y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: May 2012

Sips, Swirls and Comfort Food at Vinoteque and The Foundry

A couple of months ago I enjoyed a wonderful evening at Vinoteque on Melrose wine bar and restaurant, followed by comfort food dinner next door from The Foundry on Melrose's bar menu.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_group

At Vinoteque, which I'd been to and enjoyed great tastings and food, I attended one of their Sip n Swirls events (click on the link to read their current schedule). The events offer three or more wine tastings along with small bites of food by Chef Sheila R. Gomez.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_Ryan a

Vinoteque's charming European ambiance and indoor/outdoor setting provide enough incentive to try the place, but in my opinion, Sommelier Ryan Hess enriches the experience with his charming Irish gift of gab and extensive knowledge about their 350 bottle wine collection.

I've been riveted to every word whenever he's spoken at these tastings.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_wine 1 S African 2007 Viogner

This particular Sip n Swirl theme of Pairing Food & Wine, accompanied with notes to take away, began with the advice to "drink what you like". That has always been my philosophy as I enjoy tasting more than studying and talking.

We were also advised to think about the dish or meal and its dominant characteristics, such as mildness vs. flavor, fatty vs. lean, rich vs. acidic. The idea being to keep the flavors in balance. Mild with mild. Big with big. Rich with rich.

 Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_Viogner adn talleggio

Our first taste was a 2007 South African Viognier paired with triple cream, semi-soft washed rind taleggio cheese on a crostini.

We took a sip on its own, then after trying a bite of the food.

The acids in the wine bind to the lipids in the cheese, illustrating the premise of  pairing rich foods with tanins or acids in a crisp wine to cleanse the palate.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_gnocchi and Chianti Classico sangiovese

Second tasting was a Chianti Classico of Sangiovese grapes along with gnocchi. The flavors mirror each other more. Ryan explained that the higher acid wines make us salivate.

This principal of matching the acids in the wine to the acidity of the tomato sauce in the food keeps flavors harmonious.

On the other hand, acidic wines do not go well mixed with cream.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_Domaine la Lorentine Lirac 2005

Our final tasting was the 2005 Domaine la Lorentine Lirac, produced in the Southern Rhone region of France. Other Rhone wines include Syrah, Grenache and Morvedre.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_beef tartare adn Lirac 2005

The sensible advice of pairing the wine region with the food region helpa simplify the decision. Things that grew up together go well together.

We heard about the lilac and violet notes in the wine along with the wet, snowy climate.

The steak tartare accompanying the wine blended nicely, particularly with the worcestershire sauce.

Vinoteque Sip and Swirl Oct11_Ryan b

After the tastings, Ryan took some questions on specific pairings. I asked about pairing with Chinese Peking duck. He suggested a dry muscat and also pulled out an obscure (to me!) Greek wine from the collection called Agiorgitiko.

We also discussed how strongly spiced food can destroy the flavors in wine. But if it's something one must have, a spicy and sweet varietal such as Gewurtztraminer or Riesling work best.

*     *     *     *

The tasting whet our appetite for dinner. Although Vinoteque serves a full dinner menu, my friends and I headed next door to The Foundry for some comfort food on their bar menu.

And does Executive Chef and Owner Eric Greenspan ever know how to serve up the comfort food!

Foundry Oct11_focaccia and biscuits

We immediately got some mini bread bites on the table.

Foundry Oct11_biscuit with herb butter

What more can I say about a freshly baked mini biscuit with compound butter? It hits the spot.

Foundry Oct11_Foundry Tots fried potato cheese fondue violet mustard

For appetizer we enjoyed some Foundry Tots, fried potato tots with bleu cheese fondue and violet mustard, served in a mini skillet.

Foundry Oct11_buttermilk fried chicken goat cheese waffles

The night we dined there happened to be Fried Chicken night, and you can order individual pieces.

The chicken here falls apart at the bone. Probably because I heard Chef Greenspan first confits the chicken (cooks in its own fat), THEN batters and fries it. Nothing is left to chance here. The herbs in the breading add a fresh flavor.

And if that doesn't do the trick, the side dish of goat cheese waffles with maple bourbon syrup seals the deal. Sweet and savory in one bite always wins me over. They were a home run.

Foundry Oct11_grilled cheese taleggio raisin bread apricot caper puree short ribs

It's practically a crime to dine there without having the award winning, infamous Grilled Cheese sandwich. 

It oozes with taleggio cheese on raisin bread, apricot caper puree, arugula, Digon mustard, butter, olive oil, fleur de sel. We also took the option of adding in tender short ribs.

I'm totally okay with a simple grilled cheese and normally this many ingredients kind of gilds the lily, but it creates a unique, sinful combination that's so worth trying.

Foundry Oct11_The Patio SeasonBurger cheddar Hawaiian bread summer condiments

We rounded things off with the open faced Foundry Patio Burger. The patty comes on lightly toasted Hawaiian sweet bread with melted cheddar, arugula, baby cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes and onion rings.

On the small side dishes right on the plate, they serve homemade aioli, caramelized onions and bacon pineapple relish.

In my opinion there are too many flavor combinations and too much build-it-yourself activity, but the taste definitely was there and it's another customer favorite at this place.

I'm getting tired just mentally re-living this meal! Both of these classic establishments offer great choices on the ever changing Melrose Avenue. 

Vinoteque on Melrose on Urbanspoon The Foundry On Melrose on Urbanspoon

Comfort Carbs - Sweets

I'd like to end this comfort carb series with my favorite sweet treats in the neighborhood.

Starbucks gingerbread_Dec11

This gingerbread at Starbucks Coffee Company should be ubiquitous, but actually shows up during the end of year holiday season. Once in awhile I find it during the year.

It's very moist, nicely spiced gingerbread with a sweet, slightly tart icing and candied ginger.

Cafe Four brown butter lavender cookie_Dec11

The simplistic appearance of this cookie masks the taste explosion once you bite into it. I found this little darling at Four Cafe in Eagle Rock, in their bakery case. And they sell out fast, as this cookie is insanely popular.

This beautifully white, shortbread cookie comes in Brown Butter Lavender flavor. It's all at once buttery, floral, sweet, salty with a perfectly crumbly texture. Outstanding!

                 Euro Pane Jul11_plum bar

Euro Pane Bakery by far ranks as one of my favorite spots in Pasadena. Their famous egg salad sandwich probably deserves a post of its own. But during the summer season, this extraordinary plum bar emerges in their cases.

Once again, it's a shortbread base with a perfect blend of sweet and tart. It's another treat that tells me it's summer (and makes me happy it's summer).


No sweet list for me would be complete without ice cream, the ultimate comfort sweet treat. Once again I am very, very fortunate to live near both Fosselman's Ice Cream shop, the Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain and Buster's Ice Cream & Coffee Stop - all serve Fosselman's fluffy ice cream.

They rotate in unique flavors like ube, young coconut, horchata and others. My standby is the chocolate dipped strawberry to the right on this adorable double cone.

Pazzo Gelato Apr12_rasberry chocolate chip sorbetto

And finally for gelato, and the non-dairy version of those flavors, Pazzo Gelato in Silver Lake usually carries a gorgeous red, strawberry dark chocolate chip sorbetto. Last time I went, they served up this gorgeously pink raspberry chocolate chip sorbetto.

So whether you are in the mood for a baked or frozen treat, wonderful choices abound in the neighborhood.

Comfort Carbs at Heirloom Bakery and Cafe

South Pasadena doesn't get credit for some of the solid food establishments it contains. It's not exactly the international food capital of L.A., but there are some highlights.

Another local comfort food favorite of mine, the Heirloom Bakery and Cafe, in the Mission West area is a very convenient snack, breakfast or lunch stop adjacent to the Gold Line train station.


On my first visit, I noticed this large tray in the glass case with these cubes of mac and cheese.




After taking it home, smashing it with a fork and heating it up 2 minutes in the microwave, I had this comforting bowl of warm bubbling mac and cheese, complete with bread crumb topping.

It's surprising how much volume that cube grows into once smashed and heated. The pasta is al dente with gourmet cheese flavors.


The quiches, or at least the mushroom/spinach/parmesan quiche pictured here taste very savory, light and fluffy. They come whole or cut into these very generous slices.


This gorgeous multi-layered banana and chocolate cake looks like the perfect slice of cake in my head. The flavors remain subtle, natural and not overly sweet.


With the ubiquitous cupcakes, especially the red velvet, it's hard to stand out. I particularly loved the presentation of this one with delicately piped frosting and a lovely red rose petal as garnish. Simple and elegant.


In the cupcake department, one can't do much better than their Hostess inspired cupcake. I love the way they packed it upside down in this plastic container - very smart.


I've had several grown-up versions of the highly processed Hostess cakes that I loved as a child but can barely tolerate as an adult.

This one looks and tastes the best, in my opinion, and also wins in the moistness category.


The advantage of taking it home is being able to enjoy it out on the patio, in the sun. The smooth as silk chocolate ganache, moist cake and marshmallow cream filling satisfy every sweet craving imaginable.


All in all, this bakery and cafe provides a fantastic tucked away (on Meridian Avenue rather than on Mission) retreat for when you crave those comforting carbs.

Heirloom Bakery & Café on Urbanspoon

Comfort Carbs at PappaRich

Do you love the combination of sweet/salty? Do you love bread? Love butter And oh, did I mention salt? How about all those things rolled up into 1 delicious, warm, fresh out of the oven light and airy bun? 

You have to try PappaRich. It's a Korean-Euro fusion cafe (first American branch of this wildly popular bakery/cafe) that serves the buns, large sandwich cookies and very high quality teas, coffees among other beverages. 

Papparoti (its original name) is derived from the Italian words “Pappa (Father)“ and “Roti (Bun)“, which they consider to be the 
‘Father of all buns.‘ 

I must have passed by their unassuming Pasadena store dozens of times without even noticing. Thanks to a coworker who turned me on to these delights, I got hooked.

Notice the crisp, cookie-like edges.

The buns strike a balance between the mocha cream paste which is layered over a round dough, creating a crispy exterior and the soft pat of butter in the surprisingly airy interior.

Walking into the store, the air smells strongly of mocha. So much so that I wondered whether they piped the fragrance in. But more likely, the fresh baked buns give off their heady scents. One visit and bite and you'll be addicted.

I usually check when a fresh batch will come out of the oven in order to time the visit. Otherwise they may reheat a bun, which isn't bad, but doesn't give you quite the same 'high'.

Buns run around $3 each and one is adequate, but many take them home in the dozens. I did warn you how addictive they are.

On a recent visit I noticed the introduction of other flavors besides the original, including cheese and chocolate.

This is neither a new place nor one I just discovered. I've been enjoying it for a couple of years.

It's just that each time I return, like I did with another coworker the other day, I sort of re-discover it again.

Nobody described it better than my favorite food critic, Jonathan Gold. Let me  conclude with his profound words:

"PappaRich, fat, warm, breast-shaped things that are utterly soft beneath their crackly, subtly mocha-flavored crusts, barely sweetened, and concealing a payload of salty melted butter at their core. 

A single bun is enough to fill a reasonable person to bursting, but the play of air and crunch, salt and sweet, warm and hot..."

What better way to describe these buns always make it to my short list of comfort carbs?

Pappa Rich on Urbanspoon