Monday, March 30, 2009

Two reasons to celebrate

This past week included two special events- my dad’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary. Since the two fall within a day of each other, we’ve always combined them into one happy celebration that my sister and I would dub “annibirthday” when we were younger.

J and I had my parents and sister over for dinner to celebrate the happy occasions. I made many things so I’ll break it up into a few posts. This one will be about the hors d'œuvre and dessert- the beginning and the end of the meal!

I always like to serve a little something to munch on with champagne so we can sit in the living room and just relax before sitting down for a full-fledged meal. I knew I wanted to do something with smoked trout, but when my local Whole Foods had every kind of smoked fish except trout I decided to pick up a small filet of smoked salmon. My local gourmet shop, Nicole’s, has a great selection of sweet and savory tart shells in many sizes, so I picked up the “neutral” cups in the smallest size and filled them with a mixture of crème fraiche, horseradish, lemon zest, diced chives and coarsely ground black pepper. After topping each with a cube of the salty salmon and a couple sprigs of chive, they were ready:

The combination of the crunchy wonton-like cups with the cool, zesty (hm, I never thought I’d use that word but here it is…it always reminds me of ranch dressing for some reason!) crème and the small bite from the chives was really something wonderful. These are definitely one-bite hors d'œuvres so there isn’t even a need for napkins. Just pop in your mouth and follow with a nice sip of champagne. Ahhh.

For dessert I knew that I wanted to make David Lebovitz’s Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbet because I’d made something very similar years ago and my dad loved it. Unfortunately I’d lost the recipe and just drew a complete blank on how to make it again, so I was very happy to discover the recipe in The Perfect Scoop. I made the sherbet the day before and spread the soft mixture into a glass baking dish, covered it and put it in the freezer to set. In the meantime I just whipped up a batch of soft, gingerbread cookies and then used a biscuit cutter to cut rounds of sherbet to sandwich between two cookies. I’ve always loved the combination of warm, spicy gingerbread with tart, refreshing lemon, and the buttermilk in the sherbet really brought the two flavors together nicely. It’s also always a good idea to make an adult version of something you enjoyed as a kid, and ice cream sandwiches fit into that category. I’m looking forward to playing around with more flavor combinations.

More annibirthday dishes in posts coming soon!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Good Place To Eat

My favorite kind of restaurant is one that is cozy and makes you feel at home.

Ones with soft, pretty lighting…………….

Ones that put a nice, crusty baguette on the table to start your meal……………….

A good salad is key in a good restaurant as well, you know, since every meal should have some green……………….

And if they let you get a peek into the kitchen to see the magic happen, it’s even better…………………

Family-style always makes me feel at home in any restaurant, and piles of Fusilli in Spare Rib Sauce never hurt anyone. The beautiful Italian platter it was served in was the icing on the cake.....

Oh and speaking of cake, what meal would be complete without a sweet treat at the end? And if the sweet treat is an airy and impossibly light cheesecake, well then you really couldn’t ask for anything more, could you?

Let’s take another look at the fluffy cheesecake, made light by folding beaten egg whites into the mixture, the chef told me.....

And once the meal is done, a good restaurant lets you sit and enjoy the moment for a bit longer, no? I mean, no one wants to be rushed………..

Which is why, more times than not, the best meals are enjoyed at home……..or, in this case, my parents’ home! When the chef is your father, and you're with family in a beautiful home with lots of good food and wine, why would you want to go anyplace else?

Thanks Mom and Papa!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Joe's, Venice Beach

I don't have a lot of time to post today but wanted to get this in since I haven't updated for awhile! Last week J and I had dinner with our very good friends who were visiting from NYC. They used to live in Venice Beach and would dine at Joe's often, and although the restaurant is quite famous, I'd never had a chance to dine there and was excited to finally go!

The minute I walked in, I knew I'd fall in love with it. Joe's has that warm, neighborhood bistro feel, with the added bonus of stellar, first-class service and a familiar yet refined menu. I feel it is what Parkway Grill in Pasadena may have been back in its glory days. J and I used to go to Parkway to celebrate anniversaries or birthdays, but warmth it once held for us has dissipated with an effort by management to over-complicate what was once beautifully done, classically prepared-yet-modern California cuisine. Joe's doesn't try to put unnecessary bells and whistles like lemon-lime bubbles on a fish dish; they simply make perfectly executed plates with all the savory, comforting flavors you know and love but elevate it to fine dining. It's just unfortunate that Joe's is in Venice- a bit far for us to go often. If only Parkway Grill would take a cue from Joe's............

Anyway, the four of us ate many different things, but between the lively conversation, dim lighting and many glasses of wine, it was difficult to capture the loveliness of every dish. Here are a few of our favorites from that night:

Amuse of pork belly and sweet peppers............

Smoked Lobster, Cauliflower Puree Wrapped in Pasta, Chive Butter, Grilled Caviar

Special of Japanese beef w/ tiny Brussels sprouts

Bibb Lettuce Salad with Seasonal Root Vegetables, Crispy Pancetta, Sunchoke Puree, Truffled Vinaigrette

Prime Pork Tenderloin Crepenette, Wild Mushrooms, Roasted Garlic and Potato Puree, Roasted Garlic Jus

J's appetizer of arctic char...................

Special of mango creme brulee.....delicious!

Angel food cake with chocolate gelato.........

Everything was delicious and I can't wait to go back.

Joe's Restaurant
1023 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, California 90291

Monday, March 02, 2009

My First Pho

Yes, its true- I had not, until about a week ago, EVER tried pho. Hard to believe, unforgivable and inexcusable, I realize. I’m not sure what took me so long- I think part of it was that star anise is mentioned as a seasoning for the famous noodle soup, and me and anything anisey-licoricey-fennely do NOT mix.

Now that I’ve finally had it, I am glad that my distaste for the spice didn’t deter me any longer because it was SO GOOD. I’m ready to jump on the pho bandwagon now, a decade or so too late! I get it, folks. The noodles are addictive, the broth is light and flavored only slightly with the aforementioned anise and the abundance of fresh, green mix-ins (mint, Thai basil) is totally up my alley. Why, since I tried the magic noodle I can hardly even remember a life without you, Oh Dear Pho.

Thankfully, my honorary little brother is the self-professed Noodle Whore, Mr. Eat, Drink and Be Merry himself, Dylan, who even showed Anthony Bourdain a thing or two about noodles. When J and I had a hankering for noodles, we just text’d Dylan who, being the good, investigative blogger he is (check out his extensive post on Eastside taco stands- it’s AMAZING!) asked us a few questions and then suggested we go to Golden Deli. Being the pho virgin that I was, he felt it was a good place to start and tossed in a comment about the restaurant having “the best eggrolls in town.” He had me at eggrolls- I seriously LOVE eggrolls and haven’t really found one as good as my mom’s. I’d list eggrolls quite high on my list of favorite foods, along with Sun Chips, sushi, onion rings and pasta (not in that order). You could lure me into a dark alley if you had a handful of good eggrolls, I tell ya.

Anyway, we arrived at Golden Deli to find every single seat taken- the place was packed- but after a short wait, our names were called and we looked over the large menu. We decided on the famous eggrolls and a bowl of their standard, beef pho each. I’d barely taken a sip of my water when the eggrolls arrived, golden and gorgeous, accompanied by a plate filled with gorgeous lettuce leaves and cilantro. I took one of the large lettuce leaves, put some of the cilantro in it and wrapped it all around one of the eggrolls, dipped the whole thing into the vinegary sauce and took a bite. WOW. The eggroll skin was super thin and shatteringly crisp; the meat filling was savory and delicious and went perfectly with the greens and the tart/sweet sauce. I don’t know how I woke up each morning to a life without them for so many years.




The pho was also delicious and much lighter than Japanese ramen or Chinese noodles I’d had in the past. Golden Deli is extremely generous with their meat- both J and my bowls were filled with tender, thin slices of beef. I ate about half before mixing in some chili paste, which made it even tastier. I felt blanketed with savory goodness and before I knew it, I was staring at the bottom of my bowl.

J and I will definitely be making pho part of our monthly diet from now on, and those eggrolls hold a permanent place in my heart. Thanks Dylan, for the rec!

Golden Deli Vietnamese
815 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776-1071
Phone: (626) 308-0803

Also- birthday shout outs to MIKA and also, to DYLAN (coincidentally!), two of my favorite people who share a birthday today!