Foodstuffs

Foodstuffs

0 comment Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |
A trip to Las Vegas wouldn't be complete without a fancy schmancy dinner consisting of at least four courses and an amuse bouche or two at a restaurant named after a chef who's earned three stars from the esteemed Michelin guide. Two nights ago, I noshed at Joel Robuchon's casual eatery, L'Atelier. But that experience didn't compare to Guy Savoy's eponymous restaurant in Caesars Palace's Augustus Tower. Monsieur Savoy's son, Frank, and his daughter-in-law, Laura, who had handled my reservation and menu requests, stopped by to introduce themselves and exchange pleasantries and business cards with me and my dinnermates.

I think Savoy's three-month-old venture in the land of togas and laurel wreaths was the perfect hybrid of low and high culture. Just take a look at the bear sculpture created by Frenchman David Mach out of colored match sticks.

Bernard, the super-nice maitre behind the champagne bar, entertained Emili and me with tales about his 25-plus years working at various restaurants in Los Angeles, starting wtih the original Spago and ending with his difficulty in securing a reservation at Wolfgang Puck's new steakhouse, Cut, in the Beverly Regent Wilshire Hotel for Robin Williams' manager. After recommending a rose champagne by Bruno Paillard (superb!), he offered shots of tomato gazpacho, teeny tiny foie gras club sandwiches impaled on silver toothpicks and olive brioches. Since Adam and I were the only two members of The Foie Faction present, it wasn't an official eating meeting of our pro-foie gras political action group. Still, it wasn't a bad way to represent.

After the rest of our party of eight joined us, we were directed to our round table in a private room with a view of the Barbary Coast's neon lights. If only Missy (left) and Emili had eyes behind their heads.

Our eyes were not the only ones treated to such spectacle. The amuse bouche of fennel, shallots and cold carrot soup hid a surprise for us. Under the double-ended cups was a pyramid comprising a parmesan crisp, half of a cherry tomato, sliver of prosciutto and a dime of a blood sausage.

Yum!

Our first official course was a slow-cooked wild King salmon with licorice, star anis jus and foam. The bread man suggested a ciabatta to go with our first course. I had to rebel; I ordered a bacon roll.

The second course, Mr. Savoy's signature artichoke and black truffle soup, was served with a specific baked good: a toasted mushroom brioche smeared with black truffle butter.

In lieu of the veal shank, I had requested a substitution of chicken, since some dinnermates had objected to veal for humanitarian and dietary reasons. The chef cooked a whole bird for us. Halfway into our feasting on the unbelievably tender breasts of poached poulard, we were offered extra morsels of the dark meat. I was one of the few at the table who accepted the additional pieces. The brown basmati rice was cooked al dente. The cabbage was stuffed with carrot cubes.

To clean our palate, we scooped up a round of mint ice cream nestled in a fortress of diced plums.

Our dessert was a chocolate fondant decorated with crunchy praline headpieces that would make a showgirl proud. Many of the dishes and silverware were custom-made for Mr. Savoy. I wondered which came first: the rectangular plate with a shallow crevice on the right-hand side or the chicory cream.

I loved the square teapot in which my mint tea was steeped. It was ingenious that the tea ball was attached to the bottom of the heavy ceramic-coated iron lid. Although Mr. Savoy didn't offer each of the ladies a giant brioche as Joel Robuchon's peeps had at the end of our multicourse meal last February, I walked away with a copy of our special menu and a box of caramels.

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0 comment Tuesday, April 22, 2014 |



Saturday was a day of experimentation for June-chan and me. Not only did we try coconut custard pie for the very first time (and loved it), but we also smoked a hookah. We knew it would be an evening filled with giggles once we walked in the door of a recently opened Egyptian restaurant on Sawtelle Boulevard, south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Sitting on the front stoop was a waiter with a mohawk. He didn't serve our table, but a non-mohawked waiter who was rather cute with his conventionally shorned locks did. I wasn't entirely sure what one packed in a two-foot-high hookah to smoke. It wasn't conventional tobacco. Surmising from the strawberry and grape flavors that swirled in my mouth after puffing on the long pipe fitted with a hygienic plastic tip, I guessed that the house special that our waiter recommended was a blend of strawberry and grape leaves or a paste mixed with the essence of those fruits. The blend was compressed in a bell-shaped metal container wrapped with perforated aluminum foil. The bell vessel was then snapped on the top of the hookah and warmed with three pieces of charcoal. The heat from the charcoals burned the "tobacco" which June-chan and I smoked. The flavors were so sweet that we skipped dessert. We also felt a little lightheaded but not totally baked. The predominantly Middle Eastern patrons in the restaurant must have thought we were some crazy Asian tourists because we kept snapping pictures of ourselves on our cell phones. June-chan even videotaped me adeptly smoking the hookah on her Razr in case anyone doubted that I knew how to blow smoke rings. The best part about the surreal night was that it didn't end at the hookah restaurant. June-chan and I met two friends in Hollywood and boogied the hookah high off to Tones on Tails' "Go!" and other fabulously catchy dance tracks.

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One afternoon in March, when unexpected clouds shadowed a long-awaited BBQ, some pals and I brainstormed on what would make the perfect cook-out. We realized that all of us hail from different cultures hosting rich food heritages. The Mexicans can offer carne asada marinated in a secret concoction that may involve Sunny Delight. Viets like to soften chicken, beef and pork in a sesame sauce enhanced with lemongrass. As for Minnesota-bred Norwexicans (Norwegian + Mexican) like Miguelito, the culinary combination yields corn dogs. Salivating with the possibility of so many gastronomic options at one location, we hatched the idea for the first United Nations of Meatz on Stix.

The first assembly was scheduled some five months after that cloudy BBQ on a sunny summer day. Stan opened his home in Eagle Rock to host the hungry hordes.

Stan refused to divulge the name of the East Los Angeles shop that pre-marinated the carne asada.

So we ate in blissful ignorance.

Stan's missus, Xenia, took over the second grill shift: my Viet-style chicken on sticks.

I marinated the chunks of dark meat for 48 hours. It took a bit of patience and skill to flip the tender chicken without burning or dropping them into the flames.

Though the Viets traditionally eat grilled meat over a bowl of cold vermicelli noodles and fresh greens and herbs, I decided to skip the carbs. Instead, I offered red leaf lettuce, cilantro, Vietnamese basil and mint in which to wrap the chicken.

The wraps were the perfect snack for a beautiful sunset.

South Africa was represented by Jesse's contribution of boerewors, or farmer sausage. He picked up this fresh batch earlier in the day at a South African pub in the San Fernando Valley, where he had watched his native brethren lose to New Zealand in a rugby match. We mourned the loss with some meat and margaritas.
Packed in a foot-long case, the sausage required some creative strategizing for where to place it on the small grill. We had to evict some corn cobs to accommodate the meat. Carnivores rule!

The traditional sausage from South Africa was hearty and chunky.

The three-handed monster couldn't wait to dip the boerewors in some chutney.

Some days later, I closed the first assembly of the U.N. of Meatz on Stix with some caramel that a co-worker brought back from Mexico. Globalization isn't so bad after all.

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Some people make much ado about the Voguettes, that gaggle of leggy, luxe label-loving girls who work for Anna Wintour at New York-based Vogue. Personally, I am more intrigued by the Voguettes' peers across the pond in Paris, led by the kohl-lined Carine Roitfeld, who could pass for the Gallic cousin to Patti Smith and Iggy Pop. The ones to watch are the assistants, namely Geraldine Saglio and Melanie Huynh (viva la Viet chick!). Though their titles are easy to dismiss, Huynh and Saglio are being mentored by editrix Roitfeld and stylist Emmanuelle Alt at French Vogue for hopefully greater and better things down the road. The assistants also need to hold their own against their chic bosses when it comes to fashion showdowns. You can get an idea of their editorial vision in the small trend shoots they do for French Vogue, but I wish they would pen a diary a la Mario Testino. Another stylish girl I like is Michelle Williams, who is starring as a sexy tomboy in the current fall catalog for Band of Outsiders' women's line called, simply, Boy. As for men on the style front, I'm eager to see what Formula 1 racer Lewis Hamilton will do. These musings must sound so nerdy and silly, but so what -- it's summer!

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0 comment Monday, April 21, 2014 |
Hellin is a friend, former co-worker and grown-up punk rocker who was born in Russia. Having moved on to a busy career as a freelance photographer and stylist, she is longer a regular presence in the office. So she masterminded a reunion with her former colleagues at a Russian restaurant called Traktir. Perched on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, Traktir offers a pleasant patio where you can sip tea sweetened with homemade compote while watching a stream of bright car lights and waxed muscle boys make their way to the nearby bars. Inside, the stuffed boar's head, porcelain pitchers and wooden instruments make you feel as if you're eating in a cozy cottage in the Russian woods.
Traktir isn't as opulent as Maxim, the amber bubble of a banquet hall that is hidden from many non-Russians on Fairfax Avenue. Traktir's functional kitchen is located just behind the rows of liquor and stained glass tableaux depicting the greatness of the Russian Orthodox Church.
What good Russian restaurant wouldn't have a samovar on the shelf?
Truth be told, the samovar looked as if a layer of dust had settled on it. That's because most of the guests dipped into the vodka infused with horseradish and jalapeno peppers. On the other side, out of view, were big jars of raspberries, pineapples and cranberries steeping in the alcohol.
We were lucky to have Hellin guide us in the ritual of drinking horseradish vodka.
The vodka must be cool. You take a sip, followed by a bite of the pickle. Unlike the pickles offered at most delis, these pickles didn't impart much of a dill flavor. (The fresh dill was saved to garnish the food.) Instead, the firm chunks of cucumbers had a slightly sweet, very vinegary taste. It cleansed the palate after the horseradish vodka, which didn't burn the throat as much as the jalapeno vodka. Both the horseradish and jalapeno liqueur would be key ingredients in a killer Bloody Mary. As for the other fruit-flavored vodka, the cranberry was my least favorite; it tasted like the last dregs of a cranberry juice-vodka cocktail. The raspberry and pineapple vodka would be nice to drink at the end of a meal in lieu of dessert.
The trio of appetizers looked pretty bland and unappetizing at first. There was the marinated herring with pickled onions, boiled potatoes and chopped chicken salad. As dill is one of my favorite herbs (an omelet of eggs with tomatoes, onions and dill is such a simple and enjoyable meal) I tried to catch as many of the thin green strands in each scoop. The herring was barely cooked. I coined it ceviche from the Caucasus Mountains. It turned out to be another nice chaser for the vodka. While the potatoes were bland fillers to offset the strong flavors of the other dishes, the chopped chicken salad was a comforting mix of mashed eggs, cubed chicken and mayonnaise.
We couldn't get enough of the pickled cucumbers, so we ordered the pickled combination that included shredded cabbage and tomato quarters submerged in vinegar for days. They provided crunchy relief to the alcohol and heavy, creamy food.
The beet salad was also an unsightly mess. Traktir should really consider hiring Hellin to style its food before it leaves the kitchen. But all you had to do was close your eyes and appreciate the sweetness of the beets, potatoes and onions.
I'm not sure how many gallons of cream the restaurant goes through each week. The creamy white sauce hid the trio of dumplings. We couldn't tell which was the chicken, the cheese or the meat filling. We just had to spoon a bunch onto our plates and dig in.
The chicken blintz was a very long crepe stuffed with ground chicken and drenched in a porcini mushroom sauce. It was the epitome of comfort food; you had cream, cheese, soft veggies and a subtle mix of ground meat. It was also my favorite dish of the evening. The blintz was a bit thicker than a conventional crepe, which meant that, if it was left uneaten for a while, it'd start to harden.
I was so overwhelmed by the chicken blintz, that my taste buds basically ignored the stuffed cabbage. I was intrigued by the cup of sour cream that accompanied it, but not enough to go back for seconds.
Russia, or at least the former Soviet Union, spanned such a vast area that you marvel at its diversity. Our waiter resembled a Mongolian/Chinese mix who spoke perfect Russian. Never mind that he was a little slow, constantly leaving before we finished telling him all the dishes we wanted because he hadn't brought a pen and pad and couldn't remember everything. The country's diversity was represented in our last entree, the chicken shish kebabs, which wouldn't have seemed likely to come from the same kitchen that boiled the bland potatoes. The meat was grilled perfectly. Still, I thought the hodgepodge of spices that marinated the chicken leaned a little more toward the salty side than my preference would allow. But now I understand why a boiled potato has a purpose on the table.

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Last Saturday, at Brian Lichtenberg's runway show that closed Los Angeles Fashion Week, I quietly prayed that the presentation would start as late as possible. That's because I wanted to spend as much time as possible gaping at the club kids who crowded the front row.

On this particular night, the guys outshone the girls in their silver lame sneakers.

The scruffies also nonchalantly mixed textures, for instance, quilted leather with pintucks on cotton.

A fake fur stole helped transform a camou wife beater into an evening look.

This fellow almost impaled his neighbors with his ninja deathstar headpiece.

Sometime in the late Seventies, Michael Jackson and Sid Vicious spawned this hipster.

As for the girls, they showed lots of leg. I'm not sure where this particular kitten drew her inspiration to pair a white tutu with orange Dr. Martens. The most polite way to describe this aesthetic is kooky skanky.

Mark "The Cobrasnake" Hunter also chose to reveal more than necessary, donning a sheer patchwork shirt over tie-dye jeans. I used to think he was a more goofy version of Dov Charney, what with his camera constantly aimed at PYTs. With this getup, he's channeling Ron Jeremy.

At last, people took their seats to welcome Lichtenberg's muses. Often hailed as the next Jeremy Scott, Lichtenberg has a knack for creating fun frocks to wear dancing all night long. He stayed true to his Eighties roots, even when jumping back a million years to the Neanderthal era. Think of Daryl Hannah from "The Clan of the Cave Bear," reincarnated as a Balmain girl.

The Star Wars geek in me loved the giant stuffed Yoda head attached to the mini skirt.

I am such a Yoda fan that seven years ago, when a movie critic at a newspaper where I used to work reviewed "Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones," I begged an editor to send me the pointillistic portrait of Yoda that the paper's art department created. I'll always remember Pauline Kael's succinct description of the little green dude: He looks like a wonton and talks like a fortune cookie.

Cutouts for a cutie.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the emerging trend of accessories for accessories. After all, in a recession, even shoes can do with a bit of refreshing. Here, it's Mondrianesque spats.

This looks like a hula skirt for the ankle, according to Miguelito.

Indeed, Miguelito said the brown shag gave him a flashback to when he was 9 years old, visiting the musk ox exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.

Lichtenberg's designs could be deemed unisex. That is, if you're a very skinny and brave boy. Though this knit tunic reeks of Rodarte, club kids of any gender will surely eat it up.

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