Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bludso's BBQ

Texas style barbeque, or at least barbeque worth eating, is not easy to find in Los Angeles.  The rarity of decent barbeque is what makes every to visit to Bludso's BBQ in Compton such a treat.  Owner Kevin Bludso (above left) barbeques a variety of meats in his smoker and on a recent visit Simon Majumdar of Los Dos Hermanos and I went to town on the Texas Sampler, which gave us a little bit of everything.

The Texas Sampler included beef brisket, rib tip, chicken, chicken sausage, beef sausage and pork shoulder.  The only thing we didn't get to try was Bludso's beef ribs, which are only available on the weekends.  Simon was a barbeque skeptic regarding Los Angeles as he has competed in competitions in Memphis, but he left thinking that Bludso's is the real deal.  Despite being a Texas barbeque joint, it serves pork as well as beef.

The brisket has been lauded by Jonathan Gold, justifiably, but on this visit the chicken was my favorite.  I have yet to visit on a weekend, so have not tried it, but aim to soon.  The seating is a few stools inside and there is a table out back in the parking lot.  We sat with owner Kevin Bludso and an old friend of his, also named Kevin, at the outdoor table.  He told us that he had been invited to compete in several competitions but it was not possible to leave his business during peak season to participate.

The sauce is available in both mild and spicy.  I enjoyed both, but preferred the spicy version.  The macaroni and cheese side was also noteworthy.  Cornbread is served with the meat.  The Texas Sampler is $28.50 and  the lunch combo is available for $9.50.

Bludso's BBQ: 811 S. Long Beach Blvd, Compton.  Phone: (310) 637-1342.  Website:

Trends in the LA Cocktail Scene in 2010

Tis the season of year-end wrap-ups and here are some of the trends that hit the LA cocktail and drinking scene in 2010.  Here are five trends of 2010 and 3 to look for in 2011:

2010 Trends

Neighborhood cocktail & wine bars.  With the launch in the fall/winter of Big Bar at Alcove, 1886 at the Raymond, and Bar | Kitchen, Los Feliz, Pasadena and Downtown LA all got comfortable neighborhood cocktail spots with drinks that are destination worthy.  Bar Covell in Los Feliz joined Lou in Hollywood on my short list of favorite places to drink wine by the glass.  They both have well curated idiosyncratic lists that reflect the personality of their owners, not just the same old selections or whatever Southern Wine & Spirits wants to sell.

Single Spirit Cocktail Bars.  Both Cana Rum Bar and La Descarga launched, bringing the daiquiri and classic  rum cocktails back in the public consciousness.  Las Perlas also raised the profile of Mezcal in Los Angeles.  Seven Grand had led the way with whiskey, but this trio expanded the possibilities, each in a very different way.

Hollywood as a destination for quality drinks.  This year the craft cocktail scene in Hollywood achieved critical mass, with Hemingway's, Les Deux and the Spare Room (officially opening next week) joining Library Bar and Hungry Cat as oases from the nightclub hordes that dominate the area.

Guest bartending: The Test Kitchen built upon the tradition that Aidan Demarest created with his Radio Room at the Edison by having a rotating selection of visiting bartenders from across the city and from out of town manning the bar to accompany the ever-changing chefs.  It would not have been possible without Julian Cox, who curated the guest bartender program and has relationships with and the respect of the entire Los Angeles bartending community.

Supperclubs as cocktail destinations: Both the Tar Pit on La Brea in Mid-city and First and Hope downtown launched with decor reminiscent of the classic supperclub era.  The Tar Pit, now under the care of veteran New York bartender Danielle Crouch has a more classic bent to its cocktails while First and Hope is known for its market driven cocktails.  In a continuation of this trend, a new spot called supperclub is opening in Hollywood next month.

Predictions for 2011:

Craft Beer on the Rise: The inaugural Craft Beer Crawl in downtown LA this year showed the pent up demand and enthusiasm for craft beer in Los Angeles.  Wurstkuche, which opened up two years ago, struck lightning in a bottle, and the wave of interest in beer is continuing to rise.  2011 will likely additional craft beer bars opening up and restaurants and existing bars take their beer programs more seriously.  Cedd Moses of 213 Downtown, which owns the Varnish and Seven Grand among many others, is reportedly considering launching a beer bar.

Craft Cocktails expanding to new neighborhoods: 1886 at the Raymond and 320 Main showed that there is a market for craft cocktails in the Pasadena and Seal Beach areas.  I'd expect to see bars that focus on quality cocktails to open up in the San Fernando Valley and other underrepresented areas.  The South Bay?  You don't have to to go downtown to get a great drink.  West of the 405, only The Tasting Kitchen and Copa d'Oro have programs that are in the top echelon, except so see more join their ranks.

Bars owned by bartenders: The top bartenders in town are hired as either consultants, bar managers or bartenders; it is extremely rare to see a bartender own their own watering hole, or a healthy percentage of it.  Dave Whitton of Villains Tavern (opened in 2010) is a partner in the business and Eric Alperin has a stake in the Varnish (opened in 2009).  In the next year or two expect several of the leading bartenders to shift from employees to owners/partners as they launch their own spots to create equity for themselves instead of building value for others.

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Look: Red Medicine

Red Medicine, the much hyped Vietnamese restaurant from Umami Burger owner Adam Fleischman and Chef Jordan Kahn, opened two weeks ago on Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills.  The restaurant, which was showcased extensively at Test Kitchen, is their "homage" to and interpretation of Vietnamese food.  The founders make no claim to authenticity, rather they are making the kind of food that they crave and find satisfying.

The bar is open until 2 am, an oasis for late night food and drink in the area.  The cocktail list is in continual development, with seven signature drinks currently available, each priced at $10.  They include several numbered from 18 to 28, as Red Medicine does not name its cocktails.  The bar menu also includes several items from the restaurant menu and one dish only available at the bar, Banh Mi.  On a recent visit, the favorite dish of several dining companions was the Bahn Mi from the bar, so if you are a pork eater, it may pay to build in time at the bar to eat it, before you sit down for your main meal.

The restaurant dishes are designed for sharing and menu sections include Hands, Cold, Protein and Veg.  There is also a single "Large Format" option reserved for parties of 5 or more.  The evening we went, the large format dish was Beef Brisket.  The dishes in the Hands section are not surprisingly meant to be eaten with your hands, although this does not mean that they are not carefully composed.  The Beef Tartare from that section was as elegant if not more so than anything else we ate during our meal.  The fine dining background of Chef Jordan Kahn and General Manager Noah Ellis show in the plating of the dishes, which is anything but rustic.

The Beef Tartare was my favorite dish of the evening.  The tartare is presented in a straight line covered with mustard leaf, water chestnuts, spicy herbs and nuoc leo (peanut sauce).  Chlorophyll is a parallel green line on the plate.  A bowl of chips is presented in a bowl alongside, to use as a serving device for the tartare.  The tartare is nicely spiced with some heat, and the crunch of the chip is a pleasant textural contrast to the other elements of the dish.

Another highlight is the Green Papaya Salad ($9) from the Cold section, with pickled roots, crispy taro, tree nuts and nuoc cham.

Duck ($16) from the Protein section is a five spiced duck with charred frisee, chicory, tamarind syrup, grains of paradise.  This is a small dish; note the charred lettuce.

The beautiful and careful plating is in evidence in the Fluke ($16), which is cured with lime leaf and served with radishes, charred cucumber and pine needles. (below)

We ordered the Brisket with anticipation as the Large Format section requires 5 people to order it and it sounded special.  The dish is described as Snake River Farms American Wagyu Beef Brisket, Glazed with Palm Sugar & Fish Sauce.  It was brought to the table with lettuce, carrots, pickles and dipping sauce, to create individual lettuce wraps.  The presentation was compelling as the main dish was surrounded by a constellation of components.  The brisket was good, but not as delicious as I had hoped.  The concept reminded me of the large format dishes at Momofuku in New York City, but was not in that league.  The brisket would have benefited from more juice/moisture.

The picture below does not do justice to the Coconut Bavarois, which comes in a glass with coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant and chicory. The flavors and textures in this dessert transcend the dessert category to be a great dish, period.  I am not a dessert person, but this was wonderful.  Chef Kahn was a pastry chef at Varietal in New York and most recently at Michael Mina's XIV here in Los Angeles, and his skill with desserts shows.

The beef tartare and the Coconut Bavarois are must orders.  A dinner at Red Medicine is not inexpensive, but several of the dishes are very much worth it and it is great to see an ambitious chef put his own stamp on his cuisine here in Los Angeles.  My next visit is more likely to be in the bar to get the tartare and a beer or cocktail, rather than the dining room due to the price point / value.

Red Medicine: 8400 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills.  Phone: (323) 651-5500.  Website:

Wolvesmouth: A Pack Worth Joining

Wolvesmouth is a menacing name for an extraordinary culinary experience.  It is an underground dining club at which Chef Craig Thornton (below) cooks elaborate multi-course meals for a dozen guests in a dinner party setting.  The only thing scary about a dinner at the Wolves' Den is how talented Chef Thornton is.  He has an impressive resume: he used to be a private chef for actor Nicolas Cage among others.

The dinner party atmosphere is one of the key components that helps make the experience so special.  When you walk into the Den, which at the dinner I attended was a downtown loft, there is a table set for twelve.  Guests are encouraged to bring their own wine and to share it with each other.  There is a convivial atmosphere as the guests are like-minded people who all are passionate about food.  There is time to mingle beforehand but guests are asked to be on time as the meal will start with or without them.  There is no fee to attend the meal; rather guests are asked to pay what they wish at the end, in envelopes provided for this purpose.

The dinner exceeded my expectations and was among my favorite meals of 2010.  There was only one course I could not eat due to my dietary restrictions, but there was more than enough flavor and food in the other courses that I did not miss it.

Course 1: Sweetbread with sour cream and onion potato chip puree.  The sweetbread was smooth in texture and very savory.  The potato chip puree was a playful touch.  This was a light introduction to the meal.

I skipped course 2, which was scallop, but continued onto the third course, Cornbread Soup with Apple.  This course was supposed to have both lobster and bacon in it, but I was able to have it without and I enjoyed the version I had.  The soup was creamy and the apples provided a nice textural contrast as well as sweetness.

Course 4: Wandering the Forest: Braised rabbit and saddle, fir gelee, roasted carrot, hen of the woods mushrooms, black truffle soil.  This dish was rich as both the rabbit and the mushroom components were meaty.  The presentation was visually dramatic and the shredded rabbit was especially flavorful.  The title of this dish reminded me of Manresa's famous Into the Garden, but the dishes are quite different in style and execution.

The John Dory was presented whole to the table.  That was one big fish.

Course 5: John Dory.  It was served with its juices, butter and pomelo juice.  The butter flavor came through as the fish flesh itself had a sweetness to it.  This was not a meal for dainty appetites.

Course 6: Bone marrow was prepared with mitsuba (Japanese parsley), wasabi peas, and lemon.  A house-made crouton was served alongside.  The marrow was easy to get at as it was served "trough style" rather than "cylinder style."  I would have been happy to eat a second helping of this course.  The crouton was light and was a good carrier for the richness of the marrow.  This dish illustrated the adage that if you have good ingredients, don't hide them.

Course 7: Banana Pop Rocks with Finger Lime.  This was a playful intermezzo before the main meat courses of the evening.  This dish was a cool play on the visual similarity of two dissimilar ingredients.  The pop rocks had their signature effect of popping in your mouth and the finger limes lived up to their reputation as "citrus caviar" and also popped in my mouth, releasing a lemon/lime citrus flavor.  This was a fun dish that could have been silly but started a lively discussion.

Course 8: Peking Duck.  Crispy skin, confit stuffed breast, green onion.  Served with pickled cucumber and steamed buns.  The crispy duck skin was wonderful candy.  The vinegar in the pickles cut the richness of the duck.  The buns were fine but the meat itself, both the confit stuffed breast and the skin were the stars of the show.  The breast was cooked to a rosy pink and the confit was rich.  Combination bites were excellent.

Loin and belly of lamb on the counter before carving.

Course 9: Lamb: Loin and belly of lamb, beet, rye profiteroles, pickled red onion, horseradish and dill.  This was my favorite course of the evening.  I love lamb and this was a beautiful piece.  Both the loin and the fatty belly were delicious.  I ate every bite on my plate not to miss any of the flavor.  The red onions had been pickled, which like the cucumbers in the prior course, cut the richness, although the onions were a much more assertive flavor than the mild cucumber.  The presentation of this dish was arresting with the streak of beet sauce, the horseradish sauce, the lamb, onions, dill and rye profiteroles strewn across the plate like a landscape.  More please.

Course 10: Mexican Hot Chocolate Panna Cotta.  For the first of the two dessert courses Thornton prepared a Mexican Hot Chocolate panna cotta with a cinnamon fritter.  Cinnamon and chocolate is a tasty classic pairing.

Course 11: Milk & Coffee.  Buttermilk sherbet and Coffee Cake.  This dish with a playful name was a fun way to end the meal.  The buttermilk sherbet was light and provided the moisture that coffee cakes need.  This was a light end to the meal, though I was quite full at this point.

Here are but a few of the wines that were consumed by the thirsty diners in attendance.  I brought a Spanish cava by German Gilabert, that was recommended to me by the staff at Domaine LA, as well as an Eastern European red that paired well with the meat courses.

With only a small staff of three or four helpers to cook, plate, serve and clean, the pacing of the meal was impressive, without significant waits between courses.  There was none of the formality one often finds at fine dining restaurants when having a chef's tasting menu.  Instead, the whole experience was about hospitality.  The dinner party vibe, the comfortable setting, the sharing of wine, the pacing of the meal, the small size of the party all contributed to the feeling that we were experiencing not only something special, but something fun.

As I left the sanctuary of the Wolves' Den and stepped out onto the downtown sidewalk I thought that Wolvesmouth more than delivered on his motto of "Come curious, leave sated."  Sometimes it seems like foodies and bloggers in this town travel in packs; when it comes to the Wolves' Den, this is a pack worth joining.

Learn more about Wolvesmouth here at  Or follow @wolvesmouth and @dimsumpup on Twitter

Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Vertical: Laurent Quenoiux comes to Pasadena

I was recently invited to try Vertical Wine Bistro, the wine focused restaurant and lounge in Pasadena that recently brought on Laurent Quenioux of Bistro LQ to revamp the menu.  Arianna of GrapeSmart and I shared a variety of items on the menu.  Vertical is owned by Gale Anne Hurd, the former Mrs. Jim Cameron, and has had a tumultuous year in which David Haskell who was brought on last October to update the restaurant, left in March after eight months. [updated to reflect Haskell's length of tenure]

Quenoiux is known for adventurous flavors and unusual combinations, so I was curious as to how his cuisine would play in Pasadena, an area known for its culinary conservatism.  I never found out, as the avante garde cuisine of Quenioux which he showcases in dishes like Venison Tartare with Green Chartruese Gelee on his dinner menu at Bistro LQ is nowhere to be found on the Vertical menu.  The Pasadena menu is significantly more tame, which is probably a smart move to appeal to the local clientele.  Overall, the meal was enjoyable but not destination-worthy.

The best way to use Vertical is to treat it as a wine bar that has better food than you'd expect rather than as a restaurant to plan dinner around.  The wine list has among the most wines by the glass available in the Los Angeles area, with approximately 90 selections.  The bottle selection is also huge with over 700 selections.  The by the glass list includes seven different wine flights, which include an unusual option to sample three wines from Greece as well as the option for a customized flight.  The wine program is where Vertical excels and their now sommellier/wine director has a strong base in European wines, of which Vertical has a deep cellar.

The happy hour menu, which is available in the bar/lounge is offered from 5 pm - 7 pm from Tuesday through Sunday and 10 pm - midnight on Tuesday through Thursday, the cheese selection and the charcuterie are excellent options to nosh on while you work your way through the dozens of wines you can try.

We began with corn fritters ($12) which are fried corn fritters topped with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.   These were different than I expected in that the corn fritters acted the part of the rice in a piece of nigiri sushi, except they were crunchy.  They are available both on the Lounge/Happy Hour menu as well as on the Taste & Share section of the dinner menu.

A highlight of the menu is the cheese selection.  Nine were on offer, although only five of those were available.  The Valdeon, a blue cheese from Spain made from cow and goat milk was my favorite of those we tried.  The flavor was assertive and the texture was creamy.  The Brillat Savarin, an old favorite, was excellent as usual.

The Creamy Polenta (above) with poblano chiles and queso fresco had a texture that was not what I was expecting.  It was extremely thick, almost like gooey cheese.

Truffled macaroni & cheese was enjoyable.  It was served in a large crock and was piping hot.  What's not to like?

The Duck Two Ways was a confit leg and seared breast with pomegranate glaze, yuzu curd, shishito puree and miso jus.  The confit was the best part of the dish as it was full of flavor, having been cooked in its own fat.  The Asian flavors in the sauce imparted a robust flavor to the duck breast.

If the goal was to provide a comfortable place in the Pasadena area to enjoy wine by the glass or bottle, while having the option to have a bite to eat while sipping the vino, then Vertical has succeeded.  If the plan was to have the cuisine be a draw to attract customers from beyond the region, then they have missed the mark.  If I am in the neighborhood at the Norton Simon, Huntington or Cal Tech, I'd be happy to return to Vertical, but for me the lounge option would likely be what I'd opt for as it provides the most flexibility.  However I don't see driving from the Westside solely to dine there.  For locals, Vertical is a glass half full, with its extensive wine program, small plates, and relaxed atmosphere in the lounge.  To that, I raise my glass.

Vertical Wine Bistro: Upstairs at 70 North Raymond Avenue, Pasadena. Phone: (626) 795-3999. Website:

New Year's Eve Party roundup #1

As 2010 comes to a close, there are a variety of options to ring in the new year in high style. Here are some fun ways to begin 2011:

The Varnish's Rare Groove New Year's Eve Soul Revue

The Varnish, the jewel in the 213 downtown crown, will be hosting a New Year's Eve party for $125 (tip included).  The party will go from 9 pm - 2 am and includes the Varnish's classic handcrafted cocktails, unlimited servings of Bols Genever punch and a Midnight champagne toast.

Varnish hostess/server Rebekka Johnson's comedy band, the Apple Sisters will lead a countdown to 2011, which will conclude with a champagne toast.

A twist contest is promised, so be sure to wear your dancing shoes.  Reservations can be made for parties of 2, 4 or 6.  The Varnish is quite small, so reserve early or miss out.

Reserve by calling General Manager Chris Bostick at (213) 622-9999 or by emailing

Havana 1909 at La Descarga

La Descarga is pulling out all the stops for their first New Year's Eve celebration.  Tickets are $150 for the black tie event at which attendees will be dressing to impress as if they were in Havana 100 years ago.

The all inclusive tickets include hors d'oeuvre, live entertainment, open bar, champagne toast at midnight and dancing.

If you have been to La Descarga on a regular night, you know the quality of the entertainment.  I've been told that they are kicking it up a notch for this celebration.

La Descarga has some of the highest quality drinks in town, so open bar will be quite a treat.  The great sounds of Cuban music by the live band will be sure get you dancing.

RSVP by emailing

I have been told that this event is almost sold out, so get your tickets or miss out til next year.

New Year's Eve Downtown LA

If you can't make up your mind so want the smorgasboard approach to New Years, then the New Years Eve in Downtown LA is for you.  A single $119 ticket entitles you to open bar at eight different downtown watering holes, including Cana Rum Bar, Casey's, Seven Grand, the Golden Gopher, Cole's, Las Perlas, Tony's Saloon and Broadway Bar.

At Casey's, the band Gram Rabbit will be performing live and well spirits and 11 craft beers are included in the open bar.

Cole's will be offering champagne cocktails and the Cole's classic cocktails all evening.

Cana Rum Bar will be serving daiquiris and their signature cocktails to the beat of a band performing Gypsy Jazz.

Paul Chesne of the Paul Chesne Band will be performing at Tony's Saloon.

Where can you get tickets for this event?  Buy them online at

CASA's Tequila Toast New Year's Eve

If your New Year's Eve plans lean towards the food as well as the drink, then CASA Cocina & Cantina may be the option for you.  They are celebrating their second anniversary as well as New Year's Eve with a four course prix-fixe dinner for $35 with seatings from 5 pm to 9 pm.  At 10 pm, the New Year's Eve party begins with open bar, a midnight tequila toast and a guest DJ for entertainment until 1 am.  So for $85 you get dinner plus 3 hours of open bar and entertainment.  (If you opt for both dinner and the party, a combo pack discount may be available.)

New Year's Eve Dinner Menu:

First Course: Sopa de chile poblano

Second Course: Ensalada de Caesar Cardini

Third Course: Enchilada con Langosta y Camarones OR Tamale de Elote OR Braised Beef Short Ribs Birria

Fourth Course: Rice Pudding

The $50 price for the New Year's Eve open bar party goes up to $75 on December 28th, so book early.  Why pay more to be a procrastinator?

Reservations may be made by calling (213) 621-2249

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now Open: Les Deux Estate

Giovanni Martinez and Joel Black of Les Deux Estate
Last night Les Deux Estate opened in the former club space on Las Palmas. The new incarnation is a gastropub with cocktails from Giovanni Martinez of the Buffalo Club, Joel Black (ex Comme Ca and Cana) and Jason Robey of Bar | Kitchen and occupies the front room facing the street.  "Our focus is on quality food and quality drinks with a modest but good beer selection," Martinez said.

The cocktail list is short, with seven selections, as the bartenders expect to be making a lot of Dealer's Choice in which the customer describes the flavor profile and spirit they are looking for and the bartender "does the rest."  Each of the three bartenders contributed 2-3 drinks to the list; fans of Black will be excited that he brought his signature Smashed Irishman (below) to the program.  The Irishman includes Jameson Irish Whiskey, Lemon, Basil, Red Bell Pepper, Honey and a housemade Guinness Reduction.

The kitchen is helmed by David Schmit, former sous chef at the Buffalo Club in Santa Monica.  The food menu is also short and heavy on classic American bar food, with options such as the Strait Up Burger ($11), Honey Sambal Wings ($10), and the LD Caesar Salad ($9) as well as some more refined options like the Roasted Beet Salad ($11), the 1/2 Jidori Roasted Chicken ($19) or the Pepper Crusted Salmon ($20).  The only dessert is Bourbon Bread Pudding, so Chef Schmit must have confidence that it is a winning dish.

Martinez said that they are hoping to be a neighborhood spot where locals can grab dinner, a snack or a drink from 6 pm - Midnight on Wednesday through Saturday evenings and be a respite from the large clubs nearby.  The cocktail list is seasonal and they most of their herbs on site.  They are currently growing chili peppers, herbs and cucumbers on the roof.  "We'll be doing market driven cocktails with classical execution and classic drinks with a market driven execution.  There are no holds barred as we develop the menu," Martinez enthusiastically commented.  Martinez's Highlander cocktail is below.  It includes Tequila Ocho Blanco, Drambuie, Thyme Infused Agave and Lemon Juice.  It was garnished with a sprig of thyme on top and tasted great; the tequila flavor predominated.

However, one thing to note is that the decor does not jibe with the gastropub concept. Just ignore that and head straight to the bar and get a cocktail. It is refreshing to see a list of drinks that 100% of which were developed by the bartenders making your cocktail in front of you. There was no consultant swooping in from out of town. Giovanni, Joel and Jason are veterans and it shows in their beverages.

It is refreshing to see a velvet rope, DJ/promoter driven place evolve into an establishment that respects quality. So don't expect any clipboard wielding women or burly bouncers blocking your way into Les Deux. The doors are wide open now, so feel free to check it out. Well-made drinks await you.

Les Deux Estate: 1638 N. Las Palmas,  just South of Hollywood Blvd.  Website:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A banana walked into a restaurant: last night at Magnum

Last night was the second and final evening of the Magnum pop-up at Biergarten in which chef Joseph Mahon and sommelier David Haskell collaborated on a prix fix menu and wine/beverage pairing.  Mahon, most recently the executive chef at Bastide, presented a five course menu with the option to add two additional courses to make it seven.  There was a full house of food writers and personalities in the house with the Starry Kitchen duo of Thi and Nguyen Tran (in the banana suit) taking center stage.

The meal started strongly, with a series of smaller plates, and built up to the main courses of Salmon and Duck Confit.  After the first couple of courses, some folks were concerned that they would leave hungry, but once the later courses arrived, those fears dissipated.

The first course was an amuse of Carrot Pudding with orange granita and shaved peanuts.  As the granita makes obvious, this was a cold course and the depth of flavors and the contrast in crunchy textures made it a pleasing way to begin the meal.

The second course was a Coconut Soup with mussels, but I did not sample this course (unphotographed) as I could not consume it due to the shellfish.

The third course (one of the 2 additional courses) was Wild Mushrooms with dashi and bearnaise mousse beneath a sheet of rice paper.  This course came with pork cheeks but the kitchen was able to exclude them from the dish.  Beneath the sheet of rice paper were beautiful mushrooms in a rich dashi sauce.  I ate some with the rice paper, taco-style but found it best to leave the rice paper and just focus on the mushrooms.  This dish would have been better without the rice paper as it stuck to the teeth of everyone at my table, which was an unpleasant effect.  The wild mushrooms had enough flavor to stand alone without the dramatic rice sheet.

The fourth course was Fried Chicken, with a salad of arugula, dried tomato, celery, radish and a buttermilk dressing.  This chicken was significantly different than chef Mahon's legendary fried chicken with tomato and watermelon dish at Bastide, but was certainly a winner.  The chicken was crisp and hot and the buttermilk sauce added a nice kick.  I would have been happy having a second helping.

The fifth course was Cured Salmon, with pickled cabbage, cucumber, daikon and a kimchee broth.  When the menus were presented, I had assumed that cured salmon would be a cold dish, like gravlax.  Instead it was a beautifully seared cooked salmon in the fragrant kimchee broth.  I was not a fan of the sprouts as they were raw and not one of my favorite ingredients, but otherwise ate every bite.  If I had had some bread or sticky rice, I would have scooped up the last of the broth.

Perhaps in a nod to the Koreatown location of the pop-up, the salmon was one of several courses with Asian accents, along with the Coconut Soup and the Wild Mushrooms.

The sixth course was the star of the evening, Duck Confit with black beans, Swiss chard and a black vinegar sauce.  Wowzers, this was a sensational dish.  The duck was sweet and savory at the same time.  The duck leg had a lot of meat on it and the skin was crispy and the whole dish was bursting with flavor.  If Mahon opens a Confit Truck, I will be in line on Day One.

The seventh and final course was Ginger Bread Waffles wutg cranberries, clover honey and whipped creme fraiche.  The waffle had been fried and coated in cinnamon.  For a sweet dish, this hit the spot.  I enjoy cinnamon, so this was a natural.  I just wished that I had another piece of the fried chicken to taste Mahon's fried chicken and waffles together, as I later saw the expediter Sam Kim do.

Haskell's pairings were always interesting and worked well, with the exception of the Soju he paired with the waffles, which I found undrinkable.  The pairings ran the gamut from champagne to red and white wine, to sake and soju to the pairing of Nautical Nut Brown Ale with the Cured Salmon, which may have been the most successful of the evening.

There was talk of Mahon and Haskell doing another pop-up in the new year.  I hope so, so more of you can get to experience what I enjoyed last night.  I will share more news when a location and date is confirmed.

700 Rum Punch by Alex Strauss

At last week's Don Q party and competition at Esquire House, a highlight for me was Alex Straus's 700 Rum Punch.  It is pictured above right, with his winning Berlin cocktail, above left.  There were ten different cocktails on offer at the event, in addition to several generic Don Q cocktails, but it was Alex's Rum Punch that I kept coming back to.  Surprisingly this drink did not win, although his other cocktail, the Berlin, did.

The 700 Rum Punch packs a wallop with four different types of rum but is very refreshing.  It is the kind of cocktail you could have several of before you realize the full effects of the potent elixir.  For hot days like we've had lately, a chilled rum punch is just the thing.  Alex Straus was generous enough to share his recipe:

The 700 Rum Punch by Alex Straus

1 oz Don Q Rum
3/4 oz Don Q Anejo
1/2 oz Smith and Cross Jamaica Rum
1 oz Blackbeard Spiced Rum
3/4 Lime Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz St Vincent's Orgeat

Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice into a tiki mug with 1 1/2 oz ginger beer in the bottom (to allow the effervescence to push through the punch).

Las Perlas Exclusive Tequila Launch Party Tomorrow

Tomorrow night (Thursday) at 7:30 pm is your chance to be among the first to try Las Perlas Private Reserve Herradura Double Barrel Reposado tequila at the release party. Tickets to the event cost $99 and include Mexican snacks, unlimited house margaritas and Spiced Daisys, a taste of the tequila and best of all a 750ml bottle to take home. The bottle would cost $150+, so you come out ahead just factoring in the "party favor."

Herradura Double Barrell Reposado is hand-crafted and harvested, and estate bottled in the tiny town of Amatatin, Jalisco, smack-dab in the middle of tequila country. The 100% blue Weber agave tequila is aged in toasted oak barrels for 11 months, 9 months longer than required, which gives this reposado tequila its deep copper color. The tequila is then matured for an additional month in a new toasted oak barrel, to allow it to round out its flavor profile. The barrel used for the Las Perlas double barrel was selected by 213 Downtown founder Cedd Moses while on a trip to Hacienda San Jose del Refugio, Tequila Herradura's home for 140 years.

Tomorrow night is also the launch of the Las Perlas Mezcal Collective, which is modeled on the Seven Grand Whiskey Society and the Cana Rum Society. Las Perlas General Manager Raul Yastorza said, "Mezcal Collective evenings will provide a cultural immersion and mash up, with estates and bottlers providing rare hand-of-the-maker insights, and an exploration of mezcals many myths and legends, tools of the trade, and traditional glassware, while celebrating regional expressions of spirits, food, art and music." At tomorrow's inaugural event, special guest Herradura Global Brand Ambassador Ruben Aceves will speak about the tequila-making process and the traditional methods used to produce the special spirit that attendees will be sipping.

If you would like to purchase tickets to the launch party, visit The party will be held from 7:30 - 9:30 pm at Las Perlas. To join the Las Perlas Mezcal Collective, and receive updates and evites, visit, or email GM Raul Yastorza at

Las Perlas: 107 East 6th Street (between Main & Los Angeles Streets), DTLA. Phone: (213) 988-8355. Website:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don Q @ Esquire House: Alex Straus & Eric Tecosky win in The Hills

Don Q Rum hosted a party and competition at Esquire House in the Hollywood Hills last week.  Alex Straus of Hemingway's and Eric Tecosky of Jones beat out a field that also included Allan Katz (above) of Cana Rum Bar, Danielle Crouch of the Tar Pit, and Lane from Cafe Habana Malibu.  The setting was high above the city in the dramatic Esquire House, which boasted the best view of Los Angeles's city lights I have ever seen.

Tecosky (above) won for his "Root for Me" Root Beer cocktail described as an adult root beer float made with Blackbeard Spiced Rum and a creamy surprise.  His drinks were the most visually arresting of the evening.  Straus (below) won for his Berlin, a sparkling cocktail with Velvet Falernum, Don Q Cristal, champagne, sugar, orange and lemon juices.

The winning drinks were selected by audience votes.  Guests mingled as they sampled the drinks and wandered through the mansion staged as the ultimate bachelor pad.  The home is for sale for $18.9 million, so if the pictures inspire you, you can have this view all to yourself, if the price is right.  Features included a media room with couches on a rotating panel so you could face the screens on any wall.

Danielle Crouch mixing cocktails
Eric Tecosky's Fruit Cocktail

Truffle Season: The Cube Truffle Burger

It is truffle season and what better way to get your recommended daily allowance of truffle than in a truffle burger?  No reason to have to resort to nutritional supplements when Cube has this $18 beauty on offer.  The burger is served on a house brioche bun, with a choice of cheese, charred shallots, crispy potatoes and chipotle ketchup.

The potatoes, a crispy take on french fries, were quite tasty.  Long, flat and thin, they had a hint of a potato chip while remaining true to their french fry heritage.  The chipotle ketchup surprised me by how good it was; this may be the first take on ketchup that was as good as the real thing.

Now for the burger: I chose cheddar cheese and the burger was cooked to medium rare.  The brioche bun had been toasted and when I bit into the truffle burger, both the juiciness of the patty and the truffle flavor were both immediately evident.  This burger was not loaded with toppings to distract from the essential flavors of grilled well sourced beef and truffles.  The Cube truffle burger belongs in the top echelon of gourmet burgers in Los Angeles.  It is available at lunch or dinner.

When my dining companion and I got to Cube we were the only customers, but within a short period of time, all the interior tables were occupied.  It is hard to miss Cube if you are trying to locate it, as it has the most brightly lit billboard of a sign I have ever seen.

Cube: 615 N. La Brea Avenue, just South of Melrose. Phone: (323) 939-1148.  Website: