Intelligentsia, Venice: Serious About Coffee

29 Aug

A fresh poured latte – double shot, 2% milk, ceramic cup. (Pictured Above)

Intelligentsia is serious about coffee.  My first experience went something like this:

ME: (pointing at the wall) “Hey how much is that coffee by the pound?”

Barista: “$21”

ME: “Oh, ok, I’ll have to get some when I’m done using my Lavazza”

Barista: “Lavazza?  (look of disgust), sorry to hear that”

(sound of crickets)

“Ok, thanks for the latte, see you next time”

This is pretty much a true story?  Did the experience leave a bitter taste in my mouth…absolutely not, I actually inquired as to why this particular Barista thought the Lavazza is shit.  He plainly explained that there is no control over when the beans were roasted – it’s not fresh (good point).

I’ve been buying coffee at Intelligentsia by the pound for the last few months, and it’s absolutely delicious (made in an Italian Press, stove top).

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Shishkebab, Shnishkebab.

27 Aug

A very good friend of mine, Gary, cooked an impromptu BBQ last night – and the main course was (you guessed it!) – Shishkebab!

It was a fine meal. As a rule, I’ll never turn my nose up at food, I appreciate all types, but I was infinitely more interested in the conversation about his Pizza Disaster that took place in Catalina Island this past weekend (apparently he took one bite and called it quits on the entire pie!).

As we packed it in, and were cleaning up, he noted: “Those Shishkebabs weren’t all that great”.  I pondered, and remarked that “With Shishkebabs, you’re really setting yourself up for a fall”.  (Did I just think something original?)

On further thought (clearly I have very little going on in my life), here’s the issue: Shishkebabs of the Chicken and Beef variety are really tough to get right (especially the Kirkland Costco brand – or American style).  Here are just three reasons to stay away from store bought Shishkebabs:

1.) Juice Retention (or lack thereof!) – The deadly sin is that the Chicken and Beef is cut into pieces.  Right away, you can kiss any juice-retention in the meat: Goodbye!  As soon as you get those suckers off the grill, any juice left in the meat just escapes.  I’m such a fanatic about juice retention that I cook chickens ‘whole’ on the grill, and ensure that a steak that comes off the grill ‘rests’ for at least 5 minutes in tinfoil so the juices can redistribute.

2.) Crappy Cuts – The actual cuts of meat found in Shishkebabs are breast (for chicken) and some type of loin (for beef) – two of the most un-tasty cuts.  Again, where meat is involved, fat + juices must follow, to really please the pallet.

3.) Deceiving Presentation – Ever watch those nature shows where the fly is buzzing around this beautiful flower, and suddenly the pedals clamp down viciously crushing the fly (yes, I’ve even had time to watch Blue Planet).   The point is, Shishkebabs look REALLY good on the shelf in the Grocery section.  The way the peppers (the green and red colors just pop) and onions contrast the beef and chicken – it’s very pleasing to the eyes.  But it’s a deceiving ploy to trick your eyes into telling your brain to tell your arm to pick up the package and put them in your shopping cart!

Am I saying you can’t eat Shishkebab?  Negative. I’m not trying to start a holy war.

You can go to an appropriate Lebanese restaurant and get good Shishkebab (They really know what they’re doing with marinades, and nice cuts of meat, cooked just right), or if you’re properly trained in the skewering art, you may be able to pull it off yourself, but don’t think you can just grab a pack off-the-shelf and it’s going to be tummy bliss.

Now, if you really have a hankering for something on a stick, the other alternative is to make vegetable skewers (the vegetarian’s answer to shishkebabs).

Pictured here are veggie skewers, which complimented the chicken drumsticks served recently at our Venice beach BBQ one particular Saturday evening.

We had three varieties of peppers, nice red onion, mushroom and zucchini.

Preparation is a cinch.  Simply drizzle olive oil (use as much or as little as you’d like), add crushed pepper along with some nice salt, and a few herbs if you feel inclined.  They can be prepped ahead of time, or you can do them while the party’s heating up.

I try to cook veggies on the grill at high heat, so they come off al dente, with just a little bit of char.  The trick is to get them on and off quickly.  If you let veggies sit on the grill, or you cook them at low heat, they’re going to be reminiscent of Grandmas Green Beans (soggy).

Ok, I think that about does it.  If you have more comments on Shishkebabs, please feel free to add. (I enjoyed writing this, but I will tell you I’m glad it’s over – if I have to write the word “Shishkebab” one more time…)

In summary, I’m not hating on Gary’s Shishkebabs (sigh), I’m hating on Shishkebabs (ouch) in general – an American interpretation gone awry.

Happy grilling and good luck out there.

Fresh Brothers Pizza – Marina Del Rey

25 Aug

Executive Summary:

This is a phenomenal place if you get the pizza/salad combo at a reasonable $9.25.

Other Commentary:

I’ve only patronized the Marina Del Rey location – not only do they play sports when available (they even have TVs in the washroom so you won’t miss a play), they also have Yo Gabba Gabba, and similar cartoons playing (have you ever watched this? Just plain trippy!).

I ordered delivery from these guys (once) and the bill was like $45 – $50, which kinda took me by surprise (a couple medium pies and a couple cookies).  But let’s keep this in perspective, I’m accustomed to going to Pizza Madonna (Montreal Institution) after the bar for a $.99 slice.  Personally, I feel that Pizza should be a cheep meal.

As an aside, In general, I’m never really a fan of ordering delivery.  You really have no control over how hot your food is going to be.  Such a helpless feeling.

The only thing I’ve ever had when ‘eating in’ at Fresh Brothers is the following (description taken straight from the menu):

7″ 1-Topping Pizza and your choice of a small Salad Favorite 9.25

In my opinion, this is the Pièce de résistance:
– You can have thin crust or deep dish.  I always get the thin crust with pepperoni, mushroom, and onion.
– Nice crispy crust, decent quality toppings, and comes to your table PIPING HOT!
– The salad isn’t your run-o-the-mill side salad either.  You can choose from a variety of fresh salads; I usually get the garden salad (lots of fresh veggies), or the Greek salad.

I was curious how they could afford to do this, so I flagged one of the friendly managers down and asked him about the Combo.  He said that they really wanted to provide “as much food as possible” for $9.25.  In other words, they made a conscious decision to provide a really good value to customers.

As an aside, here is another one of their combos:

7″ 1-Topping Pizza & an order of French Fries 7.95

May I ask: Who on earth eats fries with Pizza?  I’ve never had such a craving, and I’m not saying it’s wrong – I just need to understand who in their right mind would do this, and why?

India Sweet House

20 Aug

India Sweet House

A sumptuous little find in the heart or West LA.

When you open up the dictionary to ‘hole-in-the-wall’, a simple picture of India Sweet House should be visible.  Actually, nobody under 25 has a clue what I’m talking about.  Let me try this again:  When you Wikipedia ‘hole-in-the-wall’, on your iPhone, while driving…

Anyway, when you walk upon the establishment, there’s barely a sign, and the place looks closed, until you peer into the window and you see a smattering of scatterbrained people sitting around eating off of Styrofoam and paper plates, resting on bright orange plastic trays reminiscent of those you would see in the high school cafeteria.

Let me stop right here and take you on a slight ‘aside’.  There are two surefire signs that food in a particular establishment has a better than average chance at being good:

1.)    If you walk into a fancy restaurant and the Maître’d  tells you (while scowling) that your reservation is not for 20 minutes, and to come back later…you’re in for a good meal. (This actually happened at Sushi of Gari in NYC).  Needless to say, it was the best Tuna I’ve ever had.

2.)    If the place looks like a dump, and the patrons consist of a Motley Crue, you’re probably in for a good damn meal.

3.) If they accept checks as form of payment, you guessed it, good meal (this is foreshadowing).

I approached the deli style counter, where there were no menus and only a sign on the wall with some Vegetarian dishes (no meat here).  As I tried to decipher the print on the menu, which was a holdover from the 80s, I couldn’t help notice a sign besides it, which read: Cash or check only.  Really?  These guys would take a check!?  To me, that signage was worth the trip alone.

Anyway, I was busting for a pee, so I immediately asked to use the washroom.  It took me about three attempts (You may think based on my Spelling and Grammar that English is my second language.  It’s my first language. I don’t speak Indian), and a lot of squirming for the gatekeeper behind the counter to tell me to go back through the kitchen and on the left.

In the kitchen were about three generations of a family: Stirring he pots, sifting through rice in cookie trays, looking at me as if I was the first white man that had ever walked back there…

I sauntered back out to the counter and took a wad of bills out of my pocket and counted six one dollar bills.  I looked at the menu, which was all a la carte, and said “I really don’t feel like doing the math”.  I took the money, put it on the counter and asked the gentlemen for FOOD.  “Ok”, he said, “we have some combo for you”.

I sat at the restaurant style bench.  At this point I got to really take in my surroundings.  The actual dining area is about 100 square feet, or about nine tables.  At the back of the eating area, where you enter, there is a raised shelf about two feet off the ground.  On it is what can only be described as a cornucopia of miscellaneous crap that has accumulated over the years (A Mexican hat, paper napkins, some signs, take out wrappers, and tricycle).  I couldn’t love this place more.

Moving on, the guy behind the counter produced a tray of food from the kitchen, and places the tray on the deli counter, and says some words that aren’t English, and sound foreign to this planet in all honesty.  I catch a glimpse of his eye and he gives me a semi-nod, so I just up and grab the tray.  It’s filled with beautiful Naan, some Cauliflower concoction, dahl, and some other vegetable thing.  Then, there’s the rice, beautiful basmati, fluffy, filled with veggies and a little bit of Cumin.  Man do I love cumin.

I practically licked the four-compartment-Styrofoam-container.  But where was the water?  I see paper cups on the counter.  But no water in sight.  I ask the gentlemen at the counter, and he points to a beer sized refrigerator sitting on the floor…from which I produce a jug of water.  Thirst quenched – check.

I head out into the 95 F heat and drive back to the west side.  My palette, stomach and visual senses have been more than satiated.

P.S. If you want to see a couple Pictures, my man William is all over it.

http://gastroventures.blogspot.com/2009/07/india-sweet-house-indian.html

The Beef was at Bora Bora this 4th of July

16 Aug

I just love unexpected surprises.  Especially when they’re about 20 lbs, in the form of beef.

This past 4th of July I got my hands on the biggest, priciest, hunk beef in Farlan Dowell’s short lived existence.

I had a few rib steaks sitting in the fridge waiting to be cooked that evening for a pack of friends, when (lo and behold!) a neighbor of mine dropped off a present. It was a cooler with a 20lb 30-day-dry-aged-prime-rib-roast.

Apparently he cooks for an affluent family in Beverly Hills, and they weren’t going to be able to use it (cha ching!).

Just to give you a  few specifics here, end to end it almost covered the counter – I had to actually cut it up because it didn’t fit on the barbecue.

By the way, that’s a full sized cutting board on the left, and the piece of meat totally dwarfed it.

Here’s the specimen being cut into six individual rib steaks.


Check out that marbling!

I can’t really describe the smell of this meat.  It has a distinct smell given it was aged.  Some might describe it as gamey.  Care needs to be taken to cook these right, given the density of the meat, age and ridiculously thick cut.

Some might be shocked that these were cooked over a gas grill.  Tasty none-the-less. I’ll provide more information on cooking steak, but there are two essential qualities that “make an excellent steak”, they are: Quality of Meat and the Right Heat (I think I’ll trademark that).  For more information on cooking epic steak (as Matt likes to call it), see this link:  Click Here

Usually when cooking steaks, I’ll use only Montreal steak spice.  For this particular cut, given it was aged, and the meat was of the highest quality, I only put a dusting of salt and a bit of olive oil.

This next shot was courtesy of a good friend of mine – Lando – who prepared this particular piece, and photographed a nice “Bill the Butcher” shot.

We were left with six of these at the end of it (and an equal amount of empty red wine bottles).

So it was a great 4th this year.  As an aside, let me just say, as standard practice – it’s always a good idea to say hi to your neighbors.

Happy Eating My Friends.

Neighborhood Cafe: Beverly Hills

14 May

Once upon a Saturday afternoon, I stumbled upon this just-barely-off-the-beaten-track Beverly Hills Sandwich Shop. I’m certainly glad I did.

Here’s the executive summary:
– The Zen sensibility of a sushi joint meets Soup, Salad, and a Sandie.
– You won’t be disappointed, it’s very good quality food at non-Beverly-Hills-prices.
– The details have been catered to, like dill in the Abacore Tuna Salad, Fruit Salad that is actually made of ripe fruit, and soup that you’ll kill for 365 days a year.
– Provides a sensible variety of sandwiches, Paninis, and Salads (and breakfast too).

The real test of a sushi restaurant, is the Tuna.  Anytime I sit down, armed with chopsticks, I must try the Tuna.  An example of excellent Tuna can be found at Asanebo in the valley, it’s just melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.  Terrible Tuna can be found at the Canal Club in Venice – the bright-off-purple chewy, stringy variety – that a bath of Wasabi and Soya sauce couldn’t come close to saving.  In the same vein, when I test out a sandwich shop (think Fred Segal), the tuna sandwich is the best test.  (by the way, Fred does a nice Tuna Sandwich, but that’s a different article)

As I walked down the ramp (accessible for all), I turned left, and saw what was an immaculate kitchen, and very simple straight forward display of specials, and menu items.  As a rule I try not to look at a menu as it simply clouds the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for decision making, and when I’m hungry, there are far too many factors that cloud the decision (as an aside, if you’re really hungry, it’s not good to look at a menu – you should let your emotions guide you, and ask the server for what you want, or see something you like, and order it – quick!).  The prefrontal cortex can only really manage 5 – 9 decision relevant criteria before is short circuits and you make a bad decision (like ordering the meatball sub at Subway), but I digress….

I ordered a half Albacore Tuna sandwich and soup of the day, which happened to be roasted vegetable.  As I placed the order at the counter and collected my silverware and napkins on the way to one of the bistro style tables, I couldn’t help but observe that all the details had been very nicely taken care of – drink selection, labels (any design student needs to go here just to view the space), displays with pretzels or mixed nuts to go, and the 18 foot bench that guards the middle wall with tables just in front.  I found the space allows you to fully concentrate on consuming your food…speaking of which.

The kinda-psychedelic colored tray arrived with a dark red, rich, bowl of vegetable soup, which was not your Campbells variety.  I immediately dipped my spoon in, and was shocked at the potent flavor, all natural, no cream, just carrots, tomatoes, onions, red peppers – I can only fault it for the one tone red color – had it just a few kernels of corn, it would have provided a nice contrast – but wait for it, the Tuna Sandwich, which had a piece of Dill peeking out the side of the lightly toasted bread, was also laden with a few kernels of CORN!  What a wonderful one-two punch!  The toasted bread didn’t tear up the top of your mouth, and the tuna salad wasn’t mayo-saturated…it was just enough moisture.  Both soup and salad were absolutely delicious.

I had a nice little bowl of fruit salad, composed of the light green stuff, the light orange stuff, and strawberries.  The strawberries were good, but what surprised me was the ripe honeydew melon and cantaloupe!  I guess I’ve been eating at Norms far too often…

This newly opened HOOD cafe is a very impressive newcomer, for Bev Hills Power lunchers, and casual diners alike, both of whom need-not pack a mighty monetary-punch to enjoy a quality lunch.

9464 Charleville Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212, 310-860-9004

The Chili Cookoff

14 May

I’ll likely have some commentary later on the Chili cookoff, but wanted to get some pictures up ASAP.

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