y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: May 2011

Burgers & Beats - Recession Priced Burgers

There are so many variations of burgers all over town, but an 'underground' burger from a chef of quite an extensive background was a first for me.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Luicy

For this beautiful burger it's worth going underground.

Several months ago my friend Abby from Pleasure Palate shared some tweets and blog posts about a monthly outdoor event by Chef Christian Navarro of Haute Skillet.

So a group of us were determined to try his next creative burger at the 2nd event of this type. Because of the rain, the normally outdoor location moved to the Curry Up Cafe in Woodland Hills.

Christian Navarro and the Mother's Office Burger description

His concoction for that day was the Mother's Office Burger - "the difference is Mom doesn't get mad when you add bacon and sauce to it".

Curry Up Cafe's Wongie Fries

While the burgers were grilling in the kitchen we ordered some of Curry Up's side dishes - the Philipino lumpia (egg rolls) and the house special Wongie Fries (think In N Out Animal Style - esque fries), complete with cheese, green onions and secret sauce.

Mother's Office Burger
Mother's Office Burger - unwrapped

The burger, served on a French baguette, came with pork belly confit, organic arugula, maple glazed onions, classic American cheese and the divine topper of a 63 degree egg. The runny yolk served as sauce which the bread held up to well.

After eating we got to go into the kitchen one by one  (due to space restrictions) where Chef Navarro warmly chatted with us and we exchanged contact information.

Needless to say, I was a fan. Not only of the delicious food, but also of his passion and charisma. Which brought me back to B & B 4.0 where Chef Navarro would prepare his much requested signature version of the Juicy Lucy burger, and it would be outdoors as intended.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

Upon arrival at the 4.0 Hollywood location (a private residence), Chef Navarro was prepping out in the yard. Fresh croissants were on the grill with sprigs of rosemary that were sourced from the house's garden.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

Next step was seasoning the patties. Since this was a Juicy Lucy, the cheese goes inside the patty and melts to gooey perfection when served (an inside-out cheeseburger). Chef Navarro completed this step prior to arrival, but talked us through his recipe.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

If you usually add ketchup, mayo or mustard to your burger, how about a freshly prepared lemon-rosemary aioli, fresh picked from the garden? Perfect complement to the burger.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

By this time the meat patties came off the grill to rest.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

Next the chef mixed up and dressed some greens including organic arugula and pea shoots, another unexpected twist. I particularly loved the fresh, almost minty quality, the pea sprouts brought to the table.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

The patties and greens went on the croissants.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

And the Juicy Lucies were plated, ready to be devoured.

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - The Juicy Lucy

If you think that looks good on the tray, here it is half eaten. The greens slightly wilted, the cheese melted. The buttery croissant. Perfect medley of flavors.

Burgers & Beats 4.0

Did I mention this chef-prepared burger is free ? Tips help offset the costs of this generous operation and keep it sustainable, so diners are invited to pay whatever they feel is appropriate.

Burgers and Beats 4.0

The first round of people ate and relaxed with drinks while the "beats" portion of the event, the musicians, began setting up. 

Burgers & Beats 4.0 - guests enjoying the space

In order to make room for the next round of lucky diners, a group of us migrated over to nearby Milk for dessert.

Milk - butterscotch banana ice cream bar

All in all, a delightful gourmet Sunday.

If you'd like to experience an upcoming Burgers & Beats, you can follow Haute Skillet on Twitter (@hauteskillet), on Facebook, or join their mailing list directly from their website.

Look out for the details. Chef Navarro has all kinds of interesting plans for the future.

Fooding Around LQ@SK Pop-Up

This past Monday I attended one of the 2 soft openings nights of an unusual Pop Up event with acclaimed French Chef Laurent Quenioux at Starry Kitchen in downtown L.A.

Chef Laurent Quenioux in kitchen

The event description indicated that the amuse bouche (first mini-appetizer) of the meal would contain imported escamoles, a Mexican delicacy also known as "insect caviar" (ant eggs). So that set the tone for this thoroughly amusing meal.

This unlikely collaboration, as Chef Quenioux wrote on his broadcast email, resulted in the love child, a new signature LQ dish. But more about that later.

Having tried both LQ's modern French fine dining and inventive SK Chef Thi Tran's bold Asian dishes a number of times, I took a trip down taste bud memory lane to think about each entity before tasting the fusion of the two.

So before we get to the meal at hand, some brief background.


My first taste of LQ fare was last year's 2nd Annual Gold Standard event, where Bistro LQ (Chef Quenioux's former restaurant, recently closed) served up multiple dishes.

Bistro LQ table at the Gold Standard event 2010
Upon tasting their savory uni tapioca dish (on top tier of table in the photo), it was love at first bite, and I knew a visit to Bistro LQ was imminent. In my opinion, it was the best dish of the whole event.

Bistro LQ - uni tapioca
Inevitably it was on to Bistro LQ where I savored their famous, heavenly uni tapioca pudding with kumamoto oysters, lobster gelee and yuzu. It's the best of seafood all in a symphony of a couple of perfect bites.

Bistro LQ - cheese cart
Our whole table gawked at the monumental cheese cart. Another work of art.

I've also dined at Vertical Wine Bistro where LQ is Executive Chef, which presents a blending of their previous menu with LQ's additions.


As Starry Kitchen owner Nguyen Tran pointed out to me on Monday, I've been to every incarnation of Starry Kitchen, from their word of mouth underground setup at their North Hollywood home to the LA Street Food Festival (and other events) to their stint at Test Kitchen and to their current location.

While the food is delicious, their infectious energy (like showing up in the infamous banana suit) adds to the experience. The first time I met Nguyen he already knew my name since I had been following SK on Twitter. Very impressive.

My first dish at underground SK was the Malay Ayam, a comforting Malaysian chicken curry banh mi.
Starry Kitchen at Test Kitchen - Crispy Tofu Balls and Pandan Chicken
But my favorite is the Crispy Tofu Balls (aka Game Changer 2), where you do not miss the meat.

Starry Kitchen (downtown) - Spice "crack" crab cakes
And the spicy crab ("krab") cakes which Nguyen refers to as "crack-tacular". I agree.


This union definitely piqued lots of peoples' interest and curiosity. Upon being seated I recognized the familiar silver and glass pitchers from Bistro LQ containing citrus water.

For the soft opening, they offered bread by Bread Lounge and inclusive paired wines by Domaine LA - a Croatian white, Spanish Cava, California/French/Spanish roses, reds, sparkling and a white port wine after dessert.

I've left off the details on the wines since they are not offered during the pop-up's regular run. However, they will offer free corkage.

On to the meal....

Amuse bouche: Escamoles

Amuse Bouche - Escamoles
Insect caviar (ant eggs) was not high on my list of things to try, but I am willing to try almost everything at least once. Since this is a Mexican delicacy, and were "smuggled" in from Tijuana, all the more reason to honor their efforts and try it.

Escamoles - detail

Escamoles are actually ant larvae harvested by hand from the roots of the agave or maguey plants, from which tequila and mezcal are made.

The taste once they were sauteed and placed in a taco was surprisingly mild, slightly nutty and buttery. I definitely couldn't place the taste if nobody explained what they were. The outer wrap of nasturtium leaf, from the chef's own garden, added a peppery, fresh component.

The mini glass of spiced, lime Sapporo beer contained the flower blossom. All of it was edible except the stem.

1st course: Oxtail Compote, pickled spring vegetables, mustard tapioca

Oxtail compote, pickled spring vegtables, mustard tapioca
The mustard tapioca brought back wonderful memories, and served as a great condiment. The tapioca with the slightly sweet, tender oxtail and sour pickles balanced well with the fresh tarragon, although I would have preferred a stronger mustard taste.

The mustard tapioca also will make an appearance in the LQ Boudin Noir Starry Kitchen lunch special.

2nd course: Tai snapper, citruses, zucchini, tomatoes, kohlrabi, smoked black sea salts

Tai snapper, citruses, zucchini, tomatoes, kohlrabi, smoked black sea salts
The pea pod with attached peas was the star of this presentation. I loved how the shape of the citrus segments and even of the fish mirrored its shape.

The New Zealand Tai snapper, also known as red sea bream or porgies, was moist and peppery. Everything tasted good on its own but it didn't all come together for me mixing the components together. A solid but perhaps too mildly flavored course.

Event Organizer Allison Reynolds, pouring the wine pairings and greeting guests

3rd course: Teriyaki rabbit albondigas, teriyaki foie gras, miso, green garlic tempura

Teriyaki rabbit albondigas, teriyaki foie gras, miso, green Garlic tempura

A tableside pouring of the miso broth added even more excitement to this dish.

Teriyaki rabbit albondigas, teriyaki foie gras, miso, green Garlic tempura

Normally the mere mention of foie gras and green garlic tempura would be enough to know this dish would be a hit. But teriyaki is so strong and sweet, not something I usually go for even on chicken.

No worries when the dish arrived, as the teriyaki sauce was delicately applied and did not overpower the succulent foie. The rabbit meatball with teriyaki had a much more intense flavor which I was able to perfect by wrapping a shiso leaf around it before eating. The meatball's crispy outer and juicy inner textures really worked.

The miso broth added an unexpected touch. The tempura stayed crispy even while submerged in broth. 

Overall this dish was the unanimous favorite among the diners and it automatically emerged as the test run's signature dish (the previously described "love child").

4th course: Veal sweatbreads, morels, chanterelles, shisito peppers, yuzu kosho

Veal sweatbreads, morels, chanterelles, shisito peppers, yuzu kosho

This delightful course also was a riff on Starry Kitchen's Chicken Karaage (Japanese fried chicken), but in this case the crispy nuggets were sweetbreads. 

Another harmonious dish with the sauce, bed of creamy Chinese black rice, herbs and contrasting shisito peppers. My plate seemed to be missing the mushrooms, but the dish still held up, as my second favorite of the night.

5th course, dessert: Chocolate chipotle mousse, lime serrano gel, cinnamon soil

Chocolate chipotle mousse, lime serrano gel, cinnamon soil

I never expected dessert to be my 3rd favorite dish, but what an impressive offering. The mouse packed a punch of chipotle. If you click on the photo to enlarge, you can see the specks of red chipotle pepper.

The brilliant touch is that the basil seeds immersed in the serrano lime gel, if mixed with the mouse, added both texture and a cooling component. So did the cinnamon soil, the cinnamon sugar from the churro. Cilantro flowers added a fresh and savory component.

I saved my churro for the end and the sweet crunch helped cleanse my palate from the chipotle. Although the dessert was served with a sweet sparkling wine, the bubbles were a bit tough on the palate after the heat.

Starry Kitchen Owner Nguyen Tran 
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. If you'd like to reserve your own spot, here are the details:

LOCATION: Starry Kitchen, located @ 350 S. Grand Ave, Downtown LA        
DATES: Jun 5-7, 13-14, 19, 20 (more dates to be added later)    
TIME: 2 seating ranges available per night 1st – 6:30p-8:30pm / 2nd – 8:30pm-9:30pm                                                                                             

RESERVATIONS: can ONLY be made through the LQ reservation form and will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is VERY limited. Reservations are not set UNTIL an email confirmation with parking information is sent to customers.

For MOST of LQ@SK, we will be sticking to a $45 Prix Fixe Menu which you can supplement with your own choice of beverages.

Spring Garden Blooms

People say we have no seasons in Southern California. While we don't get many weather extremes, we definitely have a bounty of plants in bloom throughout the year.

March 21st was the first day of spring. Since then I've been noticing tiny buds, blooms and sprouts all over my garden. Here are some for you to also enjoy.

rosa bianca eggplant sprouting from seed
There is joy in watching plants grow from the ground up. Part of the satisfaction of gardening for me is to watch a plant grow from seed or clippings, then eventually bloom.

double tuberose sprouting from bulb

pumelo blossom

lemon blossom

lemon growing (lower right)

tiny grapes


blooming daisies


daffodils from bulbs

amaryllis from bulb


black eyed Susan

black eyed Susan


succulent blooming



red poppies

curry leaf plant


passion flower

bitter melon plant, tendrils attaching

houseplant with new leaves

several new leaves on succulent (indoors)



jacaranda tree

jacaranda tree

I will be posting more garden shots of these little blooms as they grow. What have you been growing this spring?