Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cooks County Loves Steelhead Roe Too

I'm happy to report that glorious Steelhead roe continues to pop up on creative menus around town, most recently at Cooks County, where chef Daniel Mattern is putting my new favorite ingredient on top of hard-boiled eggs with a dollop of creme fraiche (I think it was creme fraiche - all I really remember is the incredible flavor of the roe!). Unlike at Son of a Gun, the roe is not smoked but presented fresh - a distinctly different flavor.


I probably should just go out and buy a big jar of it at this point...it's time. I'm also curious to see if any sushi chefs out there are presenting Steelhead roe as a change-of-pace alternative to Ikura...hmm.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Ten Best Things To Eat In LA Right Now

We're pretty lucky to live and eat in L.A., a cosmopolitan city that attracts top culinary talent from around the world and produces more than its fair share of home-grown chefs, eager to take advantage of a year-round bounty of locally-grown produce. The most diverse city in America, with the most diverse cuisine. Little Tokyo. Little Ethiopia. Koreatown. Thai Town. Chinatown. The real Chinatown. Historic Filipinotown (I've never been there but it's fun to type). Russia Town (it's not actually called that but should be - Fairfax and Santa Monica). No Little Italy but plenty of great Italian food, including pizza, despite what your annoying co-worker from NY says. We have to fly in our Nova, but not our pastrami.


We're pretty lucky.


Here are the top ten best things to eat in L.A., right now. I'm sure this will change soon - and isn't that a great thing?


10. Il Covo's White Anchovies with Roasted Peppers


  Sometimes the simplest thing on the menu is the one you keep going back for. Il Covo's previous chef, Roberto Maggioni, let the bright briny flavors of fresh white anchovies shine without needless augmentation, instead placing them unadorned on a pinwheel of roasted yellow and red peppers. The sweetness of the peppers lends the perfect balance to the sparkling acidity and rich oils of the fish - nothing more is required. Here's to hoping the new chef agrees.

9. Playa's Tamale Chipotle

 
I'm usually very skeptical of upmarket presentations of downmarket dishes. There are way too many Kobe beef hot dogs, ridiculous Wagyu burgers with white truffles, and order-it-and-be-forever-shamed cheesesteaks  in existence for my liking, and at first glance Playa's filet mignon tamale sounds like it might deserve equal disdain. But it definitely does not. The beef is good, but the real star is the tamale itself, filled with an incredibly earthy masa and rich mushroom duxelle. The smokiness and mild heat of the chipotle bearnaise adds the kick. You won't find find this at your local taco stand but you'll wish you could.


8. Umami Burger's Hatch Burger


Umami Burger has expanded. A lot. And quickly. And now Umami lord Adam Fleischman has opened Umamicatessen,  a megaplex downtown hosting 5 restaurants in one. The hubris! some say. He's doomed to fail! He's the Icarus of burgers! Maybe so, but I couldn't care less as long as I can still order and way-too-quickly throw down the glorious Hatch burger, a green chili-and-liquid-cheese bomb of meaty flavor. One of the less obvious secrets of Umami's success is their mastery of ratio: Fleischman and team have perfected the amount of beef to bun, and present it in a way that you can actually pick up and hold it and take a bite without it all falling apart, the way a burger should be eaten. If you find yourself reaching for a fork at your favorite burger joint, it's time to reassess.


7. Ray's and Stark Bar's Hamachi Sashimi


I really wish I could just call it Ray's and not the cumbersome Ray's and Stark Bar. They're really separate entities - the restaurant resides in a bright, airy glass-walled room in LACMA's piazza, while the open-air bar lies adjacent.There is Ray's, and there is Stark Bar. Set them free.


But I digress. Ray's is the perfect restaurant for LACMA, utilizing a modern approach that celebrates L.A. by combining its many disparate elements into an artistic whole. Also, the food is really good. Chef Kris Morningstar's presentation of the ubiquitous hamachi (aka Yellowtail, aka Japanese Amberjack) elevates a standard-issue sashimi offering with the inclusion of tangerines, cilantro, and aji amarillo, a peruvian chili pepper. What could be a better nod to L.A.'s culinary history than pairing Japanese and Peruvian flavors?

6. Drago Centro's Langoustine Carpaccio

 

The best dishes often begin as a surprise and end feeling as if they were inevitable - how could this NOT have always existed? Celestino Drago did not invent langoustine carpaccio (was it Robuchon? probably not), but when you eat his version, it seems that way: chilled, almost translucent sweet langoustines, pressed thin into a perfect square, dressed barely with whatever is in market at the time. The shellfish doesn't need and doesn't get much - Drago is a chef that recognizes a powerful flavor and does as much as possible to get out of its way.

5.  Osteria Mamma's Pappardelle al Fumo





I'm not really sure why anyone would go to La Buca now that Mamma Loredana and her son Filippo are long gone and have their own restaurant right down the street. I guess it's good, because that means an easier path for me to Mamma's fantastic hand-made pastas, the best pastas in L.A. The Pappardelle al Fumo may very well be the best of the best, with the smoke-friendly scamorza melting into the chunky pancetta over a bed of perfectly al dente noodles. It may be even be better heated up the next day.

4. Pizzeria Mozza's Bianca Pizza



 I love a white pie. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, the best white pie around was (and probably still is) at Tacconelli's, a brick-oven legend located in Fishtown. You knew Tacconelli's was good because you were willing to go to Fishtown for it. Want beer with your pizza? Feel free to bring it with you. I'm still thinking about their white pie, a simple crispy thin crust topped with mozzarella and plenty of garlic.


The white pie at Pizzeria Mozza dresses things up a bit with four cheeses, including sottocenere, a truffly (is that a word? it should be) Venetian cheese that's starting to appear everywhere, and I'm definitely not complaining. Fried sage is laid on top to provide a sharp textural contrast and some needed saltiness. It's the best pie out of many great contenders. Don't have it delivered because it won't be the same - avoid the wait by claiming a seat at the bar and eating the entire thing as soon as it comes out. Shouldn't be too hard.


3. Sanamluang Cafe's Pad Kee Mow


Sanamluang Cafe has a sign that reads "Best Noodles in Town", and it's hard to disagree with that after you've had their Pad See Ew, flat rice noodles with egg, soy sauce and Chinese broccoli, or even better, their Pad Kee Mow, spicy flat noodles with refreshing mint and pungent green chili. It's criminal how cheap it is - the Pad Kee Mow with pork will run you all of $6.25 - $7.25 if you want to live like a Rockefeller and have it with shrimp - and you'll drive away thinking you just committed robbery eating that well for so little.

2. The Bazaar's Jicama-Wrapped Guacamole

I was so averse to subjecting myself to an SBE-fueled experience that I avoided The Bazaar for nearly three years. I wish I hadn't. Yes, the crowd can be grating, but they'd honestly have to pelt me with full, leaking cans of Axe body spray to get me to even consider staying away now that I've had Jose Andres' food, my favorite example being his perfectly seasoned guacamole with corn chip fragments, housed in a crisp, refreshing Jicama wonton. It's everything you love about chips and guacamole with none of the watching-the-game-on-the-couch heaviness - I've never seen Jicama used to such great effect. 

1. Son of a Gun's Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, and Pumpernickel


It's hard to get a clear answer as to what exactly a Steelhead is. Is it a trout? Is it a type of salmon? Whatever it is, it produces a ridiculously flavorful roe, and nowhere is it better presented than at Vinny Dotolo's and Jon Shook's celebration of all things salt air. This dish is all about balance: the sweet woodsy flavor of the maple cream, the burnt grain of the pumpernickel crisp, the burst of salinity of the roe. It's my favorite thing to eat right now in L.A., and it's not even close.

Fatty out.