Saturday morning village

Posted by Anita on 11.19.06 7:38 AM

kiwi (c)2006 AECI was talking on the phone with Mom on Friday, and she asked me what my plans were for the weekend. “Are you going to the Farmers Market?”

“Yes!” I yelped, my voice faltering, surprised to find I was tearing up a little.

Call me nuts for getting all emotional about a freakin’ farmers market, but I’m a creature of habit. Being out of town so much, combined with having too many house-related projects brewing all at once, has kept me away from my favorite Saturday haunt for an entire month. But I got it in my head that I was going this week, come hell or high water. Not that we have any less work to do this weekend — in fact, we have more — but first and foremost, I needed to be back in a place that makes me so illogically happy.

Yes, you’re right: It’s just an overpriced yuppie food scene. But it’s also my little village, at least for a few hours every Saturday, and I take comfort in the same vendors being in the same place every week, selling a subtly shifting set of wares until it’s time for their turn to rest for the season.

I get excited about the new crop of pea vines (already!?) and the deepening flavors of the apples and pears, puzzle at the miracle of tomatoes (still?!) in November, then look around to realize my favorite stall’s yellow beets seem to have run their course for the season. Working in my hermetically sealed glass cube all week, the market’s my weekly check-in with what’s happening in the natural world.

Yesterday, the market was everything I needed it to be: Primavera was making their guajillo chilaquiles — my favorite among their rotating selection — and the sun was shining brightly off the bay, even at 8:30. We bought lots of great seasonal treats — I even found sunchokes for a fall salad I’m planning for this week — and saw all of our favorite farmers. The only hitch was that my camera ran out of batteries (and, for once, I had no spares!) after the second shot. D’oh! But it was fine, really. I needed to be in that place much more than I needed to take another dozen photos of brussels sprouts.

I know I should be sad that I’m going away again, but somehow, I’m not… at least right now. I know I’ll be glad to return, and that’s enough. As Steve said, consoling me as I sighed about missing the next two markets, “We’ll all be here when you get back”.

farmers markets, shopping


DOTW: Cape Codder

Posted by Anita on 11.17.06 6:39 AM

cape codder (c)2006 AECFancy seasonal cocktails with convoluted ingredient lists can be lovely if you’re entertaining at home, but when you’re limited to the contents of a friend’s or relative’s liquor cabinet, it’s better to be prepared for elegant compromise.

This cocktail classic’s easily made with supermarket ingredients — or even the contents of your hotel minibar, should it come to that. And what’s more perfect for Thanksgiving than cranberries?

The Cape Codder
1-1/2 oz. vodka
3 oz. cranberry juice, or to taste
lime, for garnish

Combine vodka and juice in an ice-filled highball or old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge and/or a few reydrated cranberries, for a seasonal touch.

Drink of the Week, drinks, holidays & occasions, recipes


Where’d we go?

Posted by Anita on 11.15.06 6:10 AM

pate-n-plans (c)2006 AECWe’ve been rather neglectful of MWD this week, but please don’t think it’s because we haven’t been playing with our food or eating at some yummy places. And yes, the careful observer will note that our photostream contains shots of L.A. restaurants that we never wrote up. Mea maxima culpa… and I do hope to have time to tackle those posts that are languishing in draft mode — soon.

But I thought you’d like to know that we’ve been slacking for a good cause: We’re in the final throes of planning a for-real kitchen remodel! We hired a contractor this week, after a relatively long vetting process. And we’ve got a great architect — who we’ve been abusing since August with our dog-eared magazine clippings and offbeat design ideas — working hard on finalizing floorplans and elevations so that the permit folks will be good and happy.

We spent pretty much the whole weekend (at least the part where we weren’t at JoAnn’s) shopping for tile and countertops and sinks and faucets and…. you get the point. I promise to try not to bore you with all the gory details, but I’ll post now and then when things get interesting.

For now, we’re trying to get our downstairs guest suite ready for habitation during the time that the kitchen and bathroom are gutted, and figuring out how to set up a temporary kitchen in the garage workshop. (Good thing we put in a power strip, cabinets, and a countertop, huh? My brilliant husband pointed out that it’s basically a mini-galley out there, once we add a countertop convection oven, put away the tools, and give everything a really good scrubdown.)

It’s finally happening!



DOTW: The Manhattan

Posted by Cameron on 11.10.06 6:48 AM

manhattan (c)2006 CTCYou can pick your friends—the saying goes—and you can pick your…um… poison, but you can’t pick your family. Happily, I have been blessed many times over through both blood and marriage. And so, while this Drink of the Week post is inspired by Mixology Monday #9 (bitters), it is dedicated to my brother-in-law Matt, who introduced me to a delightfully civilized drink: The Manhattan.

I had always been suspicious of The Manhattan, put off by crappy bourbon, unpredictable proportions, and those nasty, nuclear pink, jarred maraschino cherries that people actually eat instead of sticking on top of car antennas, where they belong.

But one night during a holiday visit many years ago, Matt commandeered the cocktail shaker and went to work with sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and Wild Turkey. I think. I’m a little blurry on the precise brand of bourbon, probably because we knocked off most of a bottle of whatever it was over the course of a gregarious evening.

In any case, my prejudice melted, and if I never sought The Manhattan out, neither did I avoid its presence. Those awful cherries, though. Ugh. Not a chance.

The next stage in my journey came this fall, when Murray of the Zig Zag Cafe promised us that if we brought a bottle of Carpano Antica vermouth on our next trip to Seattle, we’d be rewarded. When Murray speaks on things of a spiritous nature, my friends, I listen. Bottle in hand, we wafted in out of the northern night to be greeted by a Manhattan made with Carpano Antica, Rittenhouse bonded rye, and Bitter Truth bitters. Magic.

Since then, I (heart) Manhattan. It’s a drink that rewards customization with different ingredient styles and (carefully!) proportions. You’ll find recipes that recommend anywhere from one-half to two ounces of vermouth for two ounces of bourbon or rye. These days, I feel like anything less than a 2:1 ratio tastes like a shot, not a cocktail, but as I have written before, I am pigheaded, uncultured, and have displayed questionable drink-ordering skills.

The recipe below produces a very smooth drink, and is doubly appropriate for this particular MxMo, as it contains two bitter ingredients: orange bitters and Carpano Antica. The Bulleit bourbon lends body without calling attention to itself, and the fruitiness of the orange bitters (of which the Hermes is a difficult-to-find but excellent example) balances the extra bite of the Carpano Antica, which you could replace with regular sweet vermouth for increased mellitude. If you need fruit, soak dried Bing cherries overnight in whatever suits your fancy. I used brandy and…POW! Drunken Cherries.

Cheers, Matt! (And happy 5th Anniversary to you and P…)
MxMo 9

Old Manhattan
2 oz. Bulleit bourbon
1-1/4 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
2 dashes Hermes orange bitters

Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a Drunken Cherry.

Drink of the Week, drinks, family, Mixology Monday, other blogs, recipes


Same thing, only different

Posted by Anita on 11.06.06 6:03 PM

AOC (c)2005 AECI hadn’t planned it this way, but we ended up eating at small-plates restaurants both Friday and Saturday nights of our L.A. trip. I’d made reservations at the wildly popular AOC a couple of months ago, and — without thinking — added Violet to the mix as I searched for a restaurant that would serve good food relatively late, and wouldn’t take us too far off the path between LAX and our Brentwood hotel.

When I realized what I’d done, we toyed with canceling our reservation, but we’d also pulled the ripcord on AOC on our last trip. So, we decided to stick with the plan, as it’s a relatively difficult place to get into on weekends and we didn’t know when we’d be back in El Lay.

We arrived in the neighborhood 20 minutes or so ahead of time, so we circled the area in search of street parking. Coming up empty, we turned our (very un-upscale) rental car over to the valet, and made our way inside. Or, at least as far inside as we could manage. At least three other couples were wedged into the foyer, and another pair perched on barstools around the corner. After a 10-minute wait for an audience with the hostess, we announced our name and reservation time. Searching, searching… no luck.

“When did you make the reservation?” she asked.

“Oh, probably five or six weeks ago,” I replied, consulting my Treo’s calendar. Yep, there it was: 8pm, Saturday, November 4. Just to be sure, I dialed up Open Table on the browser, as the hostess looked through her phone logs and people stacked up out the door.

“Here it is,” I said, turning the screen to show her, “8pm, November 4 on Open Table.”

“But we don’t have Open Table.”


“Um, this is AOC?” Yes.

“Is there another AOC?” No.

“Well,” she finally admits, “We did have Open Table for about a week, but we hated them and took it out.”

“OK, but here I have a confirmed reservation that neither you nor Open Table has canceled. How was I to know this?” I wondered aloud.

She asked us to wait a few more minutes, and assured me she would work something out. And, in fairness, she did: Ten minutes later, we were escorted through the dining room, past the charcuterie cooler, and upstairs to the enclosed rooftop patio, a spot that easily could have felt like being banished to Siberia, but actually resonated with cozy and intimate warmth, the white tent-like walls glowing with diffused light and the sky peeking through shades.

Our waitress appeared, offered us bottled water, and instructed us that two or three dishes per person would be “a good amount.” The menu’s a slightly longer list of dishes than at Violet — half a dozen salumi platters, salad-y choices, fish, meat, and a section of items from the wood oven — supplemented by a full page of artisan cheeses (AOC is, technically, a wine bar).

After nibbling on delicious marinated black olives and a tapenade spiced with smoked paprika and a hint of citrus, we started with a plate of Fra’mani salumi. I was particularly taken with the Nostrano and Cameron loved the Gentile, but all of them were quite tasty and well presented. Next up was a lovely and deceptively simple salad of crisp apples, walnuts, bitter greens, aged goat cheese and little slivers of red onion that you hardly noticed, but kept all the flavors dancing together.

Cameron pounced on the three fried oysters that followed the salad, but pronounced them a good news/bad news story: crispy, juicy and fresh, but blobbed with a dollop of cayenne aioli that flirted with greasiness. On the side, a lovely remoulade paired julienned celery root with a mustardy mayonnaise. The fourth dish, an open-faced riff on a croque monsieur, put the frisee that’s usually found on the side in between a slice of brioche and the top layers of egg, gruyere, and prosciutto. Again, delicious… but a bit overdressed, making the bread soggy and sour.

I paired the initial courses with a deeply-colored but otherwise unremarkable French rosé, while Cameron enjoyed a three-glass flight of sauvignon blanc from the Loire valley. For the last two plates — braised beef cheeks and fingerling potatoes crushed with gallons of butter and gilded with crème fraîche — we shifted gears to sterner stuff. I chose a glass of Flowers pinot noir/syrah (which was as good as I remembered), and Cameron opted for a cabernet from Napa’s 75 Wine Co. The beef cheeks were tender and very good, but the potatoes were positively orgasmic, brimming with fresh, potato-y flavor and skins that went snap.

Would that the service had been anywhere near as good as anything that we ate. Our waitress (one could hardly call her anything else) could have taught finishing school at a truck stop. Loud and ungraceful, she paired inattentive service with inappropriate comments — including “Wow, you guys wolfed that down!” screeched loud enough that other diners turned to gawk, at one point.

We also suspect that she botched the table numbers on our orders, as well as those of others near us, as we spent the night fending off dishes that we hadn’t ordered, waving at our plates as they headed for other nonplussed diners, and twiddling our thumbs between courses. By the end of the meal we were so fed up that we didn’t even glance at dessert, which is completely out of character for us. No matter how stuffed we are, we’ll always at least look at the menu.

But while we were done with AOC, AOC was not done with us. Cameron handed the ticket to the valet, who brought the car around, handed us the key, and bundled us in. But as we were about to take off, the valet rapped on the window, which Cameron rolled down, only to be asked if he had paid the as-yet-unmentioned $4.50 parking charge. Thoroughly exasperated, we pushed a five-dollar bill at the man (who we’d already tipped generously), punched the rental into “D”, and putt-putted into the night.

8022 W. Third Street (near Fairfax)
Los Angeles, CA 90048

restaurants, SoCal


Good things, small plates

Posted by Anita on 11.06.06 7:54 AM

violet (c)2006 AECThanks to Cameron’s luck getting onto an earlier flight, we walked in to Violet a good 20 minutes before our reservation time. Greeted by a casually dressed but stylishly coiffed (and inked) host, we were seated almost immediately, and began perusing a list of seasonally inspired dishes, and a pleasantly extensive list of wines by the glass.

Our busboy appeared — bottles in hand — to ask if we preferred sparkling or still water. (I’m still of two minds about whether I found this annoyingly presumptuous or thoughtfully clever… I’m on the side of the latter, but I can’t put my finger on why.) Our waiter followed close on his heels, asking if we’d been to Violet before, and suggesting 5 to 6 dishes would be a good amount for the two of us.

We didn’t need to spend much time debating our choices — we easily found six dishes that appealed to both of us… a lucky thing, since the noise level (even at 9pm) precluded involved negotiations. Still, we enjoyed taking in our surroundings, a cozily-lit space with a modern palette.

Our first wine choices from the eclectic list turned out to be clear winners: A steely French rosé from Bieler, and an Alois Lageder pinot grigio with a flavor profile that seemed much more Gallic than Italian. A salad of grill-kissed Little Gem romaine combined bacony avocado and shreds of an unbilled Parmesan-like cheese to create a subtle Caesar-like effect, with an autumnal richness. Next up, a dish of ahi tuna tartare lacked flavor despite being overdressed with a ponzu dressing, and some of the fish was far too fishy to be enjoyed in the raw.

Our second set of dishes included a gorgeously indulgent take on macaroni and cheese, liberally dosed with gruyere and a smattering of Serrano ham bits. A pair of lightly breaded pork scaloppini served in a rich pan sauce rounded out the savory tastes. We enjoyed another couple of obscure, delightful wines with these dishes: A hearty and funky Gran Feudo crianza, and a hotly alcoholic but rather drinkable Velonosi rosso piceno.

None of the desserts screamed out for attention — will someone please tell chefs that crème brulee and molten chocolate cliché need to be left alone to die? — but we settled on a Key lime tartlet, which came with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream to set of its lime-curd-like filling. Cameron chose an unremarkable (but always pleasant) Taylor tawny port; I enjoyed a stem of the Nivole — a floral-nosed bubbly that reminded us both of a lightly sparkling Muscat de Rivesault — suggested by our waiter.

Throughout the meal, our server Trevor kept a close eye on us, pacing the meal perfectly, and always appearing just when we’d thought of something we needed. After tax but before tip, the cost for this little pearl of a meal: $109 (more than half of which was the bar tab).

3221 Pico Blvd. (near 32nd Street)
Santa Monica, CA 90405

restaurants, SoCal, travel
1 Comment »


Shining in the shadows

Posted by Anita on 11.06.06 7:26 AM

singha (c)2006 AECThais revere the lotus as a symbol of Buddhism: It’s a beautiful, symmetrical flower that thrives in the dankest, most polluted cesspools. So perhaps it’s apt to find Lotus of Siam — one of the most celebrated Thai restaurants outside of Thailand — in a sketchy area on the edge of downtown Las Vegas. Specifically, it’s smack in the middle of a dimly lit, semi-derelict shopping center with the Stratosphere tower looming in the distance. This outdoor mall full of businesses with an illegitimate air features a parking lot that looks quite like a great place to get mugged. That said, it also looks like a great place for ethnic food finds, with a Jalisco-style diner that serves only birria — try saying “birriraria” right on the first try — sporting a goat-head logo, plus a Korean bar-cafe and a plenty of other places lacking any sort of English signage.

Once inside the door, it’s hard to miss the wall covered with accolades, but the parking-lot experience prepares you for the rest of what you see: A slightly run-down but brightly lit space without a smidgen of pretense. A large buffet steam table takes up the center of the room (it’s used at lunchtime, weekdays only) and Formica-topped tables are set with paper placemats and restaurant-supply cutlery. This isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion… in fact, it probably served to raise my expectations. If so many foodies think this place is amazing, I figured, they’re obviously not being misled by any fancy-pants décor.

If you’ve come looking for pad thai or green chicken curry, you won’t be disappointed — all the familiar favorites are present and accounted for. There’s also a selection of what could charitably be called oddball dishes, things like shrimp tempura, fried wontons and chop suey that left me a bit worried that I’d mistakenly stumbled into one of those terrible Seattle “Thai” restaurants — the ones where they bring you chopsticks and ask “how many stars?” to gauge your chile tolerance. My nervousness was put to rest by the middle section of the menu — a collection of specialties from Isaan province, and another page of Thai dishes that I have rarely, if ever, seen on American Thai menus… things like sour sausage, crispy catfish salad, and choo-chee freshwater prawns.

Mom’s not as much of a fire-eater as I am, so I picked through the likely suspects, looking for dishes that would give us a good sample of styles without blowing our heads off. We started with a pair of stuffed chicken wings, a classic appetizer where deboned wings are restuffed with pork, mushroom shreds, and plenty of spices, then rolled in panko and deep-fried. Ours turned out to be mysteriously dry despite plenty of stuffing, but the accompanying sweet-sour sauce helped a bit.

Next up, a generous portion of chicken larb, served with a few slices of cucumber and a wedge of white cabbage. The sparseness of the presentation belied the execution: A perfect balance of sour-salty-hot.

Last, we split a bowl of kao soi, a northern curry-noodle dish I’d first enjoyed — and fallen in love with — during our January Thailand trip with Kasma. Although I’ve made kao soi at home a couple of times since then, I haven’t managed to salve my cravings. Luckily, Vegas is closer than Chiang Mai… and Lotus of Siam’s drier version of kao soi — garnished with fried noodles, pickled vegetable, red shallots, and lime wedges — may be the favorite of any I’ve tried. The noodles were firm but supple, the sauce perfectly balanced between sweet and hot, the tender beef pieces adding a salty-meaty contrast every few bites.

If you’ve spent any time at all reading online food boards, you’ve almost certainly stumbled across someone (or some-twenty) raving about Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. They throw out phrases like “the best Thai restaurant in the country” and “there’s simply nothing else like it anywhere”, and wax rhapsodic about the stunning flavors.

But this collection of over-the-top raves is really doing the place a disservice. It’s a creditable Thai restaurant, and they certainly serve some of the best Thai food I’ve had since San Francisco’s Thep Phanom took its nosedive into mediocrity. Every dish we tried was tasty and properly balanced, the service was attentive and welcoming, and the menu’s impressive in its diversity. And, of course, there’s an undeniable pleasure of finding such a gem amid the underbelly of Old Vegas seediness.

But unless you’ve spent your life eating ketchup-y pad thai, Lotus of Siam is not going to change the way you think about Thai food. But that’s not the point, nor should it be. If you go expecting a palate-altering experience at a trek-worthy temple of gastronomy, you’ll certainly come away disappointed. Go, instead, hungry for a well-made, casual dinner in an atmosphere that couldn’t be less “Vegas” if it tried.

Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104

restaurants, Thai, travel, Vegas


How bazaar

Posted by Anita on 11.04.06 5:55 PM

microwaveable?! (c)2006 AECI don’t know what, exactly, I was expecting of International Marketplace. I suppose I had a specialized supermarket in mind, like Seattle’s squeaky-clean Uwajimaya, or the frayed-at-the-edges 99 Ranch stores in the Bay Area. But neither of these notions prepared me for the reality.Set a few blocks past the freeway, west of The Strip, this enormous warehouse-like space is more like a Costco for imported food than like any supermarket you’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s not even exclusively food-centric: If you’re in the market for gaudy Eastern European statuary or Asian-made Disney fleece blankets, this is the place. But the mainstay of International Marketplace is food, and to a lesser extent, the tools with which to prepare it.

Along the south side of the building, you’ll find mostly European and New World fare, like Greek pickles, Dutch sweets and British cordials. The rear of the store includes a small but exotic produce selection, a bit of cheese, some meats, and a service counter for seafood – alas, no live creatures other than lobster. Across from the fish counter, though, is the largest collection of kimchee you’re likely to see anywhere outside of a large metropolitan Koreatown.

Crossing the main aisle, you find yourself in among goods from all over Asia and the Pacific, from Hawaiian shoyu to Filipino pancit, Japanese tonkatsu sauce to Thai dessert-making ingredients. Moving back to the front of the store, you’ll find three rows of housewares: Cutting boards in every color of the rainbow, steamers of all sizes, and clever containers galore.

As you make your way to the checkstands, you’ll inevitably find it hard to resist a small detour through the collection of plates and bowls on offer. It’s enough to make you want to throw out your dirty undies to make room in the suitcase for a few tiny dishes.

International Marketplace
5000 S. Decatur Blvd. (at Tropicana)
Las Vegas, NV 89118

Note: All prices on the shelves reflect a 5% member’s discount, but most items seemed competitively priced (presuming that you could find them elsewhere at all).

shopping, Vegas


DOTW: Los Angeles

Posted by Anita on 11.03.06 8:01 AM

image courtesy CocktailAtlas.comThis one’s a nod to this weekend’s destination: the City of Angels…

The Los Angeles Cocktail
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 oz. rye (or bourbon)
1/4 oz. sweet vermouth

Shake with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

Drink of the Week, recipes, SoCal, travel
1 Comment »


Old school

Posted by Anita on 11.01.06 8:58 PM

chicken & dumplings (c)2006 AECAs careful readers may have noticed, the last couple of weeks have been filled with dishes that indulge my dad’s food cravings. Since Pops’ favorites lean heavily toward the foods of his youth, finding a suitable entry for Retro Recipe Challenge #4 hasn’t proven terribly difficult. In fact, the hardest part has been choosing among this week’s roster of golden oldies.

Given the RRC4 theme, Fall Favorites, a clear front-runner emerged. Pops requested chicken & dumplings, and the recipe Mom uses dates from at least the early 1970s. Alas, the exact source is lost to the sands of time, but one look at the clipping and you can’t miss that 70s women’s magazine vibe — complete with a Kraft Squeez-a-Snak ad on the back!

Amazingly, we resisted the urge to tinker with the recipe; we even used the bouillion cubes. But the veggies completely disintegrated, so Mom simmered up some extra carrots and celery, and added them after thickening the sauce. The dumplings were surprisingly good; I’m not sure if I’d make the chicken again, though. The sauce definitely reminded me of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup!

Oh, and lest I forget: It was served with a Waldorf salad… how’s that for old school?!

Chicken and Dumplings
Chickens are still a good buy. Stretch the flavor and servings per chicken with this old-fashioned dish.

3-pound broiler-fryer, cut up
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 celery stalks
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 sprig parsley
1 bay leaf
2 chicken bouillion cubes
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
2 egg yolks, beaten
Parsley Dumplings (recipe follows)

Put chicken in a kettle or Dutch oven and cover with boiling water. Add salt, pepper, celery, onion, carrots, parsley, bay leaf, and bouillion. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 1-1/4 hours, or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from liquid, and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Measure liquid and if more than 4 cups, boil down to 4 cups. Blend milk and flour, and gradually add a little hot [cooking] liquid to milk [mixture], then stir milk [mixture] into remaining hot [cooking] liquid and cook, stirring, until thickened. With spoon, gradually beat in egg yolks. Put chicken back in broth. Drop dumpling batter by tablespoonfuls [sic] into bubbling broth. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes. Cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Makes 4-6 servings.

Parsley Dumplings
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. each sugar, salt, and celery seed
1 T chopped parsley
1/2 cup milk

Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, celery seed and parsley. With fork, stir in milk until just moistened.

cooking, family, magazines, other blogs, recipes