Sep 23, 2015
The Art of Charcuterie is a MUST for Food Lovers Who Want a Hands On Meat Preserving Adventure Taught By Top Patina Group Chefs. Cafe Pinot, Downtown LA.
Cafe Pinot is a Los Angeles classic. Located next to another classic, Downtown's Central Library, this contemporary California-French restaurant not only offers some of the best in fine dining experienced within a sanctuary-like dining room and patio, it also offers hands-on classes.
Returning this fall season is Cafe Pinot's popular "The Art of Charcuterie: Life Lessons in Preserving Your Meat." If you're a crazy about charcuterie like I am, then you're going to want to investigate these upcoming, delicious and insightful clinics on mortadella, German cheese sausage, and lamb-chetta. You can peruse the official schedule here at the link.
I had the privilege of participating in the duck prosciutto and rillette classes back in early February when former Cafe Pinot exec chef Joe Vasiloff lead the program.
Within a span of 2 hours, we started from raw ingredients, in this case, duck breasts and legs, and finished with product to take home for further curing.
Chef Vasiloff walked us through ingredients for seasoning, prepping the meats, blending the seasoning, and processing the meats.
We even got a tour of Cafe Pinot from its various kitchens to food storage facilities. The spaces are tight but a lot of good food comes out of it.
Seasoning of course is key to charcuterie. Making and applying the curing mixture are the most fun.
We learned a lot about the magic of curing and why curing salt is pink—it's a warning, a red, er, pink flag, so to speak.
The toughest part about The Art of Charcuterie class is not eating the ingredients like the duck confit. It just looks so luscious and tempting. It's like the duck leg is saying EAT ME, Eddie.
If you're a curious culinarian or a hardcore foodie who wants to know and do everything food-related, you need to experience The Art of Charcuterie.
I'm particularly excited about one of this season's chef-instructors, Viet Pham. I'm a fan of the Pham man. He took over for Kris Morningstar at Ray's & Stark Bar early this year and will be doing double duty at Cafe Pinot as a charcuterie master. Pham's sous chef Jake Eaton will also be teaching classes this season.
Preserving meats is an ancient practice. It's good to know that it's being used and taught more than ever, even in the 21st century.
Once class is wrapped, you get to take home your meat masterpieces.
Isn't mine lovely? I probably put a little too much oil on top.
Class dismissed! Now, time to drink and eat some previously prepared duck prosciutto and rillette. Cafe Pinot's general manager Steve Meyer poured generously. The wine was the reward for toiling in the kitchen. Making charcuterie is a tough business.
Olives, cornichon, mustards: snacking with charcuterie.
What's a meat platter without a cheese platter? Nothin'!!!
Thanks, chef Vasiloff. You taught well. My duck rillette was ridic!
700 W. Fifth St.
Downtown Los Angeles
The Art of Charcuterie at Cafe Pinot continues this fall:
Mortadella and Homemade Sriracha
Kaese Krainerwurst (German cheese sausage) and Make Your Own Mustard
Lamb-chetta and Quick Pickled Fennel
NOON-2PM + 45 Minute Reception/$85 pp
Sep 13, 2015
Sleek & clean seafood space.
Walk into the wide open dining room at Wonder Seafood in Temple City on Las Tunas, and you can't help but notice the flying saucer-like lighting fixtures overhead. Upon closer inspection, those flying saucers might resemble something more like the tops of bamboo steamers, which would be more appropriate considering dim sum is served here till pretty late, about 5 pm.
Wonder Seafood is not a new restaurant but more of a re-do of an existing place formerly named Green Island Fusion or Green Island Flavor Restaurant (I would hope flavor existed at the restaurant). The place is pretty much the same but with the alluring addition of dim sum to its offerings. And, as a dim sum freak, I was bursting with joy like an overstuffed, steamed BBQ pork bao.
Wonder Seafood represents with the dim sum basics.
Although you won't discover a vast breadth or the more elaborate dim sum delights that you'd savor at dim sum empires like Sea Harbour or Lunasia, what you do get is basic dim sum like siu mai or har gow done exceptionally well. All of dim sum's greatest hits are more or less on the menu of this cart-less, à la carte dim sum and seafood restaurant.
Super siu mai!
The baby's fist of a pork and shrimp dumpling called siu mai is a chunky and hunky bite, actually, more than a bite, maybe three if you're dainty. It's topped with tobiko, those itty bitty, day-glow orange, flying fish roe that add briny pops to the dumpling.
Wonder Seafood's siu mai is massive, meaty, and moist. Definitely one of the bigger ones found around town and full of porky, shrimpy flavors.
Har gow hooray!
Hands down, the har gow or shrimp dumplings at Wonder Seafood is the best I've eaten in a while. For the most part, the har gow at many dim sum restaurants are indistinguishable, probably even interchangeable with one another. One bite of Wonder Seafood's har gow and you'll notice the supremely fresh shrimp and slight pungency from the bamboo shoots. Above all, there's an exquisite creaminess that contributes a bonus luxurious texture that other har gow typically lack.
The outstanding craftsmanship is also crystal clear. The tapioca-wheat wrapper is perfectly translucent allowing the peachy-pink hue to peek through while durable enough to hold the contents. For those who appreciate the attention to detail (not all diners care), there are at least 10 pleats on the har gow. This is above and beyond the mark of an expertly folded shrimp dumpling. Bottom line: it's a really delicious dumpling.
Champion chicken feet.
The litmus test I like to use for good dim sum are "phoenix talons," as chicken feet are poetically referred. However, if you actually find any talons on your chicken feet dim sum, then send them back. They should've been clipped off. Wonder Seafood's chicken feet are great. A little bit of nibbling and sucking here and there are required to maneuver all those salty-sweet bits of skin and tendon off of the tender foot. A well-cooked chicken foot demands very little effort to coax the goodies off the bone. Such is the case with Wonder Seafood's chicken feet. Once I put this foot in my mouth, I knew it was all good at Wonder Seafood.
And at less than 4 bucks for most of the dim sum selections, the price brightens the heart like good dim sum should.
9556 Las Tunas Dr.
Temple City, CA
Aug 27, 2015
On the Road Eats: Coney Vs. Coney. Detroit's Best Coney Island Hot Dogs Battle it Out in My Mouth! Lafayette Vs. American. The Clash of the Coneys!
A couple of Lafayette Coneys.
Previously on my MasterChef casting tour, I found myself in the Juicy Lucy capitol of Minneapolis. Although I didn't have the time to pit the two greatest Juicy Lucy rivals against each other while there, I did get a chance to sample a pretty inventive one at Crooked Pint.
The latest MasterChef casting tour city in which I find myself is Detroit. If you're a car fan, then it's the Motor City. If you love classic pop music, it's Motown. If you love guys with make-up singing about rock and rollin' all night and partying everyday, you know Detroit as Rock City. I, however, like to refer to Detroit as the place for Coney Island hot dogs.
A Coney Island hot dog, or Coney, is simply a beef dog nestled in a soft hot dog bun, smothered in a thin, beanless chili sauce, dressed with mustard, and topped with raw chopped onion.
There appears to be little agreement on the genesis of the Coney Island dog, so naturally all kinds of people have laid claim to creating it. As typically is the case, this famous and quirky hot dog has a quirky backstory. Part of its charm is the name itself because the Coney Island hot dog wasn't born anywhere near New York, it comes from Michigan. According to hot dog lore, a guy named George Todoroff concocted the chili-meat sauce for a hot dog vendor at Coney Island, NY. Ultimately, he opened up his own Coney joint called Jackson Coney Island restaurant, named after his hometown Jackson, MI. But, like I prefaced, this could all be bullshit.
The bottom line is, at least in downtown Detroit, there are two Coney Island hot dog heavyweights: American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. American was founded in 1917 by a Greek immigrant named Constantine "Gust" Keros. Lafayette, the other place, is situated right next door and was opened by Keros' brother. Since they both opened, the rivalry has never ceased. Naturally, I had to try both.
Lafayette employee building some dogs.
My first stop was Lafayette. The interesting comparison here is that although Lafayette unveiled after American, it looks older with that lived-in patina all over the counter. Perhaps, American has gotten a makeover or two throughout the decades, but Lafayette definitely has that no-nonsense, old school diner aesthetic.
Lafayette keeps it real.
Because Lafayette is a straight up, OG sort of spot, you need to be efficient when ordering like with many vintage eateries or restaurant Nazi type places. The simplest way to order a regular Coney as it is intended is just to say, "Coney with everything." If you want to make adjustments, you can but know how to do it. When I was there, I heard a dude ask for ketchup only. I think the jukebox stopped playing suddenly, and the weird thing, there wasn't even a jukebox. Man, the guy got looks.
Lafayette's how-to t-shirt.
It is mandatory to have a wall of fame when you own an old school hot dog joint like Lafayette. They got it covered. It's a good time munching on a Coney and scanning the framed pix for a familiar, famous face.
Everyone loves Coneys!
The main attraction, of course, is the Coney itself. It's a thing of beauty and a supremely simple pleasure. There's nothing remotely fancy about one, but when you sink your teeth past the bright, crunchy onions, zingy mustard, runny meat sauce, and, at last, into the snappy hot dog—it's love. Man on hot dog love. Like I said, a thing of beauty.
Love at first bite.
These guys do Coneys all day long. Even between lunch and dinner rushes, the place is usually busy. Stacks of tube steaks are always at the ready—sexy, sexy tube steaks.
Lafayette and American are famously located next door to each other. This makes it simple and fun to do a taste test, so after devouring my Lafayette Coney, I waltzed into American for their version.
Clash of the Coneys.
Whereas Lafayette's staff appeared to comprise of salt-of-the-Earth, older gents, the crew at American were all young wiener slingers eager to please. There were plenty of smiles at American as opposed to the grunts you may be greeted with (if you're lucky) next door.
"What up, Coney dog!"
The interior of American Coney Island was reminiscent of a '50s sitcom soundstage or a Johnny Rockets. They too had walls of fame with photos of Kid Rock and Jimmy Fallon glamming up the space.
Even Jimmy Fallon loves Coneys!
There was definitely more personality at American but it felt way Hollywood. I preferred the "leave me the eff alone as I binge on 10 Coneys" vibe at Lafayette. American's staff was super nice though, which was nice.
Welcome to American Coney Island.
But when it came down to the critical taste test, would American outshine its relative and neighbor Lafayette? The supporting players of bun, meat sauce, mustard, and onion were pretty much identical. However, the primary component, the hot dog, would be the final and most important factor. Unfortunately, for American, its beef dog casing just wasn't as perky. Moreover, the dog's seasoning seemed a bit lackluster when up against Lafayette's, simply not as flavorful.
American's Coney: good but not great.
In the end, it was the relative late-comer Lafayette that won the Clash of the Coneys in my mouth. It was so good, I strolled back for seconds. No Uber ride necessary.
The wiener winner is Lafayette!
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226
American Coney Island
114 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226