Wood Spoon: Chicken Pot Pie for the Soul & Lens

Many of us in the food blogosphere all carry around the same Canon s90 camera but very few of us actually know how to use it. There are several exceptions to this rule and one of my favorites is Julian aka DJJewelz. He uses the same camera as all of us, no Photoshop, and always manages to take beautiful pictures. Sure he has the artists’ eye but he also knows simple shortcuts for better pictures. My new friend Nastassia, of Let Me Eat Cake, and I were both talking at the Latin American Dessert Crawl about how in awe we were of DJJewelz’s pictures and how we so needed a class with him. During this crawl one of the stops we skipped was Wood Spoon, a Brazilian restaurant in Downtown LA. The two of us girls conjured up a plan: take DJJewelz to lunch and have him help us with our cameras. We arrived on a Friday for lunch so we had better lighting for our impromptu class.

We had all heard, thanks to Giada De Laurentiis episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, that Wood Spoon had a great chicken pot pie. That was obviously my main course but we decided to start with some appetizers aka photo subjects. We ordered the Pastel Portuguese, which was a shrimp stuffed dumpling with coconut sauce, and we also ordered Coxinha, which is the most popular Brazilian street food with chicken inside. Both Nastassia and I were nervous to step out of “Automatic” mode and venture into “AV”. We were both convinced that with so many options we would screw up the setting on camera to no return. Julian was a patient teacher and walked us through 4 things that we really needed to do to easily enhance our pictures. Between F-Stops, exposure, Macro settings and white balance testing we were starting to get some really good pictures.

At this point in the meal the pictures were actually better than the food. We were in during lunch hours and we were sad that out of all their exciting juices and lemonades on the menu we could order none of them and could only drink iced tea or coke. Oh well, this was school, we couldn’t be distracted by a foodgasm this early on in the lesson. We were getting confident and then came the Chicken Pot Pie. This was no Marie Callendars version, this had fresh corn and hearts of palm and a surprising amount of black pepper. It was a perfect portioned lunch and I was in love with the adorable wood spoon that laid across the crusty top. I dug in and as Julian said, “If it’s good enough for Giada, then it is good enough for me!”

Let Me Eat Cake was sad to learn that she couldn’t order cake or any dessert at all on this day. However, we really weren’t complaining. The restaurant could/should have included all items on their menu but we still got great food subjects and a Pot Pie fit for an Italian American Food Princess. It was a delicious and educational lunch and I strive to try and take better picture and get out of my “Automatic” comfort zone. Julian gave us the good advice to check these simple camera settings first because it easier than having to return to the restaurant and order the same thing for a redo…but with Wood Spoon I woodn’t (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) mind returning for another chicken pot pie lunch!

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Thirsty Thursday: FOUR at Checkers & Chef Todd FTW!

We have written about Checkers and their Thursday happy hour called FOUR for a long time, but it is truly our favorite weekly deal. The man on the left, Tyler, takes care of the drinks and the man on the right, Chef Todd, handles the food. They have fine-dining expertise and skill that is made affordable so you can easily indulge to your belly’s content. They offer four plates and four drinks for four hours (from 4p-8p) on Thursday for $4 each. It is the deal of the century. Last week after John Kelly Chocolates and before the Sexy Singles Soiree 2.0 we sampled all four of the dishes.

Last week the theme for FOUR was “Best of FOUR” paying homage to people’s favorite bites and drinks. The food served was calamari salad, braised beef shortribs with risotto, halibut fish tacos, and a roasted red pepper and tomato soup. The drinks ranged from, my favorite, the Secret Garden to an Old Cuban. I know what you are thinking, why am I telling you about all of the delicious things you missed? There are a couple of reasons: 1. I am mean. 2. It featured edamame beans in the new ways that Chef Todd was interviewed about. 3. To make you go today and discover more FOUR deliciousness.

Here is what is on today’s FOUR Menu (all items are $4 from 4p-8pm):

2007 SANTA BARBARA SAUVIGNON BLANC – A gold medal recipient at the West Coast Wine Fair, this is a lively and bright example of the varietal, with lush flavors and a clean finish!
2008 SANTA BARBARA CHARDONNAY – Creamy on the palate with pear and citrus notes, this chardonnay is well-balanced and expressive.
2007 SANTA BARBARA PINOT NOIR – a great little pinot with hints of earth and cigar, foiled by ripe blackberry and lively acidity.  91+ PTS, WINE & SPIRITS MAGAZINE
2007 SANTA BARBARA COUNTY CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Deep and rich, with a velvety texture.  An ideal pairing with the Sonoma duck!

CALEDONIA PRAWN SCAMPI – beautiful large prawns with stewed tomatoes, tarragon, and house-made herb fettuccini!
CANNELLINI BEAN STEW – with charred Spanish chorizo and fresh lemon and basil…
MAITAKE MUSHROOM TOAST – served on grilled sourdough with a mushroom butter.
PAN-SEARED SONOMA DUCK BREAST – paired with caramelized cauliflower, spring onion and Medjool dates; spectacular!>

As someone that is from the Central Coast, I love that they are partnering with Summerland Winery this Thursday for FOUR. I don’t know if it is from my childhood dream of owning my own boutique hotel or my love of good quality cocktails and well prepared food but I just love Checkers. If you are unable to enjoy it tonight…shoot for next Thursday. Also, I just heard that Checkers will be giving away Mother’s Day gifts for all of the moms out there. Here are all the details:

MOM EATS FREE BRUNCH

The a-la-carte brunch will be served on Sunday, May 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Checkers Downtown’s newly renovated dining room replete with style and artwork evoking the hotel’s 1920’s origins. Checkers’ Executive Chef Todd Allison has culled a menu certain to sate the desires of the most finicky of mothers. For the traditionalists there are Checkers’ Buttermilk Pancakes filled with strawberries, blueberries or bananas and walnuts, or for the more adventurous there is the Open-Faced Fried Egg Sandwich on grilled sourdough with prosciutto, stewed tomatoes and arugula. But, if she is the elegant-at-all-times type, she’ll certainly enjoy the Maine Lobster Risotto, the Seared Maine Diver Scallops with Moro blood orange, fork mashed fingerling potato and pomegranate glaze or the Grilled Colorado Lamb Loin with Rancho Gordo heirloom bean ragout and natural jus. Whatever her tastes are, mom will dine in style – and the host will save enough to buy her some flowers too.

The “Mom Eats Free” offer is valid up to $30 in value and does not include alcohol, tax or gratuity. Certain conditions and restrictions apply. Prices range from $9 to $30 and the full Mother’s Day brunch menu can be viewed at http://www.hiltoncheckers.com/files/mothers_day_menu.pdf. Reservations can be made by calling 213-624-0000 or online at http://www.opentable.com/checkers-downtown?rid=276.

Times are tough and Checkers is making things easier for you. Whether it is by offering you four plates and four drinks for $4 on Thursdays or  by giving your mom a Mother’s Day meal, they have won our UG hearts! I don’t want to get in trouble with the other UG….but one of the UGs is working on winning Chef Todd’s heart! Hint: It isn’t me.

P.S. If you wanna know how Checkers makes the UGs feel, then order the plate of gooey chcolate chip cookies…yup, it’s kind of like that!

Dining on the Edge: Dinner with Chef Keven

There’s carnal pleasure and then there’s food pleasure. I’ve never endangered my life for carnal pleasure, but for food pleasure…I do it on a daily basis.

Growing up I was deathly allergic to many things, and over the last few weeks I had gotten mild symptoms of a severe allergy. When I decided to visit my doctor he did a few tests and referred me to an allergist. Later that week, I met with the allergist; he took one look at me said, “Have you been eating shellfish?!” I admitted that my frequent visits to the SGV for Asian food had exposed me to many fish-based sauces. He told me to cut it out for my own good, but I relented. After all, I wasn’t in the hospital. It was just shellfish and I could endure the few moments of discomfort for a few moments of food pleasure. When I got my allergy test back, it said I was severely allergic to a long list of things. The most severe being: most types of seafood, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and many others. FML. However, I will continue to eat what I want in the sake of food and I will die a king. Not very smart, but a girl has got to have her priorities in order. Such was the case at the swanky Hollywood Hills supper club that Veronica and I attended last week.

Veronica’s a  hip lady (far cooler than I) and she had a plus one to a private 5-course meal in a private home overlooking all of LA. She asked me and I jumped at the opportunity after she told me that the chef cooking was going to be the very talented Chef Keven Alan Lee of East in Hollywood.

As a woman who still, to this day, works in a busy kitchen, I admire Chef Keven’s attention to detail. His staff is disciplined and well-trained at what they set out to do. I saw the look on their faces as we ate what they had prepared for us, and they took pleasure in our pleasure. Kudos.

Below was the night’s menu:

Thai Eggplant Larb
Fried Tofu, Pickled Shallots, and Thai Peanut Sauce

Shitake Crab Poppers
Lump Crab, Garden Fresh Vegetables,
Seared & Roasted Shitake Mushrooms, Shitake Aioli

SUPER JUMBO Turkey Tofu Meatballs
Fire Roasted Tomato & White Bean Ragu

Dragon Style “Big Eye” Tuna
Thai Green Curry Rice
Dragon Torched Live

Cheven’s Signature Bread Pudding
Chololate Toffee and milk Chocolate Ganache

My favorites of the night were the Turkey meatballs, the tofu, and the bread pudding. The meatballs were obscenely fresh and soft but not as to fall apart. The tofu was fried into little adorable packets and garnished with some edible flowers.

And then there were the shitake crab poppers. I knew I’d be the one paying for it later, but its just one one of those things you have to do for yourself. So, I selfishly took a bite. It was perfection. Later that night, the taxation for my small bite was a mild swelling. That crab was worth every bit of pain. However, I think I’ll take it easy for sometime… Maybe.

Chef Keven has been asking me to shadow him and do “A Day in the Life” kind of a piece for the blog. He tells me that his day starts off at the farmer’s market, goes from town to town to find the best ingredients, and that he, a Jew, even speaks fluent Spanish. As a Latin gal, I can vouche for Kitchenese as it is actually very good. I may do the article, but I think that the cooking in the kitchen part should be left to the true professionals. After all, the rule of any good cook is to try all of the food you prepared and for me that is a deadly option.

The cocktails were also great, although maybe just as poisonous. If they’d been any stiffer, I would’ve probably woken up next to someone I didn’t know. Thank God I stopped when I did. The drinks were all mixed by Minx in Glendale. Chef Keven has recently started working with them to perfect the new Minx food menu. I will definitely have to check it out soon. Who’s in? I may even try and kill myself again for the sake of delicious food.

My Time at the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational

Last year, I attended the 1st 7th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational and I had an absolute blast. There was no doubt that I would attend this year’s festivities. The last time around was also the first time our friend Arun and I really got to hang out and know each other. Arun is the so-called Mayor of Downtown and is a vegetarian that gets such joy from bread, butter, and cheese. He had secured himself as my date months ago and despite a new woman in his life, I was still kept as his official date. I arrived 15 minutes before the event started and the line was already quite long. We walked into the Los Angeles Studios and it was immediately reminiscent of the actual 1st annual LA Street Food Fest at the same location.

Once again, these nondescript streets were filled with people, food trucks, vendors, and a ton of high energy. The sea of people wasn’t quite as large and the judging area with all of the really interesting sandwiches was off to the side. I had entered as a judge several weeks ago and I was glad that my group and I were all approved as judges. The most exciting part of the GCI is the competition. You get to see some truly unusual concoctions. The first round is called the missionary and is supposed to be just standard bread and cheese. This may sound like boresville but the possibilities are endless.

There was some slight variation in this round, even though I am not quite positive that it was actually allowed. My favorite of this round was one on Russian Rye with tomatoes, relish, and onions added in the sandwich. I don’t know what it was about this dish but it just totally worked for me. It was like a meatless strange version of a reuben that made this a grilled cheese favorite for me.

After the first round we took a break and went to the common area for non-judges. There was all you can eat free Tillamook grilled cheeses, potato chips, tomato soup, and Izze sparkling juices. There was also numerous trucks including 2 Grilled Cheese Trucks, World Fare, Cool Haus, Border Grill and specialty sandwiches from some of LA’s finest chefs. I wasn’t quite ready to stand in line so I went up above to buy a beer.

If I had to make one complaint it would be that there were no drinks being sold or given out in the judging area. I got so desperate for a Diet Coke (remember I am a Diet Coke head) that I walked to the front of the Grilled Cheese truck and grabbed one and laid cash on the table. There was a ton of people in cheese costumes and other silly outfits and the atmosphere was fun the entire time. There was cheese calling contests, grilled cheese poetry, cheesy costume contests and speeches from the official Mayor of Cheese. When we returned back to the judging area it was the Kama Sutra round, which means the sandwiches got a little crazier.

The judging this year was much smoother than last year. The lines were shorter but you still got the distinct idea that you had to beg for your piece of the grilled cheese. One sandwich that I was camped out to get was being made at the end of the table with such care. It was the Duck, Duck, Goosed grilled cheese. It had duck confit, foie gras, a fruit jam for sweetness, and a cave-aged gruyere. It sounded incredible and it tasted even better! In line, I heard a girl that sounded disgusted ask, “Eww, duck feet?!?!” Apparently she only heard half of the “confit’ word. The guys that made the sandwich weren’t exactly amateurs, they were from The Oaks Gourmet Market in Hollywood. It was the last sandwich I tried and it was definitely the best! I was in love at first bite…

Josie didn’t attend last year or this year due to her Saturday catering job but she was at the first couple GCI events that took place in a loft in Downtown. Despite only seeing the last two years the upgrade in this event is remarkable. More people, more sponsors, more vendors, and way more enthusiasm. The tagline of the GCI is “Bread-Butter-Cheese-Victory” and I can, without hesitation, say that they nailed them all. The event was a complete success. I, on the other hand, disappointed myself by only making it 3.5 hours, but it IS a 6 hour food event. You were a true UG hero if you made it through all of the rounds. Anyway, that was my experience and my favorites, what do you got? I want all the cheesy details.

Brewery Art WALK, Vizzi TRUCK, & WorldFare BUStaurant

Saturday was the day that I should have been at school taking graduation pictures and picking up my cap and gown for my grad school graduation. However, that was not what I was doing. Instead I was looking forward to another school on Saturday. I was going to be attending an Italian Wine Class at Cube Marketplace. Minty and I knew we’d be attending this and set off to the Brewery Art Walk before the class. It was perfect weekend weather and it was magical to wander into and out of lofts to look at people’s collections in this art colony area.

Everything was lovely and then I stumbled into a place that I have been wanting to visit for years. I found the second Hipcooks location in the Brewery Arts District. I fell in love with their large communal tables, wood stump cutting boards, and cute aprons. I have a list of their upcoming classes and will definitely return for a class. By the way, I am so in love with their colander light fixtures.

After walking in to this cute kitchen my hunger started to grow and I was in the market for some food. Thankfully, just outside the art walk was the Vizzi truck. Minty told me that she read on Twitter that the World Fare was gonna come, however, they were nowhere in sight. Vizzi was not a second choice by any means and we ordered food. They only launched a few weeks ago and we were blown away by the fancy TV screens on the truck. I ordered the Balsamic BBQ Braised Wagyu Sliders and Minty had the Black Skillet Jidori Chicken Sliders. Both sandwiches were served atop Pimento-Spiced and Yakima salted Popcorn. Popcorn is one of my favorite food and I loved this fun side dish. I think I love that popcorn is such an uncouth thing to eat, it always feels as though it is being shoveled into your mouth and I feel like I can it unbelievable quantities. Minty and I subscribe to the school of “Sharing is Caring” so I gave her one of my beef sliders in exchange for one of her chicken ones. I liked hers better and she could sense it, so she asked me if I wanted to switch one more chicken for beef. I apologetically nodded and was happy as can be. These were good sliders  and the popcorn was a wonderful surprise. If I had one complaint it would be the buns. I am a bit of a bread snob and this tasted similar to King’s Hawaiian rolls, so I am guessing that is what they use. Not bad, but not up to par with the rest of the slider.

It seemed almost immediately after we ordered, the famed World Fare Bus arrived. They were welcomed by a line and a camera crew for promotional purposes. It took a while for them to park and set up and so we waited, plus we had to digest.  This BusTaurant is famous for Bunny Chows, “Originally a South African street worker food; a hollowed out loaf of bread with filled with chicken curry, Chef Andi has taken the concept to a new level as a portable easy-to-eat medium for serving different flavors from around the world.” It is a very cool concept and we liked the second story, even if the steps were rather scary. We were already a bit full and ordered the Bunny Chow combo to share with Chicken Curry and Short Ribs and added in the Truffle Mac n Cheese Balls. We were first given the wrong order (photographed below) but we can’t complain because it was delivered to us after we were told to take a seat upstairs. The upstairs was beautiful but unfortunately there were no seats, so we stood.

We had the order corrected and we both dug in to sample. I liked this brioche bun much better and the chicken curry was good with my favorite golden raisins, athough, the short rib was pretty watery and it soaked right through the bread. Our meal came with a perfect cookie. However, for me, the item that was the clear winner was the truffle mac n cheese balls. They were perfection and reached a level that the ones at Fred 62 just can’t match. After these two lunches at mobile eateries, I was stuffed and prepared for wine class. They are both trucks I would try again, but that mac n cheese ball is something I would drive miles and wait in line for. Anyway walk, truck, and bus on and I will tell you about the wine class in the very near future.

Figaro Cafe: HH with Crab Cakes, Mussels, and Escargot

Figaro Cafe was the home of the only hot bartender on the Hot Bartenders Crawl in Los Feliz a couple of months ago.  Therefore when the Happy Hour experts, The Minty and The Vixen, asked me to join them for the Happiest of Hours, I quickly agreed. I had just returned from my trip up in NorCal and Josie had class that night so I made the trek to my old hood. I lived in Los Feliz in the giant orange building behind the post office for two years of my life and I exhausted every shop and restaurant on the two main blocks. I used to go into Figaro Cafe for a croissant and to get a spotting of Danny Bonaduce after his radio show. Side Note: My mom used to tell me she sent fan letters to Danny Bonaduce in her teenage years. After I watched the Partridge Family in re-runs I asked her, “How could you have a crush on Danny?” She explained to me that she didn’t, she loved David Cassidy like all the other teeny boppers, but she was worried that Danny would get no mail and be sad that David Cassidy got bags full. That is my mother, she is the most considerate person. I told her I would tell that story at her funeral but I might as well tell it here, while she still very much alive.

Anyway, I arrived this evening at 5:45 and walked in with the Minty. The Vixen was already there and had just downed the smallest martini in the smallest martini glass I have ever seen. She laughed when she saw us staring and said, “Well, in all fairness, it does say mini martini on the Happy Hour menu.” It was priced at $5 but it was probably half the price and size of the normal sized martini. I am not sure if that is a deal so I got champagne for $5. Minty did the food ordering and got us escargot, mussels, crab cakes, and I piped in for the carpaccio that I have had there numerous times. All of this food ordered off the Happy Hour Menu and ranged in price from $4.50-$6. There HH is everyday from 5pm-7pm. The escargot was OMG garlicky, but apparently I was the only one complaining. It costs under 5 bucks for 1/2 dozen of these snails and it is well worth it. These slippery little suckers (oh yeah, Pretty Woman reference) stick around way after they have been consumed, not just the garlic aftertaste but you can dip your bread into their butter and you get a brand new delicious dish. The carpaccio was just as good as I remembered and the mussels were also doused in garlic. The food was good quality and well worth the discounted prices.

I don’t want to generalize but what is it with bad service at French restaurants and bad service in the actor infested Los Feliz? There were several awkward turtle moments with various waiters and waitresses. We had to say “We would like bread, too” when we noticed all of of the surrounding tables were topped with baskets of bread. I had the extra table torn away even while my arm was resting on it. We also had to play musical drinks each time the drinks arrived because they were served to the wrong people. Minty ordered the exact same drink for the night, a $4 well drink with bourbon and soda, and it seems that each time was various degrees of alcohol content and different levels of glass fullness. We laughed it off and said, “We get it, you are an ac-tor” in our heads. Whatever it was a fun night with the two girls that are bringing LA the Sexy Single Soiree 2.0 next week. It was also deliciously inexpensive snails, I was happy. Although, I would have been happier if the hot bartender, Ventura, was working.

After Months of Waiting, Josie Finally Got a Date

So let me get this straight: LA is a hook-up culture, right?! Well, perhaps I am too uncool, too busy with my favorite girlfriends, or maybe I’m just too busy eating too many good meals – but why is it that I can’t find a date? Men should be lining up. I’m young, I’m smart and I’m uberhip. Why then, am I so plagued in the dating space? It’s been a slow winter…

Alas, this week was different. I had a date (sort of) with a corporate guy that my Twitter peepette, Veronica in LA, set up for me. It was a basketball game and a Nate and Al’s meal all rolled into one. I took the metro into downtown and met up with (ah, the psuedo name…) “The Suit” (he’s a corporate guy and God knows I never date any of those) at his place. He lives in a beautiful loft that overlooks downtown and I was envious. My next residence will most definitely be in downtown LA. I love it. Anyway, his company gave him four tickets and we walked over to LA Live. I’ve been to several games there, but since I’m usually a commoner, I sit in the nosebleed section but this time was different. We sat with the suits up in the corporate seats. They had their own buffet and bar. I was stoked. I could really get used to this. Nate and Al’s was the caterer and since I was stuffed, I opted for a salad. I’m never usually a salad girl, but I just couldn’t do the heavy Jewish pastrami sandwich on this night. Did you know Larry King goes to the Nate and Al’s in Beverly Hills everyday for breakfast? By the way, that is Carina’s weirdest celebrity crush, she likes that he looks like a frog and she wants to do naughty things with his suspenders. Maybe I shouldn’t disclose that but…oh well. If you like the two pics below, the first was taken using the iPhone app, TiltShiftGen, that our dearest AKesq recommended. I suggest you download it; it’s so cool.

Ok, so here comes the awkward turtle of the night, well, because my life is a series of awkward turtles:

(While waiting in line and deciding what to order)

Josie: (To Suit) I’m thinking Jewish Pastrami sandwich or Chicken Caesar. What do you prefer?

The Suit: Um, I know this may be a deal breaker because you’re a food blogger, but I’m a vegetarian.

Josie: (With a nervous giggle) Ha! Funny. So which one will it be?

The Suit: No, I’m serious.

Josie: (With a devastated stare) Oh, you’re not joking… This is not good. How long have you been meat deprived?

The Suit: For a while.

Josie: Shit. So… it’s not something I can change. (With a pensive pause) Ok, this is never going to work.

Had he not seen the site? After all, “thou shall not dabble in vegetarianism” is one of the 10 Uncouth Gourmandments. Just my luck.

How will he fare? Stay tuned.

Which couple do you like better? The one above or below.