinammon. The chai was authentic and served as a very appropriate fall beverage.

Bottles and glasses of sparkling wine, red and white wine, beer as well as bottled sparkling and flat water were also available at the event. The drink list was curated by wine consultant Gregg Greenbaum. Specifically, the following drinks were available for purchase:

  • nv luis pato espumante bruto - bieras, portugal
  • 2009 trajarinho vinho verde - trajarinho, portugal
  • 2009 los bermejos malvasia seco - lanzarote, canary islands
  • 2009 senorio de p. pecina rioja joven - rioja, spain
  • 2009 terres dorees beaujolais l'ancien vielles vignes - beaujolais, france
  • 2009 edmunds st. john porphyry gamay noir barsotti ranch - el dorado county, california
  • mission street india pale ale
  • hoegaarden white beer
  • san pellegrino - sparkling water
  • fiji - still water

The Un-Curry team also consists of attorney Irene Borromeo and Melissa Hanson, who handled legal and operations as well as friendly and efficient kitchen and service members, who clearly enjoy working together. The staff, despite having 'day' jobs, quickly came together and made it to opening night in just 2 months.

the Un-Curry Table team

The multi-course dinners were served on November 6th and 13th at Surfa's Test Kitchen in Culver City (the location was disclosed shortly prior to the event to diners who pre-purchased their seats). The 50 or so attendees in the dining room were an eclectic mix of friends, students and diners searching for good Indian food. I went along with a group of Pleasure Palate foodies who filled up two tables. It was an interesting location because of the ability to sit with a backdrop of kitchen supplies and an instructional mirror to view the kitchen prep work.

plating the entree course

Chef Kaumudi and her staff were working hard in the open kitchen, but she stopped many times to greet people with a smile, answer questions and make guests feel welcome. Her ability to be so focused on her cooking while keeping an eye on the whole room revealed a great talent. She says she loves to entertain and one really feels well taken care of at The Un-Curry Table.

Chef Kaumudi Marathe

The food contains very fresh and clean flavors with more subtle yet aromatic seasoning and I find it very soulful. If you'd like to experience this food, the upcoming events include a festive food and wine pairing on December 3rd and 4th.  Other themed events will also be offered, including street food, seafood, regional food and more wine pairings. For more information, visit the Un-Curry site and sign up for the mailing list, or book your holiday dinner.

Leave Only Footprints: Maui's Abundant Flora

In October my family took a rejuvenating trip to Maui for a week. It was the first time we traveled together in over 12 years. Also, after about 12 years, my college roommate and I had a reunion there, complete with tuberose leis. It was a happy trip.

We went on many drives around the island and one aspect of it that made a huge impression on us was the rich, abundant plant life. Everywhere you turn are stunning plants that thrive in the tropical weather. The air is heavy with floral fragrances wafting through the clean air.

Consider this part 1 of series on this enchanting island. This installment covers its inspiring landscapes.

Over the summer I took a beginners' photography class and this trip was an opportunity to do some field studies. I practiced macro photography on the flowers and capturing movement with the ocean waves. The Valley Isle, as Maui is known, is a fertile ground of  beauty, providing the perfect backdrop for photography.

At first glance the most prevalent plants are bougainvillea vines. We see these quite a bit in California, but not with so much color variety. I love how the different colored plants are grown together and start blending into multi-colored bushes. Sometimes the bougainvillea climbers start overtaking nearby trees! One of my first projects upon returning home was planting a two-color set of bougainvillea in the front yard. We shall see over time how that turns out. 

Bougainvillea at a residence in Makena

Mixed colors of bougainvillea
Detail of white on pink bougainvillea

Hibiscus plants are also found everywhere. In California I never noticed them much but in Maui, with all the different colors and shapes, they just popped. Some Hawaiian ladies are known to put these red hibiscus flowers behind their ear to attract new loves. They are also edible.

Tall hibiscus with bare branches and red hibiscus flowers at the tips.
Even the most simple looking plants had a twist of unexpected color.

Green plant with red tipped leaves
Lipstick palms with red stems
Fiery orange bromeliads at dusk
There are various micro-climates within the island, contributing to the variety of plant life. In the rain forest zones, hundreds of species of lush plants grow on 150 inches of annual rainfall.
Plumeria tree - sweet fragrance and velvety texture; used to make leis
Ginger flower
Heliconia, or lobster claw flower
Laue'e fern - hardy ferns with raised dot texture on their graceful leaves
Gardenia - intoxicatingly fragrant
Elegant, all green anthurium bouquet at Four Seasons Hotel
Red anthurium bouquet at Ritz-Carlton Hotel - heart shaped leaf with spike flower
In "Upcountry" Maui, cooler temperatures and moderate rainfall contribute to native plants growing mostly on cloudy slopes. We stopped at Sunrise Protea Farm and enjoyed multiple varieties of protea along with other lush plants.

Protea - the tips appeared like feathers
Protea - known as the pin cushion protea
In Maui's cold, dry highlands near the Haleakala volcano, only a few hardy, adaptable plants grow. Maui's coastline contains plants growing in the ocean salty spray around the beaches.
The native silverswords looked like they were made of mirror or silver. They were stunning against the reddish earth.

Silversword at Haleakala Crater
Maui's coastline plants grow among the ocean's salt spray and on loose, sandy soils.

Coconut Tree
Pine tree at Haleakala (possibly Ironwood Tree)
Pine cone and dry pine needles at Haleakala
There are other micro-climate areas such as the coastal desert and freshwater plants. Besides the climate specific species, we discovered several exotic trees.

Monkey Pods - the branches look like roots; originally from Africa
Tree at Hookipa Lookout - name unknown 
Tree pod at Kihei
Bread fruit tree with falling sap
Hong Kong Orchid tree
Noni tree - used for medicinal purposes; roots contain a yellow dye
In case you are wondering what "Leave Only Footprints" means, it came from a hand painted sign at Wailele Farm that reminded visitors to "Please respect the land. Leave only footprints".

Stay tuned for the next in the series, covering another inspiring aspect of Maui.