Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Black Strap Rum Peach Pie
My friend Phammy is a Viet chick, journalist, mother of two and hostess of a Thanksgiving dinner that I always try to attend in Seattle. The reason I leave the mild fall in Southern California for the chilly wetness of the Pacific Northwest is because Phammy spends at least three days cooking a scarily ambitious but always yummy meal for no fewer than a dozen people. The rolls, pies, stuffing and whiskey cocktails are all made from scratch. No cheating, substitutions and shortcuts are allowed. All her efforts to be the perfect American housewife paid off Thursday night when she garnered the top prize at her neighborhood farmer's market's 1st Annual Blue Ribbon Pie Contest. Her son, Geddy, was on hand to help her celebrate. I hope the duo relives their special moment -- and recreates the award-winning pie -- for this November's gathering.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Living Large at Rivera
I recently married a Latino. Miguelito is only a quarter Latino, diluted with Norwegian genes via Minnesota. But nonetheless, he's got the Diaz surname through his dad's side. My friend Isabel also recently married a Latino. For a get-together to dish on our first months of married life, Isabel and I decided to go to the most recently opened notable Latino restaurant in Los Angeles: Rivera. The restaurant's fancy facade was a giant aesthetic leap from the taco trucks that I'm used to frequenting.
I had never tasted the delectables that chef John Rivera Sedlar cooked when he worked at L'Ermitage, Bikini and Abiquiu. So I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't anticipate the bartender to light a drink on fire.
The beakers enhanced the mad scientist feel at the laboratory-like bar. The only thing missing was a white lab coat for the bartender to don.
The bar menu included a $14 bespoke cocktail. You tell the bartender what's your favorite liquor, and he'll whip up a special cocktail for you. I requested something with champagne, and I received a concoction called Death in the Afternoon: champagne mixed with absinthe and lemon juice.
The bar's coasters were quite utilitarian. Made out of paper, they were printed with recipes for Rivera's signature drinks, like the Barbacoa.
Isabel and I get along very well. That's partly because we're the products of immigrant families. While we're used to working hard, we also like to play hard and eat well. Foie gras, champagne and caviar top the list of our favorite foods. When Isabel saw that one of the appetizers on the menu paired potato chips with a habanero cream sauce and caviar, she felt vindicated. Her husband makes fun of her when she eats caviar with potato chips at home.
We also tried the tortillas pressed with edible flowers and avocado.
I smeared the habanero cream sauce with the guacamole on my tortilla.
We moved on to seared scallops with mango salsa.
I liked how the chef's trips to Macchu Pichu, Rio de Janiero and other parts of Central and South America influenced not only how he cooked his food but also presented it. He dusted what tasted like all spice in the silhouette of an Aztec mask. The seared black cod was so flaky and the serrano ham crisp provided a pleasant crunch. But the jicama strips were just too big and bland. It looked as if the cod was floating down a murky green river on a white raft.
The grilled quail was so crunchy. I felt like King Kong sucking on the little bones. But the black beans reminded me of azuki beans, smashed into a sweet paste for a Japanese mochi dessert. While I could understand the contrast between sweet mush and charred crispiness, the beans were just too sugary for me in this entree.
This is the most gourmet tamale I've ever eaten. Filled with braised pork short ribs, it was topped with hedgehog mushrooms.
The ceviche of ahi tuna, avocado, serrano peppers and lime juice was so refreshing.
Isabel and I ended our shared meal with Kurobuta pork chops and black carrots in a mole sauce. I had never had pork chops in mole before. I also never had Frida Kahlo's eyes stare at me during dinner. The cayenne pepper in the seductive garnish could serve as a metaphor for life as a newlywed: When things get a little heavy, sprinkle on some spice to re-open your eyes and put a zing into your step.