Monday, August 27, 2007



While Andrea has taken over most of the blogging duties lately, I haven’t let her touch this one. Beer is my territory, and THIS MUCH beer is my responsibility to [finally] write about. While a number of you (Andrea included) might sample a craft beer or microbrew and typically respond, “It tastes like beer”, there are plenty that have already discovered what I love about beer. Beer is as varied as wine in flavors and complexity, and it can pair well with all sorts of foods. Below you’ll find the foods and beers that the chefs and beer experts and Rustic Canyon decided to pair for their Summer Beer Bash.

Summer salad of watermelon, feta, wild arugula and soaked walnuts with lemon and olive oil
Biere De Blanco: Craftsman Brewing Company

As expected, a lighter beer with citrus qualities is paired with a salad. The salad combines the sweet, nutty, and tangy flavors which welcome the cool rush of the Biere De Blanco to finish it off.

Fried green tomatoes and burrata with heirloom tomato relish
Red Barn Ale: The Lost Abbey

For me, this was too much tomato, not enough burrata. That’s likely why I knifed off little slivers of the tomato to eat with the sauces on the plate. There was nothing wrong with the beer, however, which cut the tomato with richer, hoppy flavor.

Mussels steamed in beer with preserved lemon and chili flakes
California Ale: Telegraph Brewing Company

The mussels in this dish really just served as a rich textured vessel for the substantial chili and lemon flavors, which was fine by me. Combined with the starchy garbanzos, this dish seemed to coat my mouth with flavors that really needed to be washed down with a good beer. The California Ale is the richest beer among these first courses, which was a nice contrast to the sharp sting of the lemon-heavy mussels.

Craftsman IPA

Beer as a palate cleanser. Awesome.

Beer braised short ribs with chantrelles and creamed polenta
Biere De Mars: Craftsman Brewing Company

Once again, braised short ribs and polenta. Do short ribs ever come served WITHOUT polenta? To be honest, I don’t remember much about this dish. Given how many times we’ve had a version of this dish served to us, I was likely done with short ribs by the time this dinner rolled around. What I do remember is that of the beer pairings, this seemed the most out of place. The beer was good, but the short ribs didn’t make me FEEL like drinking a beer.

Baked goat cheese in pastry with wild honey
Lost and Found Ale: The Lost Abbey

Of all the dishes, this cheese and honey combo was my favorite. The sweetness of honey with the rich saltiness of the cheese all baked into a pastry? Can’t go wrong there. Also, I’m quickly becoming a fan of The Lost Abbey brewing company, and the Lost and Found Ale, red and hoppy, is my favorite.

Oatmeal stout cake with porter ice cream
Oatmeal Stout: Telegraph Brewing Company
Stock Porter: Telegraph Brewing Company

This just makes sense, doesn’t it? Two types of beer go into the dessert complemented by a glass of each beer. Even though, at this point, the sheer VOLUME of beer was threatening to overwhelm any appetite I had left, I still managed a sip with each spoonful of dessert. A winning combo.

Overall, I enjoyed every beer, and most of the courses. However, I wasn’t thrilled with all of the pairings nor the AMOUNT of pairings. A beer with the starter/salad and then a beer with the main course would be perfect for me. Any more, and beer and food will be fighting for space in my belly (which isn’t a great feeling). I have to applaud Rustic Canyon for giving everyone an opportunity to really experience a variety of pairings and demonstrating how versatile beer can be. It’s not just for BBQs and football games anymore.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

VIOLET...again, Santa Monica, CA

Although we always strive to try new places to post on our blog, we really enjoyed our initial visit to Violet and wanted to return for their Sunday Night Dinner special. On Sunday, Violet features a seasonal 3-course menu for $25. With 2 selections for each of the 3 courses, we were able to order one of each and thus try everything. In addition, they offer the option of adding a $10 bottomless glass of wine - we didn't hesitate of course.

white onion soup thyme

This soup was a pleasant surprise and a first for us. It had the rich onion flavor of classic French onion soup, but was smooth and creamy. A perfect dish to warm us up on a chilly evening.

wild rocket cherry tomato, ricotta, balsamic

This salad was simple, but the refreshing flavors were a nice contrast to the rich soup. The wild rocket, fresh ricotta, and sweet tomatoes reflected the "seasonal" element of the summer dish.

creamy carnaroli risotto mushroom, roasted shallot

We were of course excited that mushroom risotto was part of their special Sunday menu. This risotto was unique in that it was made with Carnaroli rice, which is superior to the more common Arborio. I was able to tell the difference in texture, as each grain of Carnaroli is more plump and firm than the traditional Arborio.

grilled skirt steak, eggplant caviar, red wine

Although weary of any dish with "eggplant" in the name, the highlight of the dish surprisingly turned out to be the eggplant caviar that was resting underneath the tender and perfectly seasoned steak. However, it was more a chunky puree than a caviar, since it didn't have any sort of fish taste at all. Instead of asking for clarification from the staff, we simply concentrated on enjoying the great combination of flavors.

manchego sheep's milk cheese honey

For dessert, one of the options was a cheese course. Normally, (and unfortunately) we usually have to pick between cheese and a more traditional dessert - and the traditional usually wins. However, this menu gave us a chance to enjoy both. And sharp manchego with sweet honey? Can't get much better than that.

coconut charlotte

We were a bit worried when our server placed this down on the table. Not general fans of coconut, we were relieved when we were told that it was made with coconut milk and not with coconut flakes. But then one look at it and out first thought was that it was going to have the consistency of flan (again, not big fans). But instead this dessert turned out to be a nice surprise and we polished it off quickly. It was light and creamy, yet dense enough to avoid any flan-like resemblance. Definitely a winner and a refreshing end to a fantastic meal.


Just next door to Osteria Mozza lies another one of Maria Batali and Nancy Silverton’s creations. Although more casual than the Osteria both in food and ambiance, Pizzeria Mozza still focuses on fresh ingredients and classic Italian flavors. Their thin crust, Naples-style pizza is the main attraction, with about 15 different versions. The pizzas are baked in 700 degree ovens, which results in a wonderfully puffy crust that is crispy in some spots, chewy in others, light, and airy. You really need to try it to get the full effect.

Fried squash blossoms with ricotta
Having enjoyed our lobster-stuffed squash blossoms at Jar, we didn’t hesitate to order these as our starter. They were light, crispy, and the ricotta oozed just perfectly. They got our taste buds warmed up and ready for the main attraction.

Funghi misti, fontina, taleggio & thyme

Really. . . what's not to like about this combo? Woodsy mushrooms, 2 kinds of cheese and some herbs. Simple, high quality ingredients that blended together perfectly.

Coach farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions & bacon

We decided to get a bit fancier with our next selection. The strong goat cheese was balanced nicely by the sweet caramelized leaks and salty bacon. Definitely a winner, and it was a nice contrast to the more mild mushroom pizza above.

Butterscotch Budino

On another visit to Pizzeria Mozza, I broke down and ordered the butterscotch budino as many veterans had recommended. Silky, creamy, rich, sweet, and topped with a wonderfully thin layer of caramel with a sprinkling of sea salt. A must-order, even for people who aren’t crazy about butterscotch

Saturday, August 4, 2007


Ok, we admit it – we’re suckers for celebrity chef restaurants. Especially Food TV chefs. So when we heard that Mario Batali was opening up a restaurant in LA, we anxiously awaited the chance to try his cuisine again, having had such a great experience at Babbo in New York. However just like Babbo, it was almost impossible to get a reservation at what had become LA’s newest hotspot. 2 hours after the reservation lines opened, I finally got through and was able to secure the next weekend spot available – which was almost 1 month later. Needless to say, we had high hopes and expectations for Batali's latest culinary endeavor.

An Italian Amuse Bouche:Stuzzichini with basil, sundried tomato, mint pesto and olive
The highlight of Osteria Mozza is the free-standing, marble Mozzarella Bar in the center of the restaurant. Here, chef Nancy Silverton, founder of La Brea Bakery and Campanile, takes classic Mozzarella, Burrata, Bocconcini, Strachiatella and many other variations of mozzarella and creates a wide array of interesting small plates . So we were excited when our Amuse Bouche turned out to be one of her mozzarella creations.

Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole & caramelized shallots
Burrata has become one of the hottest ingredients this summer and is popping up on upscale restaurant menus all over the country. This young Italian cheese is essentially fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream, which oozes onto your plate when you cut into it. This sweet and incredibly creamy cheese is the highlight of the Mozzarella bar, and what better way to try it than on toasty bread with bacon and caramelized shallots. The explosion of flavors and texture in each bite was incredible – the creamy, silky cheese, salty bacon, crunchy bread, sweet onions, and slightly bitter escarole. The only difficult part was trying to get each component of the dish in every bite without burrata dribbling down our chins.

Orrechiette with sausage & Swiss chard

Much easier to eat than pronounce, the orrechiette pasta with sausage, swiss chard rivals the Burrata with its mixture of flavors and textures (it's all about the breadcrumbs spooned on top!). While less of the this dish dribbled down our chins-we actually used silverware for this course-it was no less mouth-watering. Even with the sausage, it was a relatively light course, and the saltiness was a nice contrast for our other dish for this course:

Fresh Ricotta & Egg Raviolo with browned butter

Ricotta and...egg? It's not a combination I've had anywhere but a breakfast omelet, but it worked. This raviolo (the singular of ravioli?) was rich and sweet while the orrechiette was lighter and salty. We tore through this dish particularly quickly, not only because the sweet ricotta and brown butter was pleasant after so much bacon and sausage, but also to preserve the texture of the dish before the hot plate cooked the yolk solid!

Beef Brasato with polenta and horseradish gremolata

Although the pastas were the highlight of our meal, the braised beef was fantastic in its own right. The tender and succulent beef was served on a bed of polenta, which soaked up the rich au jus. Caramelized onions and meaty wild mushrooms added even more heartiness to the dish, making it the ultimate comfort food for a cold winter day. Of course, LA doesn’t have many of those so I’m not going to wait until then to enjoy this dish again.

Osteria Mozza - Take Two

Having had an overall great experience at Osteria Mozza, I decided to drag my friend Yana with me a week later for another round. I knew that she would force me to try the more unusual items on the menu, and boy was I right.Having had an overall great experience at Osteria Mozza, I decided to drag my friend Yana with me a week later for another round. I knew that she would force me to try the more unusual items on the menu, and boy was I right.

Grilled Octopus with potatoes, celery & lemon

First off, only click on this picture if you aren’t eating while reading this blog. Second, if the lighting wasn’t dim and I had actually seen what I was eating, I don’t think I would have been so brave. But Yana decided to order this based on the rave reviews and I’m not one to shy away from trying something new. A forkful was put on my plate and I reluctantly took the plunge. I chewed, pondered, and waited for some sort of weird flavor to hit my taste buds. Nothing. It tasted like chicken . . . really. Not a good thing nor a bad thing - it was what it was. Yana loved it, while I decided that one forkful was enough to feel proud of my sheer bravery.

Burricotti, braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants & mint pesto

Our second starter was definitely more tame, but still something that I would not necessarily have ordered myself. I’m much more of a bacon-cheese-onion type. Although I think I ultimately prefer the one Suni and I had, this was definitely a close second. Wonderful combination of texture and flavors. And as you can see, beautifully presented.

Agnolotti, burro e salvia

You already know of my new obsession with agnolotti, and the desire to try theirs was the main reason why I wanted to come back to Osteria Mozza. Filled with tender meat and accompanied with a sage butter sauce, it was delicious. However, I think I prefer the sweetness of Spago’s sweet corn agnolotti as just a matter of preference. Of the 4 pastas that I tasted at Osteria Mozza, I think my favorite was the orrechiette with sausage & Swiss chard – I still salivate when I think about it.

Spaghetti with clams, pancetta & Fresno chile pesto
This was Yana’s pasta, but she generously gave up a bite so that I would have something to blog about. Light and wonderfully spicy, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of flavor in this dish. Again, not something that I would normally order but it was quite tasty.

Olive oil gelato with rosemary cakes

Sometimes you just have to forgo a chocolate dessert in the name of something different and unique. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the idea of olive oil gelato and rosemary cakes really sparked my interest. Besides being beautiful, this was a wonderfully complex dessert. The flavor of the olive oil and rosemary was dramatic, and went really well together. It’s hard to describe beyond that - you’ll just have to try it yourself.