Archive for the ‘food’ Tag

Tapas and More   2 comments

Tapas

Carrying an umbrella in case of rain is almost a sure sign that it won’t be needed. Upon arriving in Barcelona we worried that the final weekend of our European vacation would be wet and dreary. For the first hour, it was. So, I unpacked the umbrella and the rain in Spain stayed mainly away.

Although, I’m sure we would have enjoyed the sites and food no matter what, the blue skies were an exclamation mark. We marveled at Barcelona’s beauty while also taking the opportunity to sample Catalan cuisine such as tapas, paella and other dishes that expanded our waistlines.

Tapas aren’t only only found in Spain, but that is certainly where they’re an art form. Following a walking tour of the Gothic quarter we wandered into a small tapas bar. Our server spoke wonderful English, which she said she was happy to practice.

We ordered jamon (paper thin slice of cured ham big on salty flavor), tomato bread, a cheese plate and potato balls. There is nothing like Spanish ham (jamon) and as much as I loved it, the potato balls were my favorite. Golf ball-size rounds of mashed potatoes were quickly fried creating a crusty, non-greasy exterior encasing creamy potatoes. Each had dollops of aioli. I could have eaten several platefuls.

chicken tapas

My tapas-sized order of paella at another restaurant was uninspiring. The flavors were fine, but the abundance of shellfish made it difficult to eat. I suppose, in retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing.

My favorite meal was grilled chicken and French fries topped with roasted pepitos. These mild, savory peppers were smoky. The crispy chicken skin, which I ordinarily would have discarded, provided contrast to the juicy meat.

We enjoyed pastries at breakfast and gelato for afternoon/evening snacks.

We did a lot of walking in Barcelona; we had to!

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Pesto is the Best(o)   3 comments

 

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I’d been told many times that pesto made from basil grown in the Cinque Terre is especially good. The warm sun and coastal air make the licorice-flavored herb uniquely pungent. Basil is not a mild flavor, so I was intrigued by the idea of a different, perhaps stronger taste. I ate pesto several times over the course of three days to make sure.

Rest assured, it was very good, but I think the local olive oil may also be a contributing factor. Although, each dish I sampled allowed the rich green basilica to shine. The oil did not overpower, which can be the case with some versions.

We stayed in Riomaggiore where in late February it is still the low season. We found only two restaurants open. In nearby Manarola, there were more options, but not an overwhelming  number.

My pesto dinners were surprisingly different, albeit only slightly. One, at Pizzeria da Mam’angela, featured potatoes. Osteria Maite’s had pine nuts and was a darker green, but both were mixed with perfect al dente tagliolini, a linguini-like fresh pasta.

La Scogliera in Manarola offered several options for pesto, including lasagne, gnocchi and minestrone. I had the latter. The soup was rustic and hearty . The serving was just right for a late lunch.

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At home a large serving of pasta with pesto would suffice as a meal. One night I opted to eat as Italians do and had a primi plati and a secondi plati (grilled swordfish). It was a lot of food. The second evening  I had only pasta. Perfecto!

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Growing up With Good Taste   Leave a comment

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Foodies and artists, often one in the same, should enjoy Lucy Knisley’s comic book memoir, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. It’s humorous, educational and a quick read.

At an early age her parents instilled an appreciation of gourmet food. I’d like to think I did, too, with my own kids, but I never considered serving my toddler children poached salmon. I did, however, insist that they at least try new things even if they only took one bite. The result – years later – is they all have fine palates and enjoy a good meal.

But back to Knisley.

She shares stories about leaving the City for upstate New York following her parents’ divorce. She relates her initial displeasure at having to be around farms, chickens and seed stores. Eventually, her text and accompanying illustrations reflect a tone of gratitude. It’s clear she has good relationships with both parents, but she does include some of the rough spots they endured. These were, no surprise, Knisley’s teenage years. She makes no effort to (literally) draw herself in a better light; this is a highlight.

Humor underlies these chronicles of coming-of-age, food cravings, travel and love for her parents. Knisely also includes illustrated recipes, cooking tips and explanations of cooking techniques.

Among my favorite chapters is the account of her efforts to recreate the croissants she so enjoyed in Italy. Her determination is as evident as her failure, but her humor saves the day. This is always the best ingredient no matter the endeavor.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Five Bookmarks
First Second Books, 2013
173 pages

 

No Great After Taste   Leave a comment

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Sweetbitter is a combination love story and homage to restaurant life, particularly servers. It’s far from reverent and certainly doesn’t offer a warm-hearted view of the front and back of house scenes. It demonstrates that working in a restaurant is often a lifestyle and not just a job.

Told from 22-year-old Tess’s point of view, Stephanie Danler’s novel is unflinching when it comes to sex, drugs and ego trips. Tess arrives in New York City from the Midwest. With only limited diner experience, she lands a job as a back waiter in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. She’s unsure of herself, has no true motivation, but still simply seems ready to get on with her life, whatever it may be.

The novel’s four sections are broken down by seasons beginning with a sweltering summer. As each progresses I was increasingly disappointed. Summer and fall had my full attention as I expected Tess to develop interests and become more confident. By the winter and spring segments, I was disappointed. Yes, Tess makes some self-discoveries, but they’re minor in the scheme of things.

Part of the problem is that Danler never makes Tess’s obsessive fixation on Jake, the bartender, tangible or credible enough. His relationship with Simone, an older server who, inexplicably, fascinates Tess, is a mystery waiting to be solved; but it lacks tension. Instead, predictability takes control, which is far more bitter than anything sweet Danler has to offer.

Sweetbitter
(Barely) Three bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
352 pages

Fine Dining   Leave a comment

Dinner with Edward is Isabel Vincent’s poignant tribute to an unlikely friendship that evolved for several years over elegantly-prepared meals.

Edward is the 93-year-old father of one of Vincent’s friends; his wife of 69 years has recently died. Vincent is in the midst of a rocky marriage. She is initially reluctant to meet Edward, after all he’s of another generation and she isn’t interested in taking on the role of caretaker. However, once they meet she comes to learn as much about herself as she does about cooking, dining, relationships and manners of a bygone era.

They begin to meet weekly at Edward’s apartment where he always has a martini glass waiting for her in the freezer and a gourmet meal to serve. Their conversations touch on recipes, Edward’s sweet memories of his deceased wife, Vincent’s job as an investigative reporter for The New York Post, her husband and daughter – among many other subjects.

Such a memoir has the potential to be sappy, but Vincent avoids this pitfall through the honest, albeit terse, descriptions of her own emotions and the imagery she creates based on the memories Edward shares with her. This is not a romance in the physical sense, but in an emotional one.

Each chapter begins with a menu Edward prepared. It always includes a dessert and the wine served. It isn’t a good idea to read this on an empty stomach.

More than anything, Vincent shows that the sustenance food provides goes well beyond what’s on a plate.

Dinner With Edward
Four Bookmarks
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hills, 2016
213 pages

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

Taco Tour   1 comment

Back-to-back taco tastings at two Los Angeles taquerias may not constitute a true test, but it did provide a fun opportunity for comparison – plus alliteration. Both Mexicali Taco & Co. and Yuca’s have garnered a lot of ink in The Los Angeles Times, mainly thanks to critic Jonathan Gold; all of it well deserved.

I first heard of Mexicali Taco several years ago in a Gold review. What I recall is that the owners travel to Baja a few times a week for the tortillas. While I think there are plenty of good tortillerias in East L.A., I appreciate Mexicali’s efforts. They are worth it. We ordered carne asada tacos. The meat comes almost naked on a plate, wrapped only in a soft tortilla. A grilled scallion is added for can only be color. It was the carne we were after, but a small salsa bar features a few different heat levels, pickled onions, radishes, slaw, cucumbers and lime. The charred diced meat is surprisingly tender.

However, Yuca’s carne asada is a bit more flavorful. These feature grilled pieces of meat with fresh onion, tomatoes and cilantro. They don’t need anything else except two corn tortillas, which don’t hold up well. Yuca’s offers a few outdoor tables, otherwise plan to eat in your car – if you can’t wait to get home.

The best of the taco world, where these two are concerned, would be Mexicali’s tortillas because they hold up well and have a distinct corn taste, and Yuca’s melt-in-your-mouth carne asada.

Mexicali’s Taco & Co. 
Four Plates
702 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles

Yuca’s
Four Plates
2056 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles