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Archive for November, 2012

A Lunch Field Trip to In-N-Out and Five Guys

California is In-N-Out territory. Ask its residents what the Golden State’s signature food is and it is a guarantee that over 50% of the responses would be an In-N-Out Burger. How a hamburger or cheeseburger with a Thousand Island dressing inspired, mayonnaise and ketchup based sauce came to represent dining in the land of endless sunshine, mom and pop orchard grown fruits and organic nuts is a bit of a shock. Somehow, California is burger obsessed, even its far from the cattle growing Heartland and that endless sunshine leads Californians to all have the healthy, radiant looks of Brad Pitt and Uma Thurman.

In this burger obsessed state, there are of course many contenders for the best burger– at an above $10 price point for “haute” burgers or “fancy” burgers. Father’s Office, the famed gastropub in Santa Monica and Culver City isn’t exactly a white tablecloth supper club, yet still its burger is very much treated as if its lobster Thermidor by many burger critics.

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Under $10, there is In-N-Out and then there is the rest. Remember, Ray Kroc founded McDonald’s  in California. Californians just don’t talk with that sparkle in their narrative as they describing a life-changing Double-Double Animal Style.

In fact, when I lived in France and talk with foreign visitors here in the U.S. and I mention I’m from California, a common response is how much they love In-N-Out Burgers.

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Now, there’s a new guy, or five guys, in town here in the Wild West. The much younger, larger chain that prides itself on being a quality fast food chain, Five Guys, opened two years ago in California and now is starting to swing the state a bit away from In-N-Out. Having never been to a Five Guys and not re-visited an In-N-Out for years, it was time to hit the treadmill, then join my burger authority friend Zak Weiler for a lunch field trip to both. (more…)


Cocktail of the Week: Tequila Cocktail, Ink, Los Angeles

To accompany Michael Voltaggio’s  sterling, ambitious modern inspired masterpieces currently being produced at the cult chef’s Melrose restaurant Ink, Gabriella Mlynarczyk and Brittini Rae Peterson are presenting diners with equally inspired, cutting-edge cocktails to excite them for the riveting dinner to come.

Yes, this is mixology, but it’s mixology like the molecular gastronomy Voltaggio displays in the kitchen. Instead of trying to shock with foams and gels and powders like is often the case at his prior place of employment, The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Voltaggio uses these elements to subtly enhance a dish, not for a pizazz or novelty factor.

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The cocktails have all the hallmarks of the craft cocktail, mixology movement, with assorted house made syrups, freshly squeezed juices, and whimsical creations that often have two or three ingredients you’ve never even heard of.

Except, Ink isn’t going for the pre-Prohibition era style that is so in vogue with bartenders today. There are no Manhattans or a new style Martinis on the menu, though that could probably be concocted on the spot.

What you have instead is a menu of name-less cocktails, driven by spirits, then filled out for a complete drink, much like Voltaggio does house made Doritos, miso, and nori  to a formidable corn porridge. (more…)


Restaurants: Spago, Beverly Hills

This being Los Angeles, the story must be enthralling in a grand, cinematic mystique sort of way, full of glamour, plot twists, and complete re-models externally and internally.

No, it’s not a Raymond Chandler era, Los Angeles story. For that, head up north to Hollywood Boulevard for a definitive martini at Musso and Frank’s, complete with a chilled martini-filled sidecar and an atmospheric, Philip Marlowe sidecar too. For the more modern L.A. Story, catch the Steve Martin film, or even 2009’s “I Love You, Man,” full of today’s classic L.A. scenery and clichés.

No, this Hollywood story really takes place in Beverly Hills, at the luxurious intersection of Canon and Wilshire, where presently Santa and his reindeer are flying over the passing-by traffic of Range Rovers with tinted windows, Mercedes sedans, and Lotus convertibles.

There may be no more recognizable name in Los Angeles’ dining history than Wolfgang Puck, and the same can be said for his flagship restaurant Spago being the most recognizable restaurant name. You could even present a very convincing case that the two might be the most recognizable in the country. (more…)


Wine of the Week: 2009 Viña Leyda, Las Brisas Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Leyda Valley, Chile

Thanksgiving might be over, but you might still need some more Pinot Noir for all of those turkey leftovers.

But, what really does the always flexible, light red grape not go with? A lot more than turkey that’s for sure.

Nowadays, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Sonoma Coast, and Santa Barbara County grab the headlines for Pinot Noir in the New World, with their cooler, moist climates yielding grapes that produce elegant, well-rounded, smooth, and fruity Pinot Noirs that can make anybody fall in love with wine. Yes, as is obligatory when referring to Pinot Noir, the varietal can make you infatuated by wine like the characters in Sideways.

What about if you flip Oregon to the Southern Hemisphere and grow Pinot Noir in Chile? I visited Chile two years ago for wine tasting in the Colchagua Valley, only to be welcomed by a procession of exceptional Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux-style blends, and Chardonnay from grapes in the coastal Casablanca Valley. Not once did I sample Pinot Noir. (more…)


Happy Thanksgiving From Trev’s Bistro!

The big day is just hours away and for many of us the dinner prep work has already begun in full force…yet somehow we almost always manage to fall behind on Thursday morning and barely get everything ready in time for dinner.

Just remember, there is a reason you probably have never seen turkey tartare on a menu before. Then again, there is always a time maybe to try something new? Not necessarily in this case.

The Relish Tray

By now you’ve spent weeks reading through every cooking and food related publication’s blockbuster “Super Bowl of Food” Thanksgiving issues, probably using a maximum of two of their recipes total. Thanksgiving is really about tradition. Once you have found a consistent turkey and pumpkin pie recipe, you stick to it.

Each year we stick to the same recipes that have now become our tradition, while I tinker with one or two aspects of the meal to add some fresh appeal. Sometimes it’s a rousing success, like an apple cider based gravy or a bourbon chocolate pecan pie, or the umami rich addition of shiitake mushrooms to the stuffing. Other times, well, the recipes won’t become part of the tradition, including a real pumpkin and apple cobbler that was more a bland side dish than a proper meal-ending dessert or a desert dry cornbread recipe that may have passed for acceptable in the 1800’s. (more…)


Cocktail of the Week: The “Running Leap” from The Spare Room, Hollywood

On this Thanksgiving Eve, Autumn is very much on the mind of everyone. Well, maybe not as much if you’re in Los Angeles where it still feels like late summer.

The days of pumpkin this, apple that are soon fading into snowy winter days, so let’s celebrate a strike of an Autumnal cocktail from The Spare Room, one of two exceptional cocktail bars inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (the other being the Library Bar just off the lobby where the focus is on produce-centric, omakase ordered cocktails).

“The Running Leap”

The Spare Room indeed has two lanes for your bowling and drinking needs. I didn’t drop the $100 for a lane to see if a cocktail might make my bowling shots go straighter, as they usually curve quickly to the gutter. It’s a hidden speakeasy, except not underground, and about fifty times the size of one.

The year-old Spare Room’s cocktail menu is divided into seasonal cocktails (think an Old-Fashioned with cranberry cordial) and revamped classics (the Penicillin becomes the “Amoxycillin” with Amaro added).

Using Bonded Bourbon as the base, the “Running Leap” is an absolute stand-out. Served in an antique tumbler with three chiseled rocks that never melt away to dilute the drink, the usually ho-hum pairing of apple cider and bourbon gets a new life here courtesy of a house-made rosemary liqueur. Maple syrup adds some body and sweetness, then a spritz of lemon helps calm the rosemary’s edge. It’s all shaken up and presented on a paper maple leaf, with a garnish of apple chips. (more…)


Bites of The First Half of November

It’s been a few weeks since we savored some of the most special dishes enjoyed each week. Here are some of the bites that stop you in your tracks and make you want to order another round, all based in the San Francisco Bay Area this time around.

Next week we’ll get ready for Thanksgiving, the “Super Bowl” for the food world. Also, we’ll have new reports from Los Angeles and begin the switch to the holiday season, where everything pumpkin becomes everything peppermint.

Beauty’s Bagels, Oakland: Sesame Wood-Fired Bagel with Lox, Salted Cucumber, Capers, Red Onion, Arugula, and Oven-Roasted Tomato Cream Cheese

This new, cute bagel purveyor and much more café in a still edgy part of Oakland boasts an impressive wood-fired oven for their Montréal style bagels, à la St. Viateur and Fairmount (Fairmount is my pick). The smoky nature of the bagel is enhanced when served with just sesame seeds, a perfect contrast the velvet soft ribbons of superb lox. Go for the oven roasted tomato cream cheese for the perfect breakfast and make sure to go for the whole vegetable topping package. (more…)