y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: April 2011

What's for Brunch? Salt's Cure & Fraiche Offerings

Every once in awhile I absolutely love brunch. It always feels like a celebration. Having said that, buffets are not my thing. So it's delightful when not one, but two excellent brunch menus cross my radar - Salt's Cure and Fraiche.

Line of patrons waiting for Salt's Cure to open at 11:00 a.m.
Christopher Phelps' and Zak Walters' Salt's Cure in West Hollywood offers a small, daily changing menu of of light fare. Their goal of producing high quality, hand made, locally sourced food using the freshest ingredients really is evident in the every bite.

There's a reason why there were dozens of people waiting at the front door for the place to open! Even the employees were taking cell phone photos of us.

Pig placement and animal artwork
The bright and airy ambiance simply pays tribute to the humanely treated animals that are procured for their meat-intensive food.

Kid foodies waiting to dine
The day we went there were a lot of children aggressively pushing their way in, competing for the 8 tables in this shop. And finding the best seats in the house. They were also served their food more promptly than most diners. Judging from their energy level, probably a good idea to keep them busy.

Preparations in the open kitchen
A couple of members of my group nabbed seats at the counter and had this excellent view of the kitchen crew making all dishes from scratch. Their passion and dedication was clear, and they even took time to chat with the diners. 

My hand-ground coffee came in the French press above and it was strong, outstanding coffee. So nice to have your own refills ready to go.

The counter contains a row of house-made pickles of various kinds, which are offered if requested.

fresh bread, biscuits, tangerine roll, oatmeal griddlecakes, roasted potatoes and charcuterie plate
Breads, biscuits and rolls were constantly baking. The oatmeal griddlecakes and roasted potatoes did not disappoint. Tangerine rolls made from croissant dough are as ethereal as they sound.

There were all sorts of combinations of inventive charcuterie, cheeses and pate plates floating around. It was a small but solid chalkboard menu.

2 x 2 x 2
The classic 2 x 2 x 2 platter contains, you guessed it, 2 strips of nitrite-free bacon, 2 fennel sausage patties, 2 eggs, a biscuit and some fruit compote, garnished with fresh greens and a slice of orange for some freshness.

The biscuit was a little 'blonde' for my taste and could have used a bit more browning, but it tasted fine.

So what's next at Salt's Cure for me? More brunches and of course, dinner. I heard a food editor on KCRW's Good Food radio show stating Salt Cure's fried chicken is better than Ludo's (gasp). The chefs were not even aware of this statement and suggested they would offer it more often if they'd known!

The second recent brunch was at Fraiche in Culver City, a "tweet-up" with various bloggers from Bay Area, San Diego and L.A. My friend Abby of Pleasure Palate kindly granted my request by getting me a seat at this table for the chef's tasting menu and it was a blast breaking bread with this fun and warm group.

Food related graffiti at Fraiche
The interior of Fraiche contains black chalkboard walls with creative food cartoon drawings everywhere. While it was all entertaining, I loved the nod to the Ludo Lefevre coq logo. The sketches did not fail to entertain, and many of us left the table between courses to view all of them.

 I've been enamored with Chef Benjamin Bailly's food  since my first bite at Petrossian and had at least 1 excellent meal at Fraiche in the past. His rustic French-Italian menu including many egg dishes (my favorite) surely could not have disappointed.

Bottmless mimosas and Baby Beet Salad
The hearty meal contained many, many courses and went on for hours, so this is only a recap of my favorites. What better place to begin than bottomless mimosas? The baby beets salad with homemade ricotta, oranges and pistachios was an outstanding way to kick off the meal.

My 2nd favorite dish of Soft Polenta with slow poached egg, pecorino cheese and wild mushrooms is not pictured here, because its looks do no justice to the rich, creamy, decadent flavors. It will live on in my tastebud memories though and if you go, do not miss it!

Baked eggs
So if that was the 2nd favorite dish, that's only because the Baked Eggs with goat cheese, olives, tomatoes and chives, served in a cast iron skillet with a side of crusty bread stole my heart. What a lovely homage to the humble egg. So clean and simple yet a punch of flavor. Delicious.

Truffle Burger, fries with garlic aioli and Croque Madame
We could have ended the meal right there to nobody's disappointment, but the hearty food kept coming. Bailly's famous Truffle Burger with onion fondue, Boschetto cheese and truffle aioli lived up to its reputation.

The Croque Madame with smoked ham, eggs and gruyère cheese beautifully melted looked and felt like it was straight out of Ratatouille. The side arugula greens, which would normally play 2nd fiddle, held its own, being perfectly dressed and seasoned.

Chef's Selection Dessert Platter
After 7-8 courses, not one but platters full of desserts came out, which we began referring to as a "dessert orgy". I don't even remember it all but the gorgeous jars of vanilla, mango panna cotta and tiramisu all surprised us. The vanilla jar came with balsamic vinegar jelly and the mago jar with pop rocks hiding among the fresh fruit!

I vaguely recall a trio of Crème Brulées, including pistachio and butterscotch, chocolate lava cakes, rosemary cookies. Perhaps more. While I'm not that fond of desserts, the creativity that went into the flavors and combinations was impressive. Everything tasted divine.

All in all, there are two places that really deliver and can be added to the L.A. brunch repository. What do you like to have for brunch, and where? Comments are most welcome.

Salt's Cure on Urbanspoon
Fraiche Culver City on Urbanspoon

Rediscovered Find: El Huarache Azteca

Where can one get a delicious, freshly made savory snack or light lunch for under $3 that is not fast food?

Huarache con carne asada
Highland Park's gem - El Huarache Azteca #1! Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley is known for its outstanding Asian Food, but numerous non-Asian good eats abound there as well.

Huaraches are named after the leather, woven Mexican sandals, which you can see at this link. But the ones you eat do not look like a shoe nor does it taste like a shoe.

The platform of flat, fried dough (resembling the rubber shoe sole) of this portable dish holds the tender meat of your choice, crema, cotija cheese, cilantro, red onions and other delicious seasonings. Meat choices go from the tame to the more adventurous, like cabeza (head). I'm not sure if it's supposed to be rolled, but I hold it up like a tostada and bite into it.

Huarache to go with several salsas and dried, seasoned chiles
The surroundings in this tiny restaurant are no frills. It's all about the food, which is obtained with cash only. Besides the the huaraches, there are other Mexican specialties, tacos, aguas frescas and an impressive salsa bar complete with dried chili peppers and fresh accompaniments.

I'm often mistaken for a native Spanish speaker and sometimes get tongue-tied when someone begins taking my order in rapid Spanish. That is not an issue here. They do speak English and provide very good service. Even if they didn't, this dish would keep me coming back based on its merits alone.

El Huarache Azteca #1 on Urbanspoon

Moveable Feast

Last month, on March 27th, I was fortunate to enjoy the 2nd Moveable Feast event, a traveling supper club held this time at the nostalgic and glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Library Bar.

Moveable Feast - menu
This culinary experience included 6 appetizers by Chef Meg Hall (of Made By Meg) paired with 6 cocktails by L.A. mixologist, Matthew Biancaniello.

Their collaboration was inspired by farmers' market fresh ingredients.The innovative food and bold drinks as well as the Old Hollywood Glamour cocktail attire made for an unforgettable evening.

Moveable Feast - crudites 
Upon walking in the bar was set up with carafes of citrus infused filtered water, gorgeous vegetable crudites with a light dip and a punchbowl of Matt's special punch.

Among other things it contains pomegranate juice, possibly some rum and is garnished with beautiful dehydrated blood oranges. It was an elegant welcome to the event.

So now, let the pairings begin!

Pairing #1 
Bacon Seafood Chowder with Vicchysoisse Foam
The One and Only - Bols Genever Gin, curry leaves, lime, agave, fresh celery juice, black Hawaiian sea salt 

between-course dish
Depending on where attendees were located during the mobile event, in some cases the timing of the food with drinks were not totally in sync. However, both Matt and the servers were doing a great job in getting items in our hands as soon as possible. One example is these off-menu sweet potato fries with 2nd pairing drink....

Pairing #2
Deep Fried Burrata Corn Dog. Sir Kensingtons Ketchup & Turmeric Crème Fraiche Mustard
Italian Waltz - Champagne, Aperol & fresh blood orange juice

Breeder's Cup
The third drink was one of Matt's classics, served in a new way. The edible, furry flower garnish was a Mediterranean herb, borage. Matt pointed out that it had a slightly sweet, oyster scent.

Pairing #3
Popcorn Crust Shrimp, Sweet Chili Sauce & Wasabi Mustard
Breeder's Cup - Hendrick's Gin, beet horseradish, cucumber, lime, agave and Cyprus salt

You can see bits of popcorn on the shrimp's breading. The horseradish in the drink played well with the wasabi in the paired dish, evoking a cocktail sauce vibe.

Pairing #4
Rhubarb infused St. Germain with myer lemon air

Pairing #4
Double Scoop St. Agur Ice Cream, White Chocolate Stilton Ice Cream. Topped with White Truffle Honey in a Squid Ink Mini Cone

The highlight of the food was this incredible savory-sweet ice cream and cone, paired wonderfully with the St. Germain drink.

Pairing #5
Pairing #5
Ultimate Hamburger. Gruyere, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Burger in a Chive Crepe Purse
Milkshake - ice cream, eggs, bourbon

The originally planned pairing cocktail for this course was the Cascading Hopshead, with hops infused gin, avocado honey, oro blanco grapefruit juice, lemon juice and Double IPA. Matt said the gin tasted too "hoppy", and since it did not meet his high expectations, he swapped out the drink. The milkshake worked very nicely with the burger, so I doubt there were any complaints.

Pairing #6
Dessert, served in a very imaginative plating, even though my "tree" was slightly wilted. And it tasted as good as it looks.

Pairing #6
Salted Nutella Budino with Fleur de Sel Caramel and Ground Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans

Pairing #6
Un Cafe Va Bene - Cynar, Cassis & chicory

The earthy flavors of this pairing also worked very well together, especially with the slightly bitter Cynar (an Italian bitter liqueur made from various herbs and plants, including artichoke) and chicory flavors taming the rich, sweet dessert. Because the portions of the dessert were so generous, a couple of us took it "to go" in their built-in, portable containers.

Bonus Pairing - Gotta Have S'more Smuffin
Homemade Pumelocello - made from three different types of pumelos

A table out in the lobby was stacked with this additional dessert. Just saying Smuffin makes the dessert more fun. If you like s'mores, you will love this s'more formed into a cupcake.

The pumelocello was a brilliant riff on the popular Italian digestif, Limoncello. The jar with the rinds from various types of pumelos was gorgeous. The citrus drink also paired well with a sweet dessert, and I asked and happily received a second pour.

Chef Meg Hall - photo by John D Russell Photography
Chef Meg came out and cordially greeted the guests multiple times, and served some of the food personally. She graciously posed for a couple of photos for me, and while she's very photogenic, I did not use flash in the dimly lit room so they were unusable.

This photo is from her online album of John D Russell Photography photos, taken when she was chatting with my lovely friends Blaine and Sally (with me on the backstool).

Mixologist Matt Biancaniello - doing what he does best
As far as Matt, he was also on top of his game. Although I don't make it to Library Bar as frequently as I'd like, I am somewhat of a regular there and definitely a fan.

On this evening his ability to expedite the complex drinks while also connecting with and gathering feedback from his loyal clientele was impressive. Out of the more than a dozen photos I took of him that night, this one really captures his attentive service and enthusiasm during the event.

With all the attention to detail and creativity, and a couple of surprises, Moveable Feast 2 was a delicious feast for the senses. 

National Grilled Cheese Month: Eva's Grilled Cheese Night and the 2010 Invitational Retrospective

April is National Grilled Cheese Month. So to celebrate this cheesy month, I engaged in a Pleasure Palate dinner at Eva Restaurant for Grilled Cheese Night. Eva Chef/Owner Mark Gold partnered with Chef/Co-Owner, Dave Danhi, of The Grilled Cheese Truck to offer several courses of grilled cheese sandwiches and side dishes.

Course 1: Danhi's sharp cheddar and gruyere on  parmesan crusted sourdough bread with Gold's cream of tomato soup.
Course 2: Danhi's triple creme brie grilled cheese, carmelized onions, prosciutto crust on black peppercorn bread, with Gold's braised artichokes. The artichokes sat in a creamy, lemony sauce that we all loved.

Course 3: Danhi's faux-ly cheesesteak sandwich with provolone, homemade pickles, crispy onions, French bread. Gold's prime beef over charcoal covered with Cheez Whiz sauce.
Course 4: Danhi's truffled fontina mac and cheese melt paired with Gold's butter poached lobster.

Course 5: Danhi's vanilla mascarpone cheese and balsamic strawberries on sweet brioche with Gold's chocolate fondue. The drinks were part of the cocktail pairing, which got rave reviews from my fellow diners. The ones pictured were called "cherry blossom" and contained brandy, kijafa cherry, lemon, cane syrup.

In celebration of this most comforting of comfort foods, and since my plans prevent me from attending the 9th Annual  Grilled Cheese Invitational (GCI), I am sharing a 'retrospecitve' of last year's fun. 

This year's festivities take place on 4/23/11 from 11:00a.m.-6:00p.m. at Los Angeles Center Studios. 

Tillamook was the sponsor of GCI
Tillamook sponsors the GCI, so this cute little cheese wagon was parked prominently at this large, crazy cooking contest, dedicated to perfecting the art of grilled cheese.

Judging Table
A couple of friends and I applied to be judges and were able to get into this sectioned off area and sample entries to our bellies' desire. Still, one had to be assertive and crafty to snag a tasting as the melted sandwich quarters were being served, small batches at a time. It was also a warm day and crowded event.

With over 230 competitors, people spared no creativity in order to stand out, along with their creations. It was as much fun watching them than it was tasting the "sammiches".

The Cheese Ballers
This one was called the Panty Dropper - oh my!
Cute aprons and Tower Sandwiches
10 year old Jake was rocking out a delicious self-invented entry

Sandwiches competed on originality, execution and visual appeal. With over 80 sandwiches, there was more than most people can get to. Here are some of my favorites from judging tastes. 

The Jakester
An awesome 12 year old named Jake Feldman made this most creative concoction containing sauteed chorizo, onions, grilled portabello mushrooms, tomatoes and of course, lots of cheese. The outer red color comes from a crust of ground up Flaming Hot Cheetos. It was so wrong, it was kind of right. My brain said no, but the child at heart in me said YES.

L: Duck confit grilled cheese R: Saigon Spice
The duck confit sandwich was decidedly gourmet and I had two tastings while watching many judges wrinkle their noses at duck and pass it up! It contained duck confit, duck foie gras and goat cheese.

The competitive categories broke down into The Missionary Style, The Kama Sutra and The Honey Pot (this year they are adding a Love American Style category. My friend Cecilia Fabulich won Judge's Choice with the delicious entry on the above right. Her Saigon Spice sandwich contained pulled pork, mango, slaw and cheese of course!

Peanut Butter Jelly Cheese Sandwich
This flatter sandwich had cheese and jam on the inside and peanut butter coating on the outside which just worked really well.

The Honey Pot category
I passed by a lot of the sweet entries, preferring savory. But this one stood out and was worth a long wait. It contained cranberry bread, dulce de leche, goat cheese, cream cheese and  banana tempura. Great flavors and textures.

Creative presentations 
Not all servings came in little white paper plates. The two above came in very tropical packages. On the left is the Flatbread Jam Sandwich, peeping out of the creature's mouth. On the right is a sandwich wrapped in a banana leaf.
Collecting ballots
The judging instructions consisted of getting a sample from a runner, eating sammy, voting on sammich, putting vote in ballot box.

Mayor of Cheese

More competitors in costume

Overall, the GCI is definitely worth the trip, if at least one time. If these shots piqued your interest, by all means go and enjoy!

Eva Restaurant on Urbanspoon