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Archive for the ‘California’ Tag

Hippie Meals   Leave a comment

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Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters is like dining at what’s supposed to be a very good restaurant but only a few of the entrees are enjoyable. Unfortunately, not all of Waters’s memoir is interesting. The parts that are, really are though.

Waters is credited with helping change the culinary scene in the 1960s by opening Chez Panisse which relied on a prix fixe menu that changed according to what was fresh that day.

Waters shared too much minutiae from her childhood. I don’t care about a costume party when she was four years old or that her step-grandmother was a cold woman. Things pick up when she transfers from college in Santa Barbara to Berkeley. What I found most interesting was how a trip to Paris her junior year of college and her years in Berkeley made such an impact.

The narrative is told mostly in chronological order leading up to the opening of the restaurant. Anecdotes about life post-opening are indicated in italics throughout most of the chapters. These asides are noteworthy, but they are also distracting.

The story of Chez Panisse begins with Waters’s desire to replicate flavors she experienced in Paris through a cozy, hip bistro-like ambiance. What set her apart at the time was what is now recognized as the slow food movement and the reliance on the freshest possible ingredients. Yet, there’s scant mention of either, nor of her recognition today as an advocate of sustainable agriculture.

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook
Three-and-three-fourths Bookmarks
Clarkson Potter Publishing, 2017
306 pages

 

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Cluck Cluck   2 comments

The idea of gourmet fried chicken may seem to be an oxymoron. It isn’t. It’s simply a great rendition of this comfort food. I’ve previously written about Bouchon which several years ago began offering the crispy fare, using its sister restaurant Ad Hoc’s recipe, on Monday nights. This is why I was pleased that my recent visit to Los Angeles included the first day of the work week. My enthusiasm was quickly dispelled when a private event closed Bouchon abandoning us to seek different dinner plans.

Beast sign

Fortunately, there’s more than one hen house in Southern California. Monday also happens to be fried chicken night at Little Beast in the Eagle Rock area.

Beast chicken

Little Beast fills the space of a comfortable, craftsman style house. The menu features small plates and seasonal dishes. Happy hour includes drink specials and half-price appetizers. We ordered the charred peaches with burrata. Grilled halved peaches are smoky and summer sweet. The soft, creamy cheese provides a nice balance, while croutons add texture. Slices of prosciutto help send this over the top.

Back to the raison d’etre. Fried to a golden caramel color, four pieces of chicken share the plate with cole slaw and two thin, but surprisingly, flakey biscuits. The crunchy coating is peppery and the meat is juicy. The slaw is made with a vinegar-based dressing featuring sliced almonds. The biscuits can be slathered with the accompanying whipped butter and amber honey.

The servings are large, which makes Tuesdays the day for leftover fried chicken.

 Little Beast

Four-and-a-half Plates

1496 Colorado Blvd.

Los Angeles

The Other CIA   Leave a comment

CIAsalad

It’s often a barely discernible mistep on a fine dining experience that puts everything else off-kilter. When at a table set with a bread plate, a butter knife and a bottle of olive oil, I expect bread. Even if I don’t always eat it (which I usually do), the cues tell me it’s coming. Its absence is distracting. Such was the case at Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley. Since our server was nowhere in sight after our salads arrived we couldn’t even request it.

The mix of greens with red and yellow tomatoes were delicately coated in a pesto dressing. Roasted corn and pearl mozzarella, suggestive of miniature marshmallows, took the salad to another level. Nonetheless, the pesto dressing would have been perfect to soak up with a hard-crusted piece of bread.

CIA cod

Once the entrees arrived, I forgot the missing bread, at least temporarily. Pan-seared Ling Cod, delicate in flavor and texture, was served on a bed of creamed spinach. Creamed spinach gets a bad rep; I’ll defend it any chance I get. The addition of Shitake mushrooms made something good even better.

CIA sampler

A choice of four desserts, not counting a selection of artisan cheeses, made it difficult to reach a decision, so the sampler settled the issue. Two were particularly intriguing: Piped Cheesecake and Sliced Chocolate. The former was a deconstructed version. The latter was dark chocolate with spheres of crème brulee. Don’t ask.

Still, I did miss that bread.

Wine Spectator Greystone
Four Plates (Barely)
25555 Main St.
St. Helena, Calif.

Chicken Worth its Wait   2 comments

bouchonplate

Bouchon Bistro used to only offer fried chicken dinners once a month. Reservations filled within minutes; sometimes it felt like having one wrong lottery number. Now the odds are a little better: the crispy fried chicken in Thomas Keller’s restaurant is served twice monthly.

Although, the regular menu is available, I have to wonder why anyone would consider it. The sides, aren’t always the same, but by all accounts the chicken has a consistently high wow factor. Recently, the meal included fork-crushed potatoes, pole bean salad and Parker House rolls. The chicken is the star of the night. Plump from soaking in a lemon/herb brine for more than 12 hours, it’s deep-fried for a coating that shatters as soon as it meets your lips.bouchonchix

(Keller has numerous dining establishments. He’s authored several cookbooks, including Ad Hoc at Home featuring the fried chicken recipe. The description of the process and lengthy list of ingredients intrigued me, so last winter I tried it. It was good to know that, with fortitude and lots of time, the chicken can be made at home very close to what Bouchon serves. Keller also edits Finesse, a beautifully-designed magazine with articles celebrating the beauty of kitchens: design, cooking, gadgets and techniques.)

bouchonchick

Back to that chicken, it’s juicy on the inside and crunchy on the outside for the perfect combination of texture and taste: buttermilk, rosemary and thyme. The bean salad in bacon vinaigrette, although flavorful, wasn’t as stellar as the creamy potatoes and rolls; even with a chicken-only meal I’d feel like a winner.

Bouchon Bistro
Five Plates
235 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, Calif.

Partaking Take-Out   Leave a comment

barraganmenu

A recent trip to Los Angeles to see my mom was a bit different than previous visits. She’d had surgery last month and I had gone to provide some belated help. Mostly I cooked. And cooked some more, filling her freezer until the next time I can return to offer more over-due assistance. Dining at special or new restaurants is one of the many things we usually do when I go to LA, but on this trip circumstances allowed for only one restaurant meal, which we ate at my mom’s. Thank goodness, one of our long-time favorite Mexican restaurants, Barragan’s, has take-out.

It’s practically a tradition for us to dine at Barragan’s when I’m in town. We’ve gone for dinner, lunch and even brunch. We take friends there. We’ve got a thing for Barragan’s because the food is consistently fresh and flavorful. I am glad to know those same qualities carry over when ordering in.

baraganmole

I ordered the Mole Enchiladas which came with a salad, rice and beans. The enchiladas were filled with chunks of chicken slathered in mole thick with an abundance of spices that blend perfectly with one another. The sweet taste of cinnamon was the perfect foil for the hint of bittersweet chocolate. Not only were my taste buds enamored with the entrée, but the rice and beans – especially the beans – were also loaded with flavor. These are no canned variety.

My mom ate very little, but I made up for it relishing my meal – food I didn’t cook.

Barragan’s
Four Plates
814 S. Central Ave.
Glendale, CA