Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Love Song for the Tomato at Mozza

Tomato worship is in full force at Mozza's Scuola di Pizza Tomato-themed dinners right now and it's so good it has inspired me to finally write again! Many varieties of heirloom tomatoes are featured in this multi-course dinner and all the tomatoes are from the legendary Chino Farms, just north of San Diego. I went with three friends yesterday, one is a tomato monster who has practically adopted tomato as her middle name, and we all loved the dinner.

I'm not a tomato monster but I do love tomatoes at the peak of the season, fresh from the farm. Every mouthful bursts with layers of complex savory, sweet and acidic fruit flavors. If you only eat the supermarket varieties that look like a tomato, then you haven't had a great tomato. That can easily be rectified by visiting your local farmers market this month or next month (and maybe read this too and you'll never want to waste money on a supermarket tomato again). Better yet, call Mozza right now and get yourself into their Tomato dinners before the season is over and Mozza moves on to its next theme.

Mozza BLT
 This is a salad a meatatarian can dream about. Different heirloom tomatoes are tossed with ripe avocado, watercress, a bit of aioli and topped with the most amazing bacon breadcrumbs. Every bite of this deconstructed BLT was rich and savory, almost like eating tomato "steak."

Di Stefano Burrata
I sent this picture to my boyfriend and his response was "I hate you with a fiery passion." Poor thing, he loves burrata and had to work late and I went to this dinner with friends. (I did make it up to him by buying some burrata to-go for him.) Di Stefano's burrata cheese is amazing and this local dairy makes this giant ball of burrata especially for Mozza. We couldn't finish the whole bowl even though eight of us shared one bowl and my friend and I took second helpings to eat throughout the rest of the meal.

This burrata course was especially fun to eat because it was interactive. Four of us shared a potted basil plant and we could snip off as much fresh basil as we wanted for our burrata. What a great idea! Can't wait to steal it for my next dinner party at home.

I layered a giant spoonful of burrata on a slice of perfectly toasted bread and two thick slices of Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato and then I sprinkled it with some sea salt, the fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. This open-faced sandwich was about the size of my face. The sweet creaminess of the tender burrata melted in my mouth instantly and swirled with the savory, meaty flavors of the Cherokee tomato. The subtle hints of salt, basil and oil enhanced every creamy, savory bite. I was in heaven!

 Rustichella D'Abruzzo Spaghetti
Years ago, I ate the best spaghetti I've ever eaten and it was when Scott Conant was still cooking at L' Impero in Manhattan. I never forgot the taste of that spaghetti and he left L'Impero and now of course, owns the Scarpetta empire which still makes that wonderful spaghetti. However, this spaghetti at Mozza can give Scarpetta's famous spaghetti a run for its money. Frankly, this one is so good, I think it has finally taken Scarpetta's place in my heart. The chef slow-cooked tons of cherry tomatoes with garlic. Before the pasta is cooked, he takes it out and drops it into the sauce to cook together and the starch from the pasta gives the sauce a nice velvet thickness that coats every surface of the pasta. This spaghetti tastes really good combined with a bit of creamy burrata too.

Roasted Veal Rack
Having been to many Scuolo di Pizza dinners at Mozza now, I know that I can easily be stuffed by the fourth course. I thought I had wisely avoided eating too much of Nancy Silverton's amazing foccacia bread (only 1 slice this time) to save room but then I was greedy with the burrata and spaghetti so by the time we got to this wonderful veal dish, I had to get up and walk around. Boy, it was worth it though. Nothing makes steak better than tender baby cows.

 Olive Oil Gelato with Tomato Plum Compote
This blew our minds. Olive oil on gelato? Tomato on top of my gelato? After tasting it, I threw my skepticism out the window and declared it awesome food genius! Mozza often serves gelato at these dinners and this one is easily the creamiest, richest gelato I've ever had. The most impressive thing about this dessert is the sweet tomato plum compote - great texture and perfect balance of plum sweetness with the fruity tomatoes.

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
This is another favorite dessert often served at Mozza. This light cake went very well with the rich gelato and sweet tomato plum compote.

You can't go wrong with these themed family-style dinners at Mozza. It's the best $75 you will spend on amazing food in this town. I love the casual atmosphere too. Chef Chad Colby preps the food in an open kitchen right behind the communal table and he's always happy to chat with diners about his ideas, the ingredients and how he cooked each dish. The service is attentive without being too fussy or stuffy and if you're open to chatting with the diner next to you, the chance is high that you'll meet someone interesting and fun to talk to.

And congratulations to Chef Colby for winning Cochon 555, the heritage pig competition in LA back in May! So, while you're reserving your tomato dinner, reserve a spot for Chef Colby's whole-hog dinners too. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Mozza Scuola di Pizza
6610 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 297-1133
Dinner Calendar

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nha Trang's Delicious Noodle Soups of Central Vietnam

I have to seriously thank Jonathan Gold for reviewing Nha Trang last month. Having grown up in San Gabriel, I somehow never tasted the noodle soups of Central Vietnam until I ate at Ha VL in Portland last May. I immediately fell in love with the depth and varied flavors of the different rich soups, types of rice noodles and the thoughtfully prepared meat and seafood toppings. When I returned to LA, I was disappointed that the landscape was dotted with the standard Vietnamese Beef Pho and there was no place to feed my new addiction.  But at last, Nha Trang has arrived to save me!

Nha Trang's noodle soups are made with fresh ingredients every day and the broth is cooked for hours with either chicken, seafood or beef and pork bones (no MSG!). They only make what they think they'll need for the day so if they run out of a particular soup you want then you're out of luck.

 There are only 8 items on the menu. Six are noodle dishes and two are served with a baguette. 

Move aside Intelligentsia. I want my Iced Vietnamese Coffee.

 Bun Bo Hue
Slices of braised beef shank, a few cubes of pork blood pudding and a stewed pig knuckle sits atop of rice noodles in this rich beef broth. I've had Bun Bo Hue a couple of times in San Gabriel and Westminster in the past but they've always been disappointing.  This one is gold.

 Bun Rieu
This tomato broth is amazing and the shrimp and crab meatballs adds a perfect seafood flavor to the noodles. This also comes with a few slices of pork, pork blood pudding and a pig knuckle. Nha Trang loves pork blood pudding and pig knuckle and so do I!

 Pho Ga
Chicken noodle soup for the soul! I swear, this rich chicken soup will cure any cold. Buttery chicken essence oozes with every sip of the soup. The chicken is cooked daily with fresh chicken from the poultry shop and because it's fresh, it actually tastes like chicken, unlike the bland frankenchicken sold frozen at the regular supermarkets. 

Hainam Chicken Rice
This is like Pho Ga because it uses the same chicken but it's served with rice that's been cooked in rich chicken broth. Since it's rice and easier to order as take-out, Nha Trang often sells out of the Pho Ga and Hainan Chicken early (by Noon-ish).  I've seen people come pick up 4 or 5 orders at a time of the Hainam Chicken.

 Bun Bo Xao
Of the 6 noodle dishes on the menu, this is the only one without soup. The rice vermicelli is topped with beef stir-fried with lemongrass. Tasty but I prefer soup. This would be good for those who can't bear the steam of a hot bowl of noodle soup in the Summer.

Mi Quang Nha Trang
This one is really special. It's the only item on the menu that's served with egg noodles and slices of fish cake. The seafood soup is boiled for hours with lots of shrimp and shrimp shells to achieve that deep sea flavor. Tumeric gives this soup a yellow glow and the ginger undertones of tumeric balances the fishiness to give you a perfect bowl from the sea.

In the last month, I've been to Nha Trang multiple times and ate everything on the menu except the baguettes. The lady who runs the place is really nice and she recognizes me now and it's like going to a relative's house for lunch. I love all the noodle soups and it's almost painful to have to choose only one each time; they're each so different it's like they have their own personality. I would gladly exchange ten burger joints (Father's Office, Umami, The Counter and In-n-Outs combined) on the Westside for one Nha Trang to be within a 5-mile radius of Culver City.  But alas, I can't so I'll have to continue to trek 25 minutes on the weekends and squeeze into one of Nha Trang's 16 seats to feed my addiction for delicious noodle soups.

Nha Trang
311 E. Valley Blvd., Ste 103
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 572-7638
Hours: Tues to Sun from 9:00am to 5:00pm
Tip: Happy Hour from 4:00pm to 5:00pm - Whatever noodle soups are left are only $4.95.
*The shop is not visible from Valley Blvd. You have to enter the strip mall (Rich Plaza) it's in before you'll see it. Look out for two tall umbrellas in front of the shop.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bouchon Saves the Week + Kitchen Tour

These past couple of weeks at work has been like a freeway pileup...on the 405! The work keeps piling every day and I've spent many nights catching up and savoring the peace and quiet at home to finally get some projects started. But all work and no play makes Hungry Kat a very insane girl.

So, I'm very thankful that Coolia organized a group outing to Bouchon this past Tuesday. Coolia, Ron and I shared cocktails as we people-watched at the bar (Tom Cruise and Katie with kids in tow slipped behind us into the dining room). The dinner was a 3-hour extravaganza that made me forget about work. The cherry on the top was the kitchen tour that Ron hooked us up with via his friend who's a chef at Bouchon.

*Apologies about the dim photos. I was using my phone and I didn't want to use the flash to disturb other diners.
 Bouchon started our meal off with warm cheesy bites of gougères, mushroom tarts and french baguette. I would have been happy with just those items for dinner. It was a beautiful start.

Salmon Tartare
Fresh, creamy fish to get our appetites going. Ha, as if we needed help.

 Potted Foie Gras
Best $50 ever spent! This pot of creamy, buttery heaven was enough for the five of us and Bouchon paired it perfectly with thin, slices of chewy bread. I don't eat foie gras often but you just have to have it at a Thomas Keller restaurant where you know it will be prepared perfectly and taste out-of-this-world. With so much food, we couldn't finish it so lucky Coolia got to take it home and enjoy it for breakfast the next morning.

Asparagus Salad with Poached Hen Egg
Now, why can't I cook asparagus like this at home? Well, first I can't quite get the same quality of asparagus as Thomas Keller. This asparagus was tender with no stringiness at all. The anchovy vinaigrette paired very well with the sweetness of the asparagus and the rich yolk oozing from the poached egg.

Veal Tenderloin
I love veal. I pretty much order it whenever I see it at a nice restaurant. Needless to say, this veal was tender and each bite bursted with the meaty veal juices. The veal was sous vide and then seared before serving which explained the extreme tenderness. The rest of the table ordered off of the special prix-fixe from our Blackboard Eats deal and everyone got this amazing glazed pork belly with bean cassoulet. I stole a bite from Coolia...nom nom nom.

 Dessert Time!
The house treated us to these lovely macaroons, shortbread cookies, jelly candies and chocolates. Just judging from the pastries we got at the start of dinner and these goodies, the Bouchon Bakery that'll be opening next to Bouchon soon will be a great contribution to LA.

Ile Flottante
I've never had a Floating Island before but I figured Bouchon would be the best place to finally try it. It was a bit too sweet for my taste but maybe it was because I already overindulged in the macaroons. Still, I admired the art in making the egg meringue and the nut topping was really good.

Kitchen tour with Ron and Coolia for size comparison to those giant stockpots. Bouchon's stockpots are going all the time with different stocks (beef, chicken, veal...).  

 The chef told me how many pounds of chicken they use in the chicken stock but I forgot. They also add vegetables to the stock and it gets boiled down until the stock is very concentrated - about one third of the size of the stockpot.

The chef said if you have no Sense of Urgency, you don't belong in Thomas Keller's kitchen or any respectable kitchen for that matter. 

 More baguette anyone?

Chickens drying in the meat refrigerator. Ron has tried Bouchon's roast chicken and he said it's the best roast chicken he's ever had. Chef said they brine the chicken first, then air-dry it in the meat refrigerator with a running fan before it's ready to be roasted. And they roast the breast separate from the thigh and drumstick because they have different cooking times and this simple method prevents overcooking and dry chicken. I did that a few weeks ago at home and I can attest that this is true.

By now, I'm sure all the vegetarians and vegans have stopped reading this blog but here's a picture of the produce refrigerator. All the vegetables and herbs are lovingly organized. 

One amazing thing I noticed was that the kitchen was almost spic and span when we toured after dinner around 11:00pm. The kitchen staff was cleaning every pot, pan and cooking utensil and their cooking station was practically sparkling. Thomas Keller is very strict with the cleanliness and organization of his kitchens so the kitchen is cleaned every night after meal service is over.

I had serious kitchen-envy while walking through Bouchon's multi-million dollar kitchen. The All-Clad pans, giant stockpots, and rows and rows of organized spices, produce and ingredients in the various refrigerators and cooking stations were very inspiring. It was like peeking into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. 

235 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 271-9910

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One Bite to Ensenada - Ricky's Fish Tacos

Unbelievable that it took me so long to try Ricky's Fish Tacos!  Ricky Pina's Baja-style fish and shrimp tacos have been legendary in Los Angeles for several years now but for some reason, I've never been able to haul myself to Silverlake to his taco cart. Don't get me wrong; I'm willing to travel long-distances for food alone. Day-trip to San Francisco for Golden Gate Bakery's egg tarts? Ha, no one can stop me on the 5 Freeway. Drive to Buellton for steak dinner at the Hitching Post? Hop in the car and let's go! 

I guess I just needed a crazy fish taco craving to get me weaving traffic from Culver City to Silverlake on a Saturday morning.

Ricky's sort of like a jack-of-all-trades. He built his first taco cart out of a filing cabinet he had at home!  Find out more about Ricky and how he started his taco business in his recent interview with LA Weekly (Part 1, Part 2).

Place your order and Ricky will get the frying going. If you're lucky, he'll have lobster sometimes. Then grab one of the three fold-up tables he has in front of his stand and wait for deliciousness. The line can get a little long and you might have to share a table but who cares? Everyone is there for good food.

Fish Taco Heaven
Served in each warm mid-size tortilla are meaty pieces of fish, fried to crispy perfection in a light batter and topped with crunchy cabbage and fresh pico de gallo. Drizzle some of Ricky's special mayo and salsa verde or rojo. Then close your eyes and one bite will transport you to Ensenada. 

Shrimp Taco Heaven
This shrimp is serious. Good-size, plump and deveined. It's fried in the same light batter and comes with the same toppings. You've got to get a shrimp and fish taco.

Wash everything down with cups of Ricky's agua frescas and you've got a perfect start on your weekend.  

Dan and I have been to Ricky's twice in the past three weeks.  We order four shrimp and four fish tacos every time. Yes, that's a lot of food.  I admit we indulge at Ricky's but how could we resist when faced with such deliciousness on a hungry Saturday morning?! 

Ricky's Fish Tacos
1400 N. Virgil Ave., 
Los Angeles, CA 90027
*Follow Ricky on Twitter to find out when his cart is open.  He's usually open around 11:30am or Noon and he'll sell out in four or five hours. 

Via-Mar Seafood
5111 N Figueroa St
Los AngelesCA 90042
*If you're in the Highland Park area, I also recommend Via-Mar for Baja-style fish and shrimp tacos.  One downside with Via-Mar though is their shrimp aren't deveined but they've got delicious fried and grilled fish tacos.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

It's cold and raining cats and dogs in LA today so I'm finally forced to tame my usual nature to be out and about. At last, I am enjoying some quiet time in my new home in Culver City (thank goodness!) and reading one of my favorite genres: cookbooks! As I'm perusing my new copy of Rose's Heavenly Cakes, I realized that I've badly neglected this blog between the holidays and moving houses.

I've got a huge backlog of delicious food to write about but I'm craving something hot and hearty, a comfort food that would warm me from head to toe with just one bite on this cold, rainy day. So, I present you chicken pot pie.

The boyfriend was craving chicken pot pie a few months ago when it was really cold. I didn't know where to go for pot pie and he loved Marie Callender's chicken pot pies. Normally, I just went to Marie's for dessert pies and I didn't have much confidence in Marie's other dining options but I kept an open mind. The verdict? If you're lazy and desperate, then Marie's pot pie will suffice; otherwise, I would not recommend it. After tasting that bland and chicken-less pot pie, I vowed to make a chicken pot pie that would wow Dan and forever wean him from Marie's pot pie.

After much Googling and scouring my cookbooks, I decided to make Ina Garten's Chicken Pot Pie because her recipe calls for a good ratio of chicken and vegetables. It's also worth making your own pie crust. Garten's shortening and butter crust was amazingly flaky and while there's some chopping and dicing work involved, the overall recipe was easy to understand and follow.

Making the filling. There's a lot of chicken and veggies in this recipe and the sauce is creamy and delicious.

I didn't have four small oven-proof bowls so I just used a one big bowl. It worked great.

It's very important to remember to cut slits on the dough to let steam out as the pie bakes.

Golden brown perfection. We ate like kings and Dan love it and swore he would never go elsewhere for pot pie again.

I love pie crust so I made one little variation to Garten's recipe and made a double pie crust. The bottom crust can be easily made by dividing the dough, rolling out one piece of the dough and lining the bottom and sides of the bowl, and then brushing the bottom with egg white wash to prevent a soggy crust. When the filling is ready, pour the filling into the pastry-lined bowl and then roll out the remaining dough to cover the top of the bowl. Pinch edges, cut slits and it's ready to go into the oven. Remember, if you want double pie crust, you'll either need to adjust your number of servings or make more dough.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Perfecting Breakfast On-the-Go

The perfect breakfast to take on-the-go from Tell Tale Preserve Co.

I stared at this for a full 5 minutes. The whole time I'm thinking what a beautiful marriage of cake, sausage and a soft-cooked egg with that perfect runny yolk and how delicious it would be if I could only reach into my screen, retrieve the cake and take a big bite. Then I spent another 5 minutes wondering how on Earth this was made. Oh, I can't wait for the Tell Tale Preserve Co. to open in San Francisco. They're slated to open this Spring but I've been following the delicious-looking things they've been making and chronicling on their blog since last Fall. They're definitely a must-visit on my next trip up North.