Wednesday, November 7, 2007

LA, Day 4: Dinner at Koi

by Xani

After a relaxing day of hanging out with Jenny's dog Elvis, shopping at The Grove, and a delicious light lunch at Mani's, Jenny and I got all dressed up and headed out to Koi, renown Japanese-California fusion restaurant and celebrity hot-spot. After valet parking the car, we were blinded by the flashes of paparazzi. I guess they take pictures of everyone just in case? Or we just looked THAT GOOD. Probably the latter.

Anyhow, we were a bit early for our 8:30 reservation, but the friendly doorman and hostess were happy to accommodate us and promptly sat us at a table "outside." I say "outside" because, while the space was technically partially open to the outside, it was covered and enclosed on three sides. It was actually a nice compromise between being fully outdoors (which might have been chilly--even though it was 95 degrees and smoky during the day, it got pretty cool at night) and completely indoors. The only problem came towards the end of our meal, when the place was really filling up (apparently dining at 8:30 is unfashionably early in LA) and we realized that smoking is, amazingly, still permitted in the outdoor area. Of all the places I have traveled, I would have thought LA would have been the first to ban smoking in restaurants! Apparently not-- people were smoking a LOT. I was glad we were just paying the bill when the clouds of smoke began to drift our way, and not digging into our first course! But, I've gotten ahead of myself....

Smoking apparently permitted at Koi (yes I stole the matches)

After sitting down, we each ordered a glass of champagne (the waiter asked if we were 21, and I immediately fell in love with him. Then Jenny pointed out that only in LA would the under 21 crowd have the means to go to a REALLY expensive restaurant and try to sneak alcohol!) and some edamame, and took a look at the menu (which, of course, we had already studied in detail online earlier that day). We decided to order a variety of courses-- some sushi, some Koi signature dishes, and make sure we left room for dessert!

First came Yellowtail carpaccio with grape-seed oil and ponzu, wasabi, and tobiko. As soon as I tasted this I knew the rest of the meal was going to be great. The carpaccio, slices of raw fish with a little sauce to accentuate the flavors, was amazing. So fresh, so flavorful, and the texture was almost creamy, with a little bit of crunch from the tobiko and the micro-greens (um, those are SO two years ago!) on top. I would say, conservatively, that I could have eaten 5 plates of this, by myself. But, there were more courses to come...

Next the waiter arrived with a plate I was really looking forward to; Jenny had raved about the Crispy Rice topped with Spicy Tuna she'd had during a previous visit to Koi. Instead of serving the spicy tuna in traditional nigiri style (on top of finger-shaped pieces of sushi rice), the chef put a spin on it by crisping the rice. It's unclear how exactly they achieve this result (pan-frying each piece, top and bottom?) but it is delicious. The rice has a crunch and a toasted, nutty flavor from the crisp outside, but the inside of the rice remains soft and chewy. Perfect with the not-too-spicy tuna on top. Excellent balance of crunch, softness, flavor, and heat-- and, of course, the freshness of the ingredients was apparent.

Two courses down (and here I want to say that the pacing of the meal was great-- dishes were removed from our table and replaced with fresh ones promptly, but not so quickly that it seemed like we were being rushed through our meal), and next up was a Dragon Roll from their list of signature rolls. Their dragon roll (which contains tempura shrimp, eel, and various veggies) was topped with tons of tempura flakes, and drizzled with sri racha and a another, sweeter sauce. This came right up to my limit on non-traditional sushi (with mayonnaise and cream cheese being WAY over the line) but I have to admit, it was really tasty. We ate every last tempura flake!

For our last savory course, we had the Miso-Bronzed Black Cod Medley with medley of vegetables. This was a must-have for Jenny and I as we both remembered ordering Miso-glazed black cod when we ate at Nobu in New York City SIX YEARS AGO. This dish was a little more "cutting-edge" when we had it back in the day, but the Koi version was absolutely delicious. Rich by definition (fatty fish and sweet, sticky miso glaze), we were glad we were sharing one portion (and reaching the end of the meal), but every bite was supremely tasty. I also enjoyed the miniature (!!) carrots in the veggie medley.

Finally, dessert and coffee. Beautifully presented cheesecake and interesting little blobs of ice cream (perfectly shaped and seemed to have a somewhat gummy exterior-- unusual but not unpleasant). We were pretty full from all the fish but we definitely needed a little something sweet! (A little something, this time, not the multiple desserts we'd indulged in the day before!)

Blurry Ice cream blobs

After a quick trip to the ladies' room (really an excuse to walk through the restaurant and look for celebs-- alas, none to be found) we were headed home again. Another great meal with a great friend in LA. Thanks Jenny!


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

LA Traffic rears its ugly head-- but at least we eat well.

by Xani

My third day in Los Angeles, fires continued to rage nearby, and the rental car was covered with a layer of soot every morning, but that would not deter me from seeing some sights and eating some good food. What would deter me, however, was the traffic. Co-worker Mike and I had an (over) ambitious plan for the third day, including a visit to Santa Monica, a stop at an ice cream place with a reputation for unusual flavors, driving up to the Hollywood sign, all before dinner with my friend Jenny near Beverly Hills. Little did we know, when we set out on our journey, that we would spend most of the day sitting motionless on the freeway, hot sun beating down on us, the convertible seeming like less of a good idea with each passing minute. But, we survived, and even if we didn't see the Hollywood sign, we ate some good food. Let's get to it!

After a very decent brunch/lunch at Jinky's in Santa Monica, and a stroll down to the beach to check out the view, we headed to East Hollywood ice cream shop Scoops for a little dessert. I had read this article about Scoops' out-there flavors just the night before, and thought it was a sign that we should check it out. Little did I know it would take us approximately FOREVER to get there. Once we arrived we found a variety of flavors... not as wild and crazy as they sometimes have, but I did have the white chocolate and sea salt gelato, as well as some pistachio-lemon. Mike had mango sorbet, as well as a mango-lemon-poppy seed gelato. The verdict: good ice cream, but took too long to get there. Sorbet better than gelato. Wish they had had weirder flavors when we went.

Me in Santa Monica

Mike w/ Santa Monica Pier and smoky haze in the background

White chocolate sea salt gelato

Mango sorbet

Next we spent several hours sightseeing... oh wait, actually, no, we didn't. We sat in more traffic. Eventually it was time to have dinner with Jenny at Pizzeria Mozza, which I was REALLY looking forward to. I'm a big Mario Batali fan, and ever since EP went to Lupa a couple weeks ago I was EXTRA excited about having a Batali experience of my own!

We were promptly seated in the small dining room, which offers a view of the open kitchen to every table. The place was packed and it wasn't even 6 yet-- we had made our reservations 30 days beforehand and still could only get in at 5:45 or 11! Clearly this is a hot spot, and now I know why: the food is awesome.

We started with a few antipasti to share: fried squash blossoms with ricotta, oven roasted olives, and brussels sprouts with prosciutto breadcrumbs.

Sprouts from Heaven

All I can say is "wow!" This was a great start to the meal. First off, the brussels sprouts were amazing (does anyone out there have a recipe for this dish??) They were served cold, which was a surprise, but were perfectly cooked and you could taste some tangy balsamic flavor on them. Not to mention the prosciutto breadcrumbs, which I would gladly eat alone, by the spoonful. Is that wrong? The ricotta stuffed squash blossoms were perfectly golden brown and crispy, with a rich, delicious filling. The olives came literally sizzling in oil, flavored by garlic, citrus, and other yummy-ness. Next, it was time to bring on the pizza!

While Mozza has salads, sandwiches, and a few main courses, but Jenny had informed us that pizza was the way to go, and she was right. SO right. There were lots of great-sounding choices, but I ended up ordering the Bianco (with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere & sage) and Mike and Jenny both got the Funghi misti with fontina, taleggio & thyme. Look at these babies!!


Funghi Misti

The pictures don't do them justice. This was really excellent food. The crust was paper-thin and very crispy. The flavors of the cheese were really pronounced-- not like the plastic-tasting stuff you are used to getting on your local takeout. The mushrooms on the Funghi pizza were so rich and intense (I had a taste of Jenny's... oh and I ate a leftover slice the next morning. Oops.) I can't say this is my favorite pizza ever (that title goes to Apizza Scholls in Portland, OR- if you are ever in the area, you MUST go!), but its waaaay up there!

After dinner, we were planning to go to Diddy Riese to have some delicious ice cream sandwiches (which you might remember from Erin's trip to LA), but we were so tempted by the gelati and sorbetti offerings at Mozza, we just had to get some to try. We ended up getting half grapefruit sorbetti, half olive oil gelato (!), to share.

This was also super-delicious. The grapefruit tasted exactly like a real grapefruit sprinkled with sugar. The olive oil gelato definitely tasted like olive oil, and was really rich and delicious, with a tiny bit of salt sprinkled in for contrast.

Here's a picture of Jenny and I as we leave Mozza:

***Notice my death-grip on the leftovers***

Just for good measure, we then headed to Diddy Riese and got a couple of those famous ice cream sandwiches I'd heard so much about. And yeah, if you are keeping track, that's THREE ice cream treats in one day. You got a problem with that?


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Murder and Mayhem

by Erin and Xani

Last weekend, amongst our caramel apple-making adventures, we also were celebrating Dad's birthday (a little belated) and you know what that means: LOBSTER! As some of you may remember, it's our family tradition that for Father's Day and Dad's birthday we have lobster, one of his most favorite foods. Luckily, we are all huge fans so it doesn't bother us a bit!

Here was the menu:

  • Cocktails
  • Moules a la Mariniere
  • Lobster with Fideos
  • Homemade Apple Pie a la Mode

For our cocktails, Erin made Dad a good strong martini: 4 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth, with a twist and a shake. The ladies all enjoyed some Chardonnay.

Shake it, girl!

It was a big drink...

Next we had our first course of Moules a la Mariniere (steamed mussels in white wine). The recipe was very easy (well, compared to what came next with the lobster!) and only took a few minutes to prepare. Just take butter, shallots, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme and cook those up for a few minutes, then add cleaned mussels (note: make sure they are closed when you put them in - this means they are alive; if any have come open they are dead and you should NOT eat them!) and cook them for a minute or two until they begin to open. Then add some white wine or vermouth, heavy cream, salt, pepper, parsley and tarragon, cook for a few more minutes, and voila! You've got Moules a la Mariniere! Serve with crusty baguette.

This was a delicious and really easy first course. Very elegant without much fuss!

Next came the main course, Lobster with Fideos from Food and Wine magazine. Oy vey. What a production! It was TOTALLY worth it though. Now normally, we cook super-jumbo lobsters for Dad, but this year, he requested that we make this over-the-top dish, and we were happy to give it our best shot. You Top Chef fans may remember that Season Two winner Ilan made Lobster with Fideos in the finale. The recipe was not written by Ilan, but it's my understanding that this is either very close to his dish or the exact one.

The recipe is complicated so we will just provide a summary: first, boil 8 small lobsters (1.25-1.3 lb lobsters) for 5 minutes (no need to worry about cooking them all the way through). Then remove the claws and tails and remove the meat when cool enough to handle.

Team Murder

Meanwhile chop up the bodies into three-inch pieces (now that's a creepy sentence). Then take the chopped up bodies, the little legs and fry them in lots of olive oil. Then add carrots, onions, garlic, and canned tomatoes. THEN add brandy, paprika and water, and make lobster stock. Simple, right?

Next came the fideos themselves. Fideos are small lengths of thin pasta (you could use angel hair that's been broken into 2-3 inch pieces, but BCD Mom found the real thing!) which are cooked sort of like a risotto in that you fry them in lots of oil until brown and then gradually add liquid. But, it's a little less labor-intensive (ha!) since you don't have to stir constantly and you can use larger amounts of liquid and therefore have fewer rounds to go. Anyway, you fry up the fideos, adding portions of the strained lobster stock to cook the pasta to al dente. (Note: Xani did not use all of the stock since the pasta was al dente before all had been incorporated.)

The real thing!

Meanwhile, you cut up the lobster meat from the tails and claws, coat them in a bit of olive oil AND butter, some salt and pepper, and cook them through in the oven for a few minutes. Then add the lobster pieces to the fideos and dig in! It's dinner in a snap! HA! This is how much we love you, Dad!

Anyway, the dish was totally and completely worth all the murder (of the lobsters) and mayhem (including wounds from lobster spikes, near-burns, boil-overs, etc.) that went down. This was AWESOME. The fideos were perfectly cooked and had a rich lobster-y flavor that wasn't fishy at all (a concern of ours since fish stocks can be that way sometimes). The lobster was, of course, totally delicious, rich, and not tough at all.

If we were to ever make this dish again (which we probably will since it was so amazing!), we will make the stock and prepare the par-cooked lobster earlier in the day or the night before, as the recipe suggests. We SO should have completed these steps earlier - it would have made everything else (e.g., caramel apples, apple pie (see below), pumpkin carving, mussels) go more smoothly.

After the main course, we had dessert and coffee. We made Dad one of his favorite desserts: Apple Pie. We used the recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook and it came out great (despite some issues with the store-bought crust - more mayhem!!). Martha suggests using various kinds of apples, so we used Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Pink Lady apples. This dessert was also a small homage to our late Grandmother, who made the best pies (especially apple) in the world. (We think she may have been sprinking some crack in there or something - that's how good they were.) We served the pie a la mode and it was delicious and comforting. The apples did not get too mushy and were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Yum!

Despite all the murder and mayhem, it was a fun day cooking and crafting with the family, and we are so grateful that we can celebrate another year of our wonderful Dad! We love you Daddy! Happy Birthday!

Happy eating,

E & X

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