Beer cocktails. Beer floats. Sour beers. All-you-can-drink beer. Beer crawl set to music. Crappy-for-happy beer trades. Prickly pear beers from all over town. Los Angeles is comin’ up beer. And in its 4th year, not only is LA Beer Week bigger and better than ever, it’s also more unified. The camaraderie around the LA beer community is unmistakable – so get ready to drink some tasty brews while learning a lot and meeting some cool people along the way.
After perusing the 10-day schedule, I’ve come up with a few events I’d personally want to attend. With the LA beer scene at the strongest it has ever been, there’s bound to be some (or a lot of) conflicts during this extravaganza, but all we can do is do our best, right? While you’re at it, you might as well check off the four quandrants of this LA Beer Week Bucket List. Then, bring your four stickers to the LA Beer Week Festival on September 30th and get a free bottle of the official beer of the week, Unity, from Eagle Rock Brewery – a play on a traditional Berliner Weiss, yet jazzed up with a touch of rye as well as red and green prickly pear. You’ll also get to enter a drawing for tickets to the BAM Fest on October 6th in Santa Monica.
(If you don’t complete the bucket list, never fear – it’ll be on draft at select retailers throughout Los Angeles and Orange county as well as at the LA Beer Week Festival itself.)
Without further ado, here are my Top Ten of LA Beer Week:
It all started out with a contest. Hot Knivez, the beer-loving, meat-hating blogger-chefs in town, sent other bloggers and me a proposal. Said the email in my inbox: Pair cheese with beer. And write about it. If we love it, the winner with the best post will get to attend a private beer-cheese pairing symposium at Verdugo Bar with The Bruery.
I love a challenge, and beer and cheese are two of my favorite things. Factor in Verdugo and The Bruery, and I am yours.Â I am a native Wisconsinite-turned-Angeleno, after all. Thankfully, Barrie Lynn Krich of The Cheese Impresario came to my aid by reconnecting me with my roots and her supply from Wisconsin cheese-makers.
Of course, the fun part was coming up with the control – the beer that would be lucky enough to have so much lactic love paid to it. Inspired by a particular Orange County-San Diego beer tour in which I discovered the wonders of sour ales, I found Russian River Valley’s Consecration within walking distance of home. Just knowing there was good beer stock so near was really the icing on the cake. It wasn’t the only sour ale but indeed probably one of the most approachable ones I’ve ever had. It isn’t a beer to smack you upside the head with overpowering citrus. In the 10% ABV Consecration is a blend of five different beers, including dark malts, which are then aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels for 4-8 months. Tobacco and fruit are prominent notes, particularly cherry (oh, look at that: currants are added). Carbonation comes from having fermented the beer in the very bottle it comes packaged in – and this further adds punch to its sour, my tasters and I found. Not only was it fun to pair this particular beer with cheese, it served as a palate cleanser as we went from candidate to candidate. Perfect.
Barrie Lynn had given me five cheeses in all,Â which rangedÂ in funkiness with the intention of standing a chance against the sour ale’s…well, sour properties. We tried the first, aptlyÂ nicknamed “Cheese Sex,” – which was an agedÂ cheese spread, or aÂ blend of Widmers Aged Brick Cheese and aged cheddar. No, it wasn’t funky.Â Yes, it was divine; it reminded my friends andÂ me of a really well-executed version of the cheese in the HandysnacksÂ cheese and crackers snack pack we all got in our lunches as kids. That is, probably the best execution that we had never dreamed of. (Seth noted as a parallelÂ that we’re still waiting for the gourmet chicken nugget.) Don’t underestimate the Cheese Sex, okay? As far as a pairing, however, Consecration – and probably any other sour ale – overpowered the dream. The beer was too strong for even its slightly salty aftertaste, but all the same, I could understand why this spread is in such high demand, as evidenced by the sliver we were given. There be rations!
The next cheese candidateÂ was Italico, which was appropriately named because it reminded us of mozzarella. It was an ivory-colored cheese and was even milder than the Aged Brick Spread – without any finish at all. It was almost like there wasn’t any cheese at all. After some research, I found that Italico is better paired with fruit. Truly, there would be stronger cheeses that could hold their own in this tasting.
Noodle-Off Recipe Competition c/o RFPR, Inc. 5225 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 718 Los Angeles, CA 90036
…and four finalists (based on recipes) will get to compete head-to-head at the finals on Monday, November 22, 2010 at Tiato Garden Market CafeÂ in Santa Monica. A fifth finalist will be selectedÂ at the Orange County Noodle-Off Semi Finals held at AnQi Gourmet Bistro on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 so you Orange County entrants are in the running, too.
What, exactly, will you be judged on? Four categories, to be exact:
Taste Visual presentation Creativity Cooking practicality (ease of preparation and execution)
It seemed to be sort of a mission when I was asked to do a tasting in Orange County – but it wasn’t the first time. I’m intrigued, though, when there’s enough confidence to invite writers to dine inside a chain (albeit somewhat upscale) hotel. Perhaps there’s enough substance there to warrant a splash. Or clatter.
The garnishes at the bar and even some of the herbs used in the kitchen are grown in their burgeoning roof-top garden. They stress that it’s small but I can appreciate any and all efforts to keep ingredients as local as humanly possible. And despite their hotel chain business structure, you can see that TusCAÂ in its 3rd, U.S.-wide Hyatt installment differs with their added focus on using fresh ingredients. The Antipasti are solid – homemade marmalade, real honeycomb, homemade garlic paste, cornichon, whole grain mustardÂ and fig jam round out your cheese, charcuterie and bread accompaniments.
But as it turns out, there’s something special inside this glass-encased super hotel that – dare I wax Los Angeles behind the Orange Curtain here? – is very Beverly Center. As your silverware clinks against your china, there’s an echo to follow each and every clang. But none of this is to discount the originality and inventivenessÂ of the bread-, not potato-based, gnocchi. Still rich and indulgent but not overwhelming – as often the potato gnocchi are – and still packed with amazing flavor.
And TusCA does well with the basics, too. The roasted tomatoes (not to be confused with the sun-dried variety)Â areÂ delightful bursts of flavorÂ in the Market Salad, dressed withÂ Sweet Basil Vinaigrette.Â The flatbread Neopolitan pizza is solid.Â My favorite was the Funghi Misti – topped with amazing Fontina cheese, a little Taleggio and thyme and a variety of mushrooms are deliciously roasted into the pie. There’s a good selection of toppings and all are pretty fabulous, including the original TusCAn (Marinated artichoke, roasted garlic, olives and mozzarella) and Prosciutto (Asparagus, tomato, mozzarella and egg). Of course, it’s the flatbread that forms the basis of each pie and their fire brick-roasting oven is no detail to their success.
The seared halibut was also a surprise with how well it was prepared, with the citrus in theÂ side orange salad complimenting the still-tender, juicy filet. A solid Secondi, overall.
Rounding out the end of the meal was an impressive rendition of Affogato al Cioccolato, with real shaved chocolate and a strong shot of espresso to pour over our vanilla gelato. As with all affagato,Â just be quick to eat the delicious dessert before it melts away.
TusCA is a surprisingÂ oasis inÂ a well-appointed chain hotel whose clientele waffles between Disneyland visitors and perhaps Disneyland (or other)Â corporates. Just above the restaurant were the plans for EuroDisney conceived and developed in former office spaces-turned-suites.Â So there’s no mistake that the space indeed is very Orange County – but thanks to Chef Laura De Martin and Executive Chef Sayed Moalemi, the cuisine itself will take you to NorthÂ Italy.
All food and wine were hosted. Additionally, a night’s stay was provided.
Los Angeles is a perfect city in which to eat – whether it entails having access to the cuisines of countless ethnicities or healthful options that honor our moral obligations. There’s a tricky thing, however, about desserts for vegans – most of which incorporate butters, understandably, into their recipes. LA vegans have reason to rejoice, though, with ever more plentiful options to get their sweet tooth on around town:
Kiss My Bundt (Mid-Town)
Kiss My Bundt offers vegan red velvet on Fridays and Saturdays as well as vegan chocolate on Saturdays. They may be vegan, but they certainly don’t look nor taste like they’re in shortage of any sort of ingredient. Incredibly moist and delicious, the red velvet will never let on what you’re missing…it’ll be a secret between you and your bundt. And if you’d like a sizeable order (6 mini-bundts or more), the vegan bundts are available any time of the week. What are you waiting for?
The Bakery at Akasha has a few options available for vegans at their storefront. Pick from chocolate cupcakes, tarts and cookies – or go for their meyer lemon scone. If you’re seeing a movie across the street, best come early and buy a few treats to sneak into the theatre – it sure beats the $8 popcorn at the concession stand!
Dark Chocolate Cupcake with Ganache Glaze & Vanilla Icing – $3.25 ea Salty Chocolate Pecan Tart and Rustic Apple Tart – $4.75 ea Chocolate Chip and Snickerdoodle Cookies – $1.50 ea Meyer Lemon Scones – $2.50 ea
Bakery at Akasha 9543 Culver Boulevard Culver City, CA 90232-2618 310.845.1700
Babycakes (Downtown Los Angeles)
Los Angeles vegans rejoiced when Babycakes came toÂ us from New York – to set up shopÂ in the historic Pacific Electric lofts downtown. Not only could you get a french dip at Cole’s and a cocktail at The Varnish – you could also get dessert nearby. There are a lot of vegan options here (loaf? cookie sandwich? macaroon?)Â with a variety of flavors:
Vanilla Cupcake with Zesty Lemon Frosting – $4.25 Banana Chocolate Chip Loaf – $3.65/slice (Check the recipe from Glutenfreebird.com) Cinnamon Raisin Cookie Sandwich with Vanilla Filling – $5.00 Cinnamon & Sugar Toasties – $3.75/slice Vanilla Macaroons – $1.50 each
Babycakes 130 E. 6th St. (between Main & Los Angeles) Los Angeles, CA 90014 213.623.5555
I have to admit. The world ofÂ “veggie people” food is a pretty unfamiliar study to me.Â ThoughÂ the omni– in my omnivorous eating habit hasn’t had incentiveÂ toÂ explore that direction, it hasn’t affected my respect for the dedication to sustainability and conservation.
First of all, it’s the dairy thing. Contrary to my inclination-toward-lactard heritage yet consistent with my having spent halves of my life in each of theÂ two Cheese States, I am a cheese person. I love la crÃ¨me. Second of all, I can barely groom myself on a regular basis – how could I possibly have the discipline to eat with such restrictions? Irresponsible, though my only criteria be “delicious.” (I did have the hardest time turning down shark fin soup the last time I attended aÂ traditionalÂ Chinese banquet-style wedding but thought it the conscionable move to do so.)
Enter Veggie Grill – which I was invited to check outÂ and since it’sÂ accessible from myÂ workplace, decided toÂ experience a workday lunch there. I had only heard good things about its expansion into Los Angeles (the first stores are located in Irvine, the third in El Segundo) and when I saw the menu, I could see why. Right off the bat, I noticed nothing on their 100% plant-based menu is priced over $10. For a vegetarian focus, I’m usually hard-pressed to find one menu item that’s under $10. At this price point, it’s worth it to keep an open mind.
And well,Â the food is delicious! My Baja Fiesta salad had mangos, roasted corn salsa, carrots and a delicious ginger-papaya dressing that ended up having just the right amount of kick in it. It was also tossed with quinoa for all the quinoa fans out there! So good, and so good for you. I tasted the chili, which tasted so close to the real thing (the look, not so much) and I loved that it was spicy. The corn chowder was so delicious I ended up getting the half-sandwich, full soup combination with the Baja Fiesta.
The Papa’s Portobello sandwich was divine. An entire slice of mushroom covered the bottom of the burger and it was then when I discovered that at Veggie Grill, the secret’s in the sauces. They do a great job of keeping things interesting through their all-natural sauces – the garlic pomodoro sauce being the one in this particular sandwich. You’ll also be surprised to find that a lot of the sauces have kick, including atop their kale sides and salads. I haven’t eaten a lot of kale at all, but I really appreciated how fresh these portions were and having been heralded its health benefits before, I’m definitely paying more attention.
Their sweet potato fries are a must-have. They’re baked, then flash-fried to finish. A great texture to go along with the fresh taste. And do not discount their desserts. Their carrot cake is not only moist and freshly-made, the frosting is also perfect – you’ll wonder where that cream cheese went. Same with the chocolate pudding, which isn’t exactly rich but you can certainly taste the chocolate in there.
While I’ve yet to try, I’m curious as to their “chickin'” and “veggie steak” for my next visit. If you’ve tried Veggie Grill – don’t be shy! Leave some thoughts below as to your favorites (and non-) in the comments. I can get used to stopping on even this strip of Sunset Blvd for “healthful grub” such as this. I’m destined for a tasty mean, 100% plant-based or not!
I always knew that South Coast Plaza was one of the premiere places in Southern California to shop. Until recently, I’d never the opportunity to find out that it’s also a destination to eat. I, along with a few other bloggers, were invited by the PR company representing the South Coast Plaza restaurants to go on a tour, extending overnight, of a few of them.
Our first stop was Hamamori – a Japanese restaurant headed by James Hamamori. While I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised – mostly by the sushi dishes that came out. Above is freshwater eel sushi with foie gras and a torch taken to the top layer – rich texture and taste. Also good was a yellowtail sushi prepared with lemon salt and topped with chili paste, which actually had me wishing there was a bit more chili paste on the sushi as I tend to prefer spice in each bite if given the choice. A scallop version also prepared with lemon and shiso salt but topped with caviar, instead, was also good. The appetizers were also respectable. There was a dish of chopped, seared albacore prepared with soy, vinegar and fried green onions which seemed rather typical but a creative option was an asparagus tempura but the dish – instead of being simply battered and fried – was encrusted with bits of fried japanese crackers. A heated stone option is also available if sizzing, fine slices of kobe beef dipped in sauce fits your fancy. Chili salt, apple sesame and steak sauce are paired for the dunking. The first was a sort of unremarkable dipping option (tasted simply as salt – not much chili) while the apple sesame reminded me of a Korean BBQ marinade. The steak sauce was a tad smokier yet still sweet. The experience of cooking one’s own meat on the table, in any case, makes for an interactive experience fit for family outings and dates alike. Continue reading →
The task was simple: Drink beer all day. The task would have also been daunting, perhaps, if not for good company. Indeed, beer tours necessitate teamwork; that is, if you plan to do one well. I joined Joshua of FoodGPS and cohorts in Silver Lake, where we launched from and headed behind the Orange Curtain – Placentia.
For a city whose name I’ve questioned from the get-go, they have a heavyweight yet small craft brewery aptly named “The Bruery” (for family name “Rue”). It’s housed inside – yes, you’ve guessed it – an industrial office park. And what an oasis of fine craft brews it is, a reprieve from Orange County sun and concrete-asphalt wasteland. One can get 4-oz pours for a mere $4-5 – well worth the trip if not already in The OC.
I really enjoyed my first pour, the Snicklefritz (above, center). It was spicy yet refreshing and had good balance for a golden ale at 9.2% ABV. The Orchard White (left) was also very good as a citrusy Belgian but it was probably premature weather-wise for the Autumn Maple (right). Who are these SoCal-ers kidding about “autumn?” It is a heavier beer, obviously with maple syrup as a brewing ingredient, so I will probably have to find a location in the mountains that serves it when the snow starts falling. It’s also brewed with “17 lbs of yams per barrel” which would also explain its weight.
Rarely do I travel to Orange County – willingly, that is – for anything other than family-related events or weddings. I know – I said “travel.” It’s just so far. But when I got invited to a Northern Vietnamese food tour, my interest was piqued. Where else to learn about Vietnamese food than in the largest and highest density of congregate Vietnamese outside of Vietnam?
We started out at Lee’s Sandwiches with a refreshing, sweet coffee and of course a bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ to start. It was a good, spicy sandwich and left my lips burning afterwards! What I like most about bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ is the combination of daikon and pickled carrots. But there was just the right amount of sweetness in this sandwich and it was easy to bite.
Afterwards, we roamed around the Vietnamese grocery store and got our education by the very knowledgable Chef Robert Danhi. We started off in the front, where they sell beef jerky and other preserved foods. The beef jerky was reminiscent of my childhood, actually, because it is much the same as Chinese beef jerky my family and others’ would commonly gift one another. It’s fuzzy, a touch spicy and has always been more favorable to my palate than the salty Pemmican ever was (the price point also reflects this). It was followed by an Americanized (read: sweet) BBQ jerky, which was tasty, and by pork sung. Pork sung – that is, shredded pork – is an interesting texture if you’re not already familiar with it. One thing I’ve always liked to do is insert a tuft of pork sung in my Pillsbury Crescent Rolls before rolling them up and popping them in the oven. 😉