Monday, January 19, 2015

dineLA Winter 2015: Acabar

For food lovers who overindulged over the holidays budget-wise (good eats, you can never have too much of) - dineLA's winter edition has rolled around again to save the day.

If you haven't experienced it already, prix fixe menus are offered at reasonable prices at some of the most popular restaurants around the city, starting today January 19th and running through February 1st.  This year the price tiers are: Lunch: $15, $20, $25 and Dinner: $30, $40, $50.

I was excited to be invited to preview dineLA dinner offerings from Acabar in Hollywood.  This is the sort of 'whole package' restaurant that gets foodies / cocktail enthusiasts / fans of a great night out watching the clock all day counting down to 'GO time'.

The gorgeous, palatial Moroccan decor in itself makes for a great conversation starter from the moment you set foot inside the iconic doors. I'd been a fan of the space before Acabar arrived - back when it was Dar Maghreb and belly dancers were a part of the evening's entertainment.  Acabar brought a more elevated, modern, sexy vibe - a darker den that teases with a glimmering possibility of debauchery (at least of the culinary sort).  On the night of our visit, the opening act was a performance with a scantily-clad dancer sporting giant butterfly wings...(sorry, it was too dArK to capture video!)

Cocktails are not part of the dineLA menu, but the beautiful bar / lounge is definitely a place to make a pit stop on your way to the dining area - especially with a program run by Josh Goldman and Julian Cox. We got to check out a few of the latest concoctions, and a unanimous favorite that night for the fun factor as well as taste was the Zombie.  Made with El Dorado 8 year, lemon hart 151, lime, grapefruit, falernum and pomegranate - topped with a half-lime which is then set on fire: its flames made to dance with a dramatic aerial blast of salt (?) from the mágos-bartender. (At some point I need to write about the ever mesmerizing cocktails on fire...)

In line with the setting, Acabar's regular menu you would expect to be Mediterranean inspired, but really with a more-than-generous dash of 'anything goes'.  While dineLA for many restaurants can be about broad appeal and attracting potential new customers with the safe and just slightly different items - Acabar's event menu thankfully lets its personality belly up to foodies as well.

We got to try every item on the dineLA menu - but these were my favorites:

First course: Beef Carpaccio with bone marrow + black truffle arancini, crispy pulled beef, pickled radish and horseradish.  

Loved the plating, but this one is not just looks.  Tender slices of marbled beef were brilliant paired with arancini with skillfully crafted crusty shells, that crumble open to reveal a piping hot bone marrow and truffle center for super aromatic, 'meat butter' smooth bites. Pink petals of pickled radish added acidity to balance all the richness of other ingredients on the plate.

The kanpachi crudo option is fantastic as well, fresh, fresh fish with nicely balanced sides - that would be a great choice for non-meat eaters and seafood lovers alike.

Second course: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with hen of the woods mushroom, red cow parmesan, and brown butter.

I normally would not opt for the all veggie dish - especially in a prix fixe situation - but it's hard to resist hen of the woods when you see it on the menu. This was a lovely entree with toothsome bites of gnocchi with the slightest hint of sweet, and rich, lightly crisped hen of the wood mushrooms so earthy and robust that it made me not miss the protein.

The scallops and braised short rib are solid options, but not the most memorable - for those looking for something more unique, they would find it with the sweet potato gnocchi.

Third course: Parsnip Split with creme fraiche cremeux, parsnip ice cream, chiffon cake, milk crisp

I have to say this was the first time I believe I'd ever encountered parsnip as the key ingredient in a dessert.  Tasting this made me wonder why I haven't seen it used any place else???  Perhaps I'm ever biased to savory flavors in the course that is expected to be sweet, but I really loved the balance of flavor and textures in this dessert - and would have brought a bag of those airy crunchy delicious milk crisps home with me if I could!

The other dessert options on the dineLA menu are tasty as well: the coconut coulant was like a very robust custard with a flavor that reminded me of the 'coconut milk pudding' that you'd normally see in Cantonese restaurants for OG dim sum.  The Gimme S'more dessert would appeal to chocolate fans.  But neither come close to the Parsnip as far as I was concerned.

And for the grand finale that had my heart at first sight: foie gras macarons.  Foie. Gras. mAcArOnS.  A tray of them.  A perfect celebration of the return of one of my favorite foods ever - now legal to serve, but still generously given freely as a mignardise at the end of this media preview.  The luscious liver flavored filling may not be for everyone - but to the foie lovers out there - BLISS.  I'm currently confirming with the team whether this is actually offered during dineLA or if it was a one-time treat for the preview event...stay tuned.

In any case, the three course menu was fantastic - and a good way to 'taste drive' the restaurant.

[If you have the stomach space for it - check out their oyster selection too - the last time I was there (not during dineLA) they served my fav, Shigokus!]

Kudos to Acabar for stepping it up for dineLA!

*Disclaimer:  this meal was hosted.


1510 N Stanley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046
T: 323.876.1400

Parking: Valet or street


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Holidays, eh!

Happy holidays, this year from the Pacific Northwest!
This year, my brother (the one who used to make 'igloos' in the shoveled snowbanks with me, the one who understands our secret gibberish words, who was game to chase down food trucks at some unholy hour of morning, the one who will always be my 'little' in age even when we're old and gray - even though he will forever be far more mature and wise beyond his years) - moved his family to Vancouver - so we're up here to explore the city and hopefully help them some with the settling in.

It's sometimes hard for me, at least remotely, to imagine his life as a family man - vs. just my kid brother.  But when I see how amazing he is with the kids, I am in awe of the incredible human being he's become, outside of the roles in which we knew him, a brother, a son.  And it's inspiring to see the beautiful spirits of his children, one a toddler and the other just an infant - but already full of personality, good-natured resilience, sweetness and light.

If I'm brutally honest, this is not something I can handle year round - being around small children and giving over life completely to their needs.  I am still entirely selfish that way - and I do treasure my independence too much.

But I think that when I'm away, I forget what it's like to be around family - the good as well as the challenging - and every year around this time I am reminded.   It's been nice, so far, and I am grateful for good health for all and the ability to use this time to reconnect.

So, cheers to a peace and joy-filled holiday season, and wishing all some time well spent with loved ones! :)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Bites: Top 10 Edible Gift Ideas for Your Fav Foodie 2014

What to get that hard-to-please foodie?

Here are a few ways to do that, many of which support local small businesses, for budgets up to $200 ;) Some of these ideas are for curated themed items that you can pick and choose from within the set, to suit your limit!

Where deals or discounts are available, I have noted them below each product description.

You can see this year's non-edibles gift guide here.

1. Ultimate Artisanal Ice Cream Bar Stash

Put together a custom basket of handcrafted toppings that will take their ice cream game to another level. Include as many or as little of the below as you like to fit your budget.  Maybe even throw in a DIY ice cream maker so they can experiment with their own flavors at home!
  • Quenelle caramelized rice + bourbon caramel
Chef Park's caramelized rice are like the best, most refined version of rice crispies you've ever  had, glazed with caramelized sugar but still super crunchy, light and each piece distinct, not   clumped together.  I don't normally even like toppings on my ice cream, but these are my favorite.  And, bourbon caramel will make anything taste better.
  • Middlebar bourbon poached cherries 
Local farm to glass ambassadors Middlebar takes farm fresh produce and turns them into delicious cocktail mixes and fixings, from pickled veggies to bourbon poached cherries.  The Bulleit bourbon poached cherries are my favorite: the humdrum vanilla ice cream in your freezer won't even have any idea what hit it (and why it will suddenly become the hottest commodity).

  • Zoku DIY ice cream maker bowl
Photo: Williams Sonoma
This bowl lets them make their own ice cream in minutes, and serve it right in the bowl.   Just keep the inside stainless steel liner in the freezer, and when ready for a frozen treat, just place the liner into the insulated sleeve, the ice cream mix into the liner, and keep stirring til the desired consistency is reached.  Easy?!

Buy from:

2. For the Foie Fan Stuck in California

Photo: Dartagnan
Just because they live in a draconian state doesn't mean that you can't be their enabler by getting their favorite food shipped in from elsewhere (to be clear, the ban only applies to selling of foie within the state of California - it's totally legal to purchase from outside the state for personal consumption in CA).

Dartagnan offers a fantastic selection from medallions of duck foie with truffles, to sliced foie (for searing), to foie in prepared formats from torchon to terrine. 

Buy from: Dartagnan medallion of foie with truffles: 6 oz $14.99 / 1lb $33.99; torchon 1lb $96.99 / case of 4x 5oz $170.99

[Deal Alert: Spend $125 get 10% off, Spend $225 get 15% off through Cyber Monday 12/1. AND stack the deal: get 3.5% cash back when you go through eBates first, no minimum spend required (free to sign up!)]]

3. For the Momofuku Milk Bar / Banana + Chocolate Fan

Photo: Goldbely
Know someone who is obsessed with Momofuku?  Chef Christina Tossi's brilliant treats?

Do that have that episode of Mind of a Chef on repeat, about rotting food on purpose to impact flavor, and consider it genius?

Well now you can gift one of chef Tossi's creations, probably using that nifty rotting banana trick to get the cake tasting, well, more banana-ey.

Buy from: Goldbely $44

[Deal Alert: get $15 off your first order with this link]

4. Try the World - like Birchbox for Foodies

Photo: Try the World
There's something about coming home to a waiting package that make people happy - you've seen this turned into a successful business idea with Birch Box in the beauty space.  Now you can give food loving friends / family that same sense of surprise and delight with a gift that doesn't end with the unwrapping this holiday, with a Try the World subscription.  They will get shipped one box from a different country every 2 months, that contains 7-10 artisanal delicacies w/ card describing each product + cultural guide and recipes. 
The current box is Paris themed, and from the photos looks like it contains some classic staples from Mere Poulard cookies to fleur de sel, caramels, to Bon Maman jam, dijon mustard as well as packets of tea from one of my favorite tea brands, Les Palais des Thes. 

Yes, you can get some of these items at your local grocery or gourmet food stores if you know where to look, and I'd like to see future boxes include more items that you can't actually buy in the US - but this idea of themed boxes arriving at your door on a regular basis, filled with possible culinary surprises, is a fun one.

Buy from:  $39 per month on month-to-month subscription basis

5. For True Tea Lovers

While vacationing in Taiwan one year, we discovered a love for the Red Formosa Assam (aka 'Taiwan #18' that blends different Assam leaves) from the Sun Moon Lake region, a black tea that is so fragrant, sweet and smooth that it tastes in flavor as if cream and sugar were already added in.

As with wine, terroir and climate matters with the flavors that develop in tea leaves, and Sun Moon Lake is apparently ideal for cultivating Assam tea.
Photo: Red Blossom Tea

When we returned from the trip, we were disappointed that we were not able to get the tea easily from even well known tea purveyors.

So when we found that Red Blossom Tea, a family owned shop in San Francisco's Chinatown (who also coincidentally supplies Sons & Daughters with their teas) carries Taiwan #18, I definitely stocked up.

Photo: Ten Ren Tea
And now you can access it for tea loving friends too: Red Blossom tea also sells this incredible tea via their online store.

Check out their other more unusual offerings too, like elderflower tea!

To plus up this gift, consider adding a traditional clay tea pot and gaiwan set as well.

Buy from:

Red Formosa Assam: 2 oz: $20 / 4 oz: $37 
Elderflower:  4 oz: $10.50 / 8 oz: $21
Canister: $6
(slate / red)

Tea pot / gaiwan: Ten Ren Tea $129

6. For the Truffle Hound: Truffles to Make Everything Better

Photo: Ditalia
The Casina Rossa Truffle Trio Gift Pack is a perfect way to sample the famous Truffle & Salt, along side Casina Rossa's own 100% black truffle carpaccio and elegant truffle Acacia honey.

This is a perfect set to give, share or indulge in the elegant and aromatic flavor of truffles.

Photo: Williams Sonoma
White truffles, the prized gems of Italy, imbue this sea salt with exquisitely complex flavor and fragrance. Gray salt is hand harvested from the Guérande salt pan of France's Atlantic coast and blended with bits of Italian white truffles. The result is a coarse salt accented with the characteristic soft garlicky notes of white truffle--just a small pinch is all it takes to impart flavor. Sprinkle over egg dishes, corn on the cob, grilled meat or popcorn.

Buy from: 
Truffle trio: Ditalia $19.99
White truffle & grey salt: Williams Sonoma $14.95

7. For the Cheese Lover

Photo: Murray's Cheese
If they think the stinkier the cheese, the better: than spread the holiday cheer for them with this lovely Stilton crock set that includes a classic 6 oz stilton cheese in a very English styled ceramic jar, and 9 oz  pickled plums.

Buy from: Murray's Cheese $40

[Deal Alert: get 15% off with promo code: CYBER14 at check out, on Cyber Monday only.  After that, sign up for their free e-newletter to get 10% off your first order]

8. For the Nuts About Marrons Glaces

Photo: Mire Poix USA
Forget chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  The candied and glazed version (through slow immersion into hot sugar syrup to retain moisture and flavor), which dates back to 17th century France / Italy (the earliest known recorded recipe originated from Louis XIV's Versailles court), is a decadent yet refined treat that will elevate any holiday celebration.  They can be served with dessert, or alone with port or other dessert wines.

Buy from: 
Mire Poix $65
Teuscher 6 pcs $36  / 10 pcs $60 / 16 pcs $96

[Deal Alert: sign up for Mire Poix's free e-newletter to get 10% off your first order]

9. Sweets for the Sweet: Macarons

Photo: Jin Patisserie
If you are so fortunate as to live in a city with a Laduree store, let me say that you will make a sweet-toothed foodie's life if you send them a box of the insanely delicious treats.

Unfortunately as far as I know, you can't order Laduree online.  So, if you don't live on a city blessed with a Laduree store (i.e. Los Angeles), then the next best thing IMHO is Jin Patisserie's version.

Rose, jasmine, pistachio, yuzu...I haven't had a flavor I didn't like from them yet.  And, the macarons are made the Parisian way, nice and airy inside, with a crisp shell that doesn't crumble down to a sticky mess with the first bite.

Macarons are by nature delicate treats - so Jin, like Laduree, does not ship either.  But you can order for pick up from their facilities in Culver City.

Buy from: Jin Patisserie 7 pcs $14 / 14 pcs. $28 / 16 pcs. $32

10. For When the Weather Outside is Frightful

That is to say, for Californians, when it reaches the 60s, the sun is only out for a few hours at a time, and some wet stuff starts falling from the sky...(hey, everything is relative, ok?)

There's nothing more comforting and cheery than hot chocolate (whether while in your snuggie, or wrapped up in a book by the each their own).  And no easier, no mess way to do it then with Chocomize's hot chocolate on a stick spoon.  This version even has marshmallows already built in.  All you have to do is get a mug of hot milk or water, place the Chocomize into the mug, and keep stirring: and voila, hot chocolate, with marshmallows.

Pair these with a nice gold monogrammed mug for a fun and tasteful gift set that's ready to be put to use!

To plus it up even more, try pulling a set of two mugs with hot chocolate spoons into a gift basket, with a tin of Moravian Ginger Spice cookies for extra holiday flavor.

Buy from: 
Chocomize OpenSky 3 pcs starting from $11.99-$75.99
Gold monogrammed mug Williams Sonoma $9.95
Cookies Williams Sonoma $28.95

[Deal alert: for Chocomize: get 7.5% cash back when shopping at OpenSky, when you go through eBates first (free to sign up!)]

Ok I had to go 11 this year...too much good stuff.

11. For the Totally Not Bitter DIY Cocktailer / Traveling Craft Cocktailer

Photo: Hella Bitters
An example of a GREAT crowd-funded passion project, Hella Bitters' DIY products let your budding cocktail aficionado take it to the next level, and make their own custom bitters for their next stroke of brilliance creations.

The Craft Your Own Bitters Kit is a curated collection of the essential tools and starter blends for bitters-making.

Kit includes:
• Custom Machined Funnel
• Custom Fine Mesh Strainer
• 2 Infusing Jars
• 4 Dropper Bottles
• Aromatic Bitters Herb and Spice Blend
• Citrus Bitters Herb and Spice Blend

Buy from: Hella Bitters $64.95

Another awesome option for jetsetters weary of airport / in flight mixology: the Carry On Cocktail Kit.

Photo: PSFK
The travel friendly kit includes almost everything you need to mix up a good Old Fashioned.  All you need is for the stewardess (or duty free) to bring you a mini bottle of bourbon and a glass - and voila: a tasty cocktail classic while airborne.

Kit includes:
  • Aromatic bitters
  • Muddler/spoon
  • Cane sugar packets 
  • Linen coaster
  • Tin
  • Recipe card

Buy from: Carry On Cocktail Kit $24.00


For the Socially / Environmentally Responsible Foodie: Edible Greeting Cards

Do they hate waste, and live to reduce carbon footprint?

In lieu of a paper greeting card, get them one of these edible cards printed with food grade ink - they start off as eye candy, then your recipient can literally enjoy the card and leave no trace behind!

Buy from: Eat the Fine Print $9


Happy gifting!!


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