Friday, September 02, 2016

Sheila G's Brownie Brittle

Remember a few weeks ago when I reviewed HannahMax Cookie Chips?  This week, I'm featuring a similar product, a dessert turned into a chip.  This time, brownies.

Sheila G's company seems to make only one product: Brownie Brittle.  Although I'm not a huge fan of brownies (not that I mind them, and if you turn them into a sundae I'm happy, but, just a brownie is kinda boring), but I do love brittle.  And I love the story behind this product: the creator worked in a bakery, and loved scraping off the crispy edges from the brownie pans, the bits that were usually discarded.  She decided to try making a product out of them.  Given that I love, love, love scraping up the final bits of just about everything, this really appealed to me.  Plus, I love munching on snacks.

Brownie Brittle is available in a bunch of varieties: chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip, salted caramel, toffee crunch, peanut butter chip, and dark chocolate sea salt.

I tried only one variety, but, I enjoyed it.  It had all the flavor of a brownie, but was more fun to eat.  Definitely an interesting, successful, product, and I would love to try some of the more fun sounding flavors (peanut butter chip, I'm eying you!).
Chocolate Chip Brownie Brittle.
"One bite of our famous #1 selling flavored Chocolate Chip Brownie Brittle™ snacks and you'll be amazed at how we squeeze a mountain of chocolate goodness into a wafer-thin snack."

Given the name "brittle", I'll admit, I was expecting something more like peanut brittle, candied, harder.  These really are more like the aforementioned cookie chips, as in, crispy brownie chips, not brittle.  I know "brittle" is a more fun name, but, I'd rename them "Brownie Chips".

Anyway, semantics aside, the brittle was squares of crunchy thin brownie.  Really unlike anything I've had before.  I really appreciated the dark rich chocolate flavor, and the easy to nibble on form factor.  I of course wasn't satisfied with just a snack like this, and proceeded to dunk them in whipped cream, but, uh, that is just me.

Also notable is that the portion of brittle was only 120 calories, making it a pretty reasonable snack.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mikkeller Bar

One evening, to celebrate a visiting co-worker from out of the country, my co-workers decided to go to Mikkeller Bar.  I didn't join them for the dinner part (I had other dinner plans), so I can't comment on the gastropub aspects of the establishment (sausages abound), but I don't think the place is particularly known for their food.
Spontancherry. $16.
What they are known for, as I found out once I was already en route, is the beer.  When I reached a few blocks away, I sent my drink request in to someone who was already there.  "Anything but a beer!" I said.  "Be creative, any cocktail you see fit!"  He replied, letting me know that um, they don't have cocktails.  I thought he was joking.  A bar without hard alcohol?  And then I looked the place up.

Indeed, a bar without hard alcohol.  They have a couple token wines by the glass as well, but, this place is about the beer.  The selection on tap is insane - 42 options.  The draft menu even breaks the beer down into serving temperature.  Some are served at 45 degrees, others at 40, others at 55.  I had no idea this was even a thing.  The bottle list was even crazier.

I looked through the list, and, actually, perked up a bit.  There was some unique stuff on tap.  In the end, I was drawn in by the "Spontan" series: Spontancherry, Spontanapple, Spontanpear.  Sour beers, with fruit.  I didn't think I'd love these, but, there was hope.

I opted for the cherry version, Spontancherry.  It was ... well, still a beer.  A sour beer, with some hints of fruitiness, but, still a beer.  I didn't really care for it.

But my co-workers really, really enjoyed their selections.  The variety of colors, thicknesses, and aromas were a surprise to me.  Like I said, not a beer drinker, so I had no idea such a world of options existed.  I tried a few sips of a couple selections that almost tasted like milkshakes or mochas.  Serious chocolately tones, and, actual coffee in them.
Bread Pudding. $8.
"Sour cherries.  Bitter-sweet Chocolate.  Chantilly".

A bit sad by the drinks, I decided to order dessert.  This was a kinda stupid move on my part, as I had just come from dinner that included dessert myself, and I wasn't hungry, but, I just wanted to enjoy ... something.  My first option was crème brûlée, which you'd think I'd go straight for given my love of crème brûlée (and entire blog label devoted to it), but, it was made with beer, so I assumed that the flavor would not appeal.

Instead I went for the bread pudding, another dessert I do love (although, have strong opinions about).

There were two things about it that I immediately appreciated.  First, the bread pudding was served warm.  This is a requirement for me in the bread pudding department.  Second, the volume of whipped cream.  I generally would prefer some ice cream with warm bread pudding, but I'll take excellent whipped cream any day.  They did not skimp on the whipped cream, providing a larger portion of whip than the bread pudding itself.  Also, the dish looked pretty good, visually.  Hmm, maybe this place did have something to offer me?

But ... that is about where my accolades end.  The bread pudding was the style I never like.  A big, dense, block.  For me, bread pudding is all about the individual chunks.  I want it moist inside, crispy on top, with visible chunks of whatever bread is used.  Here, it was just a homogenous chunk.  The interior lacked all the moisture I like; not that it was dry, but, it was just like any cake, no real custard going on.  The exterior edge on top was a bit crisp, but, it was also burnt.  I think they may have pan fried it to warm it up?  I could taste the bitter burntness.  It wasn't actually *bad*, as it was almost like a caramelized taste, but, clearly had been left on a bit too long.

Ok, so a point for warm, but minus several points for the lack of crispy exterior, the burnt edge, the lack of moist interior, and, the solid lump that it was.  How about the flavor?  I didn't really like that either.  The base didn't have much flavor at all.  On top were a few rehydrated sour cherries.  The chocolate was minimal, I thought there would be a chocolate sauce, or pockets of chocolate inside, and instead I only found maybe 2 bites in the entire thing that had any chocolate.

The whipped cream however was pretty fantastic.  I eat a lot of whipped cream, and this really was a step above most.  Nicely sweetened, thicker than usual, and delicious even on its own.

I tried to give this away, but no one else wanted it.  They were happy with their beer.  I didn't like it, and, besides the whipped cream, found nothing redeeming about it.
Waffled Bread Pudding.
So I brought most of it home.  I can't handle food waste.  I guess I thought that maybe Ojan would want it?  But ... he never got a bite.  Because I discovered how to make it delicious.

For those of you who read my waffling leftovers series, I suppose this will come as no surprise, but, I waffled it.  I just sliced it and stuck it in the waffle iron.  A few minutes later, magic happened.  The exterior was crispy, the inside stayed moist, and all of a sudden, I had something with fun textures.  I drizzled on some caramel rum sauce (which yes, I just happened to have) and piled on the whipped cream, and, I really enjoyed it.  Waffle iron saves the day!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Bazaar, Los Angeles

I've now been to The Bazaar, located at the SLS Beverley Hills, twice.  My first visit was in the fall of 2015, when I dined alone, since I was staying at the hotel.  I suggest you start with that review, since it contains all the background.  My more recent visit was the opposite of solo dining: group dining.

Update Review, June 2016

On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I needed to plan a dinner for 8 people, a decent sized group.  The first place I thought of was The Bazaar, since, during my previous visit I really wanted to be there in a group since everything is served as family style tapas.  I was able to easily making a booking for 8 people online (!), so, picking it was an easy decision.

We ordered a slew of items, not all of which I tried, since we ordered so many things.  Given the large table, it was hard to get photos of everything from my vantage point, so I didn't take photos of dishes I knew I wasn't going to eat. The group also wasn't the type to talk about the food and share opinions, so, I wasn't going to get quotes from others either, so really, I wouldn't have anything to do with those photos (unless you want to just see photos?).

Anyway, the experience was ok.  Service was good, food was fine, but, nothing was particularly memorable.  Ojan summed it up when he said he was glad to have gone once, but he didn't think he'd return.  After two visits, I feel the same.  Sure, I'd go back, but, I'd rather try someplace new.  The food and drinks are creative for sure, and tasty enough, but, I didn't leave thinking, "Wow, I need that again."


Ojan's Mocktail.
Ojan, as always, went for a mocktail.  They did not have a printed mocktail list, but the server told Ojan that they had two mocktails, one of which had coffee.  Along with alcohol, he can't have caffeine, so, he didn't really have a choice. Thus, he got this, a virgin version-ish of the Smoke on the Water I had last time.  He said it was fine, but, fairly fruity and not really interesting, besides the liquid nitrogen of course.

Another dinner opted for a beer, and, for some reason, whenever they serve beer, they splash liquid nitrogen onto the table.  I really really have no idea why, but, it caused the table to order a few more, just for the show.  Perhaps that is why?
“Liquid Cherry” Manhattan.  $17.
"Your choice of rye, bourbon or Canadian whiskey with cherry spherification."

For my cocktail, this time I selected from the "Old, New, and SLS Classics" menu.  I opted for bourbon as my liquor of choice.

It was a pretty good cocktail.  Bitter and boozy, but with undertones of cherry.  It was great for sipping and not gulping, good since I was with a group of co-workers.

The cherry sphere in the center was awesome.  It burst open once I finally bit into it, filled with sweet cherry goo.  Sweet and tasty.

Overall, I enjoyed this cocktail, and $17 is about on par for a trendy cocktail at a place like this.

Traditional Tapas

As I mentioned last time, the menu is broken into two main categories, traditional and modern tapas, each of which is broken into 6 sections, each of which has 10 or so items.  So many choices!  So, uh, the group kinda just ordered anything that sounded good to at least 2-3 people.  Thus we wound up with a random hodgepodge of food, which didn't come coursed out in any real deliberate way, instead, it just came as it was ready, whenever.  It sorta came in waves, but there wasn't ever a long lull.

We skipped many of the Traditional Tapas, as they weren't the more interesting parts of the menu.  We didn't get anything from the Latas Y Conservas, Jamones Y Embutidos, Quesos, and Sopas sections.

We did order a few from the final three categories.

From the Verduras section, someone opted for the "Stuffed Piquillo Peppers / capriola farm goat cheese", but, since I loathe goat cheese, I stayed far away from that.

For the Pescado Y Mariscos section, we also ordered the "Seared Scallops romesco sauce", but, as this came with only two scallops, alas, I did not get one. 


We opted for several meat selections.  The very last dish to arrive, long after I was full, was the Coffee Rubbed Australian Wagyu.  I didn't try it, but, no one really seemed to enjoy it, the last piece was left sitting on the table for a long time, with no one claiming it.  Or maybe they were all just as stuffed as me?
 Croquetas de Pollo. $12.
"Chicken-béchamel fritters."

The other meat dish I selected for the group was the croquetas de pollo.  Not because I wanted them (because, eww, chicken), but because I knew they are a signature item at The Bazaar.  I didn't try them, but, I admit, if I liked chicken, they certainly sounded great: crispy and deep fried, loaded with béchamel?  Yes!

Modern Tapas

The Modern Tapas caught our eyes more than Traditional, so, we mostly stuck to these categories.

One diner selected a smoked oysters special, which I didn't get a description, nor even a glimpse at, so, sorry, I can't tell you anything about that.

From the Salads, I ordered the "Not Your Everyday Caprésé" for the group, since I knew the liquid mozzarella would be a hit.  This was a dish I watched the chefs crafting on my previous visit, so I knew what to expect, but, the others did not.  I somehow failed to get a photo of this before it was totally broken into, but, as expected, everyone found it pretty interesting.


No one in our group was vegetarian, but, for some reason, this is the section of the menu that called out to many people.

I didn't get a photo of the "White Asparagus: Japanese escabeche, cured egg yolk", but, it really just looked like poached asparagus.
Eggplant Tempura. $8.
"Local honey, buttermilk."

The eggplant tempura was voted on by several folks, which I was quite happy with, since it sounded good to me.  Eggplant can be pretty polarizing though, as often it is just slimy.

This wasn't slimy, but, it was really bitter. I didn't like it at all.

The dipping sauce was honey foam.  It was slightly sweet, frothy, but, not really that useful.  How do you dip into foam?  The little wooden spoon it was served with also didn't help.  Meh.

My least favorite dish.
Jicama Wrapped Guacamole. $10.
"Chipotle salsa, micro cilantro, corn chips."

Since I'm allergic to avocado, I obviously couldn't try this, but I took a photo because it was so fascinating, little parcels of guacamole, wrapped in thin slices of jicama, as named.  I have no idea where the corn chips were, I guess in there somewhere?  The group loved it.

Some Little Starters

Cotton Candy Foie Gras. $8 each.
On my last visit, I adored the foie gras cotton candy, and I couldn't wait to get it again.  Yes, it is a tiny little serving for $8, and yes, it sounds totally gimicky and ridiculous, but, well, it is delicious.

It was exactly as I remembered.  A creamy center cube of chilled foie gras, surrounded by crunchy corn nuts, and sweet cotton candy.  Creamy, rich, crunchy, sweet, amazing.

Really, such a perfect bite, and my favorite dish of the night.  If I do go back to The Bazaar, I'll definitely get it again.
THE Foiewaffle. $12.
"Air waffle, foie espuma, peanut butter, honey."

Over the years, I've had a few different obsessions, as you may have realized.  Back before the California ban, foie gras was certainly one of them.  More recently, waffling everything is one.  So, imagine how delighted I was to see these two items combined together.

The waffle looked like a regular Belgian waffle, but, it was crispy, and shockingly light.  It was drizzled with peanut butter, honey, and a little foie espuma.

Foie, honey, and peanut butter are an award winning flavor mix in my mind, but, the peanut butter really overwhelmed everything here.  The honey was there providing a bit of sweetness, but I really only tasted a slight foie flavor.  The peanut butter was good, creamy, and I love peanut butter, but, it just dominated.

The bigger issue is that the foiewaffle wasn't warm.

Overall, it was a disappointment, mostly because I could tell how almost good it was.  If it was warm, if it just had a little less peanut butter, it would have been a serious winner.  Still, my second favorite dish of the night, and I'd try it again to see if this was just execution error.

Some Little Sandwiches

My favorite part of the menu at The Bazaar is always the little sandwiches, an amusing thing really, given that I usually hate sandwiches.  But these aren't just any sandwiches!
King Crab Steamed Buns. $18.
"Pickled cucumber, shiso, mayo."

Last time, I had the uni steamed buns, modified to not have the avocado due to my allergy.  Others ordered those this time, and loved them.  For everyone who had one, they declared it the dish of the night.  They loved the uni.

This time, I decided to try the crab steamed bun, since I had the uni last time (the other option is foie gras, but since I had the cotton candy and foiewaffle seemed like over kill).  As with the uni buns, they come served in a cute steamer basket, 3 to an order.

The steamed bun itself was ... soggy.  Quite disappointing.

Inside was a slice of slightly pickled cucumber, a shiso leaf, and crab salad mixed with mayo.  The crab salad wasn't too mayo-y, but, somehow, I still didn't taste much crab.  I love crab, and really wanted to taste it.

My third pick of the night, and I wouldn't get it again.
“Philly Cheesesteak”. $11 each.
"Air bread, cheddar, wagyu beef".

Finally!  This time, I was able to try the famous "Philly Cheesesteak".  It was this dish that inspired the "Filly Tank" from Fill R' Up Gastro Garage.  I was super excited to try the original.  And, since I knew what it was going to be, I was excited for the others to get to try it too, as they had no idea what to expect.

Instead of a bun, we had "air bread".  This was basically just a cracker, in a torpedo shape.  Inside was the cheddar.  I was expecting a hot, creamy, molten cheese, but, it was just lukewarm thick cream.  It reminded me of cheese spread.

I didn't like the cheese nor cracker aspects of this, but, the wagyu on top was quite tasty, very thin slices of mid-rare beef.  The Wagyu had huge salt crystals on top, which amped up the flavor of everything.

I liked the beef, but, everything else just wasn't great.  It was an interesting dish for sure, but I wouldn't get it again, and it was my 4th pick of the night.


For dessert, as before, we were moved into the separate Patisserie area.  This time, rather than opt for one of the items on display, I decided to order one of the made to order items.
Decaf Coffee.
As always, I ordered a decaf coffee to pair with my dessert.

It was awful.  Harsh, acidic.  Even with sugar and cream, I couldn't bring myself to finish it.  Some of the worst decaf I've had in a long time, which was strange, because the decaf coffee served at breakfast wasn't this bad.  Maybe it was just really old?
Nitro Coconut Floating Island. $12.
"Passion fruit and vanilla."

I decided to split a dessert with Ojan, since I wasn't really hungry, but still wanted something exciting.  I gave him a few options: the famous flan, the Vanilla Pillow Cake with Caramel and Speculoos Crisp, and the floating island.  As you can see, he picked the island.

He liked it.  I did not.

On the bottom was pineapple.  It was surrounded by sweet passionfruit goo.  The main attraction was a slightly cold sphere, sorta coconut flavored, presumably made with liquid nitrogen.

There was just nothing about this that I liked.  I really don't think desserts are the strong point at The Bazaar, as our group got a large assortment of items, ranging from cupcakes to made-to-order items like this, and absolutely no one seemed excited by what they ordered.  Strange, given how big of a deal the Patisserie space seems to be.

Original Review, November 2015

I recently stayed at the SLS Beverley Hills while in town speaking on a panel at a recruiting event.  The hotel was ... well, stunning.  I still can't get over the rooftop pool deck.  Nor can I forget the incredible breakfast served at Tres, one of the Jose Andres restaurants in the hotel.  It was an astonishingly good continental breakfast, and literally, the best yogurt I've ever had in my entire life, anywhere.

You may have noticed that I said "one of the Jose Andres restaurants".  Yes, he has two in the hotel.  Tres is the more casual space, open daily for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and drinks.  But The Bazaar is the flagship, located through a separate entrance, up a red carpet.  Yes, seriously.

It is a huge, gorgeous space, broken up into a bar area, main dining room, private dining room, and even a patisserie.  They call the design a "modern-day indoor piazza".  My friends who have visited the area before all told me I had to go to The Bazaar, so, even though I was solo, I made a reservation for the evening I arrived.

It was crazy convenient to have a great restaurant at the hotel, as hotel restaurants aren't normally much to rave about, and indeed the menu was awesome.  The food was good, but, definitely not geared towards a solo diner, as the entire menu is tapas, meant for sharing (more on this soon).  I'd love to return with a group, so I could sample more items.

The staff was incredibly friendly, and made me feel comfortable, even though it really wasn't the place to be dining alone.

The Bar

The bar area is near the entrance, and divides the rest of the space with the dining room on one side and the patisserie on the other.  I only passed through, but it did look like a nice space.
Dimly Lit Bar Area.
The cocktail program is extensive, so coming just for drinks seems like a wonderful idea, or even a more casual meal in the bar area.  In retrospect, I probably should have just opted to walk in and dine there, rather that making a reservation (reservations are for main dining room only), but I really wanted to ensure I'd get a seat.

Main Dining Space

I was then escorted through the main dining area.
General Seating.
The majority of the seating is in a big, open area.  It is elegant, decorated with white and tan toned materials, with fairly formal arm chairs.
Counter Seating.
I was given a seat at a counter overlooking the cold apps prep station, a very thoughtful place to seat a solo diner.  I had something to watch, and, wasn't left awkwardly at a large table alone.

The place setting was simple and classic: a fabric placemat, white square plate, folded cloth white napkin, standard silverware, and wine glass.  Some fall inspired leaves and squashes decorated the back side of the counter.
Cold Apps Prep Station.
The prep station was a fun place to sit, as I got to watch the action, and interact with the chefs.  They had a number of squeeze bottles and pastry-style bags filled with different liquids, plus bowls with different spheres submerged in liquids.  I also got to see them making some of the spheres later on.
Unfortunately, I had an early reservation, so this station didn't have much action during my time there.  I mostly saw advance prep work being done, rather than plating any of the actual dishes.

The cooks working the station were very friendly, asked me about where I was from, welcomed any questions I had, etc.  At some level, I didn't end up feeling like I was dining alone, as I had plenty of people to talk to, between the several cooks working this station, and the multiple servers who came to check on me throughout the meal.


As I mentioned, I had an early reservation, because I knew I had a long day ahead of me the next day, and wanted to make sure I was able to settle in to the hotel and wind down for bed.  I basically arrived at the hotel, dropped my bags, changed my clothes, and headed down to my reservation time.  It really was too early, and I wasn't particularly hungry.  Whoops.


Cocktail Menu.
I settled in to my seat, and was instantly drawn in to the cocktail menu.  Words like "liquid nitrogen" and "tableside service" immediately jumped out.  As did creative cocktail names, ingredients, and preparation styles like like "salt air" in the margarita,  "olive spherification" in the "New Way Dirty Martini", and a "Magic Mojito", served over ... cotton candy?

Well ok, I guess I had to get a cocktail.  I also instantly understood why Emil and others recommended going to The Bazaar, even if only to the bar.

Of course, now I had the problem of picking one cocktail from the list of amazing sounding options, but, there are worse problems to have.
Smoke On The Water (The Pliska). $18.
"Black berries, atomized scotch, islay mist, flame."

I settled on the Smoke on the Water, since I do love my scotch, and the combination of scotch and fruit sounded quite interesting.

A few minutes later, a glass was ceremoniously presented to me, with fog rolling out of it.  Woah, what?  I wasn't expecting liquid nitrogen or dry ice in this drink.  Maybe some smoke due to the drink name, perhaps from the "flame" ingredient, or a light "mist", but not this.

Inside the glass was a huge cube of ice, and I think liquid nitrogen.  I was instructed to keep swirling it around for a while, and not try to drink it until it had burned off.  It was fun to play with for a few minutes, but, I got bored quickly, and I just wanted to drink my cocktail.  The giant ice cube never melted much at all.

The drink was ... way too sweet.  I wanted to taste scotch, and it was fairly masked under all the sweetness.  I really wasn't expecting that.

I can't really say if this was a good or bad drink, but it certainly was not what I was aiming for.

At $18, it was a costly mistake, so I drank it, and got used to the sweet, but I would clearly not get this again.
Tableside Drink Making.
My drink arrived pre-made, but the ladies at a table nearby opted for something with a tableside prep, I think likely the "LN2 Caipirinha".  They were oohing and ahhing, the whole time, and even started clapping.  It was like they were watching a magic show.


I moved on to the food menu.  The style of cuisine is tapas, broken into two categories: "Traditional" and "Modern", both sections two full pages each, even more overwhelming than the cocktail menu.

There was a lot to take in, and I was glad to have my cocktail to sip on as I attempted to make  decisions.  If I thought picking a drink was hard, it was nothing compared to picking a few dishes.

It was harder than usual being a solo diner, as everything is designed to be shared, tapas-style.

Traditional Tapas: Page 1.
The first page of traditional tapas consisted of latas y conservas (fresh versions of canned seafood), jamones y emutidos (ham and sausage), quesos (cheeses), and sopas (soups).

It was pretty easy for me to move past this page, although the "Foie Gras Floating Island Soup" with corn espuma and corn nuts certainly gave me a moment's pause.  Next time.

Traditional Tapas: Page 2.
The next page was more traditional tapas: verduras (vegetables), pescado y mariscos (seafood), and carnes (meat).

Again, it was fairly easy to move on, although, I saw a few favorites, like seared scallops (but I could get those anywhere, right?) and grilled octopus with caramelized onions (swoon), plus something titled the "Ultimate Spanish Tapa!", exclamation mark at all.  How do you not get that?
Modern Tapas: Page 1.
Next came the modern tapas.  The first page had salads, vegetables, and seafood.  Interestingly, these categories were listed in English, rather than Spanish, like the traditional tapas.  Is English more .... modern?

It got harder to plow past this page.  "Salads" doesn't sound that exciting, but what if I told you the salads included burrata with baby japanese peaches and hazelnuts?  Or that the "Vegetables" section includes a "linguini" made from dashi that people rave about?  And obviously, don't get me started on the "Seafood" section, since you know seafood is my favorite thing.

But still, I didn't order anything from this page either.  Because there was more.
Modern Tapas, Page 2.
The final page of modern tapas was my goldmine, broken into two sections "Some Little Starters" and "Some Little Sandwiches".  Not only were these the dishes that sounded the best, they also were served in smaller portions, less sharing focused, so I could order a few myself.

Of course "Sandwiches" didn't mean what I think of as sandwiches, no sliced bread filled with deli meat here.  No, the sandwiches included asian style steamed buns, filled with amazing options like sea urchin, king crab, oxtail, foie gras, or caviar or "air bread" stuffed with cheese foam and topped with steak or mushrooms (aka, the inspiration for the Filly Tank at Fill 'R Up Gastro Garage, which I reviewed earlier this week).  These were sandwiches I actually wanted!

The "Little Starters" pretty much all sounded interesting too, like "cones" in several varieties (California, Bagel & Lox, or caviar), ceviche with uni and "lime air", and many more.

Seriously, next time, I must go with others.  There were far too many dishes to try!
Cotton Candy Foie Gras. $8.
The first dish I opted for was one of the modern "small little starters": cotton candy foie gras.  Yes you read that correctly.  Does this not sound like it was made for me?  I love sweets, I love foie gras, OMG.

It arrived quickly and was placed in front of me in a special stand.

I'll admit, I was a little surprised by how small it was.  I know it said "Some Little Starters", but, I did expect something a bit more substantial.

So, what was it?  No, it was not cotton candy that tasted like foie gras, it was cotton candy wrapped around a cube of foie gras (torchon I imagine?) and crunchy corn nuts.

Um, yes.  The cotton candy was fluffy.  The foie gras center was creamy.  The corn nuts crunchy.  It was rich and sweet.  Heavy and light.

It was creative, it was whimsical, and, most importantly, it was delicious.  Sure, $8 for literally a single bite might be a little ridiculous, but, I almost immediately ordered a second.  I still somewhat wish I did.  I could have easily both started and closed my meal with one of these.

My favorite dish of the night, and I'd gladly get it again.
Sea Urchin Steamed Buns. $14.
"Avocado, eel sauce, tempura flakes."

Next to arrive was my "sandwich" selection, the sea urchin steamed buns.  This was actually a really hard choice.  I knew I wanted to order buns, but they only come in trios, not individually, and must all be the same kind.  I really wanted to pick 3 different buns, as, well, I wanted all 5 varieties, how could I pick just one?  The foie gras buns with preserves were the hardest not to order, but since I went for the foie cotton candy, I wanted to mix it up a little.  Hence, another favorite: uni.

Since I'm allergic to avocado, I asked to have it left out, or replaced with another complimentary ingredient.  The server was quick to tell me that the kitchen would not be able to replace it with anything else.  He urged me to order another dish instead.  After that much hard decision making, I didn't want to re-evaluate my whole game plan.  Sure, I could get the foie buns instead of uni buns, and then maybe go for uni ceviche instead of the foie gras cotton candy?  I'd still get uni and foie, just in different forms.  No.  I was staying the course.

My buns came presented in a steamer basket, the lid removed with a flourish at my table.  Inside was three little buns, served warm, each stuffed with a generous amount of uni, tempura crispies, and thin slices of chili.

This was another really fun dish.  The uni itself was good, not particularly amazing, but good, and kinda dripped out all over the place in a pleasantly messy way.  The tempura crispies gave a perfect crunch and the chili just a slight heat.  I didn't taste any "eel sauce", but I could see something drizzled over it.  The only complaint I have is with the buns.  They were soft, moist, and warm, all good things, but, there was just too much bread, and it overwhelmed everything else.

This was almost really awesome, and I wonder if leaving out the avocado really was a bad move.  With more filling, the bun wouldn't have overwhelmed.  Maybe it would have been in perfect balance.  Doh.

But still a very solid dish and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I had no trouble devouring all three of these.  $14 for 3 was a more reasonable price-per-bite than the foie gras cotton candy, particularly given how much uni was in here.

My second favorite dish of the night, and I'd get it again, although I'd probably try one that I didn't need to modify instead.
 Tortilla de Patatas "New Way". $5.
"Potato foam, egg 63, caramelized onions."

My final savory selection was an odd choice for me, also from the "small little starters" section of the modern menu: Tortilla de Patatas "New Way".  Tortilla de patatas is a traditional dish, a Spanish omelet with potatoes. By now, you likely have read enough of my posts to know that I don't really like egg dishes.  Why on earth would I order this?

Well, I knew that "New Way" meant that it wasn't an omelet at all.  Too bad for anyone who orders this expecting otherwise.  And I had read so many rave reviews about it.  It sounded unique, and like a decent way to round out my meal.  People described it as custard-like, and I do love my custards.  It sounded a lot like the fantastic amuse bouche they serve at La Folie.

What it was was a "potato" foam, with a 63 degree egg.  The "foam" really just seemed like mashed potatoes to me, not light as airy as I expected.  And the egg wasn't even warm.  It was, just a poached egg.  On top was a sprinkling of chives

This dish fell down hard for me.  I didn't like it at all.  Granted, I don't like eggs, so, just getting a poached egg with some mashed potatoes was never going to wow me, but, from reading other reviews, I was expecting a creamy custard.  I swear, people described it that way, and I do love my custards.

The little wooden spoon it was served with was cute though.  $5 price was reasonable for a single serving.

I was really sad to finish on this note, as the other dishes were fantastic and so memorable.  I almost ordered another foie gras cotton candy, until I remembered that they have a separate dessert room.  Clearly, I needed to head there ext.

The Patisserie

After my meal, I was transferred to the Patisserie.  There is no option to have dessert in the main dining room, all patrons are moved to the Patisserie to enjoy dessert.  The bill is moved over, and someone comes to carry remaining beverages, as they escort you to a new table.
Interesting Chairs.
The decor changes as you move to the Patisserie, suddenly far more whimsical.

I walked by many tables with "chairs" that were certainly the most unique I've ever seen.  Cute, but I can't say I'd want to sit in any of these.
More Strange Seating.
The seating options were quite varied, with tables of all sizes.  But all were quite unique, and again, most didn't look remotely comfortable.
My Table.
However, I was quite happy with the table I was lead to.  Sure, it was designed for four people, and kinda had a throne, but it looked quite fitting for me!

Yes, really, this was my table.
The Store.
Inside the Patisserie is also a store, Regalo, with glass display cases of goods you can purchase.  No, these are not pastries, and I'm not really sure why they are integrated into this space.


Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu is ... extensive to say the least.  No wonder it warrants its own room.

There really is something for everyone here, starting with little bites for the chocolate lover, including a large assortment of chocolate bon bons and mini-tablettes for $3 each.  If you just want something sweet, there are little pate de fruits ($1.50 each), marshmallows ($1), and caramels ($3).  Cookie lovers have many choices too, ranging from just $1 to up to $3 for macarons.  There are also tarts, cakes, and cupcakes.  And some pastries like gianduja croissants and canneles de bordeaux.

Everything I've listed so far is on display at the main patisserie counter, to drool over before you make your choices.

The menu also includes made to order items, not on display, since they are temperature sensitive, including a chocolate flan with caramelized bread and brioche ice cream (‘Pan Con Chocolate’, $12) that sounded pretty awesome, and "Hot Chocolate Mousse" with sticky praline ($12).

If I was going to order a full size dessert, the Nitro Coconut Floating Island certainly sounded like it had potential, or, since I do love custards, I imagine that their Traditional Spanish Flan, a recipe from Jose's grandmother, must be pretty top notch.

After taking a quick, overwhelming look at the menu, I went up to admire the products first hand at the counter.
Patesserie Counter! ZOMG.
The counter at the patisserie is a sight to behold.  Nearly all the items from the dessert menu are on display here, available to eat in the amazing whimsical space, or to take away, all under glass domes, lit up dramatically.
Cakes ($12)
Here you see a close up of just a few of the cakes, all individual selections, none of which remotely looked like what I'd consider a "cake".

If I was hungry at all, I certainly would have gone for the Vanilla Pillow Cake with caramel and speculoos crisp on the bottom (middle).  I wished Ojan was there to get the "chocolate cake of your dreams" (right), as it sounded right up his alley.
Cupcakes ($6), 
The cupcakes were quite different from what you'd expect.  Square block rather than round.  No pretty cupcake wrappers.  Really, I'd call these cake chunks, not cupcakes ...  I wonder if they just make a sheet cake and cut squares out?  Seems easier than baking individual cakes?
Bon bons for days. ($3 each)
The line up of bon bons was impressing, spanning the entire length of the massive counter, far too many to enumerate here.
Coconut Marshmallow ($1), Pecan Pie Cookie ($1)
I, shockingly, settled on just two little nibbles.  I know, me, the dessert girl, managed to pass all that up.  Really, I was just too full.  If I had anyone else to split something with, you know I would have gone for one of the made to order items, or at least one of the cakes.  Instead, I just went for two bite sized choices: a marshmallow and a cookie.

You might be in even more disbelief at this point.  Not only did I pass up hot, fresh desserts, I opted for ... a cookie?  Don't I talk all the time about how I don't like cookies? 

Yes, yes I do.  The Patisserie had about 8 different types of cookies, none of which seemed interesting except ... the pecan pie cookie.  Sure, I don't like cookies.  But I adore pecan pie.  And, yes, reviewers say the cookie is great.  Even if it wasn't, I wasn't taking that much of a gamble for only $1!

The cookie was really hard to describe.  Even though it doesn't look it, it was soft, just like pecan pie, but not gooey. It had a slight chew to it.  And tons of pecan flavor.  I don't entirely understand how they got so much pecan flavor in there, it must have been ground up pecans in the mix?

Anyway, it was actually really, really good.  Yes, pecan pie, in cookie form.  Sure, I'd rather have a pecan pie, but, for a small bite, and easily portable, this was great.  It would be even better if it was warmed up and served a la mode ...

My other selection was a coconut marshmallow, as I totally have a thing for marshmallows.  I've been claiming for years now that marshmallows are the new cupcake, and taking over the cutesy dessert space, so I wasn't surprised to see several option.  I went for the coconut one.

And ... I hated it.  It was fluffy, and sweet, but I didn't care for the coconut flavor.  But what really sunk it was the shredded coconut throughout.  It was such a bad texture, and there was so much of it.

I, Julie the dessert girl, didn't even finish this marshmallow.  I finish ALL desserts!

Both of these treats were ridiculously reasonable at only $1 each.  Seriously, $1 each?  They weren't large obviously, but I haven't seen anything for $1 outside a dollar store in years!
Apricot Marshmallow ($1).
My server noticed that I didn't finish the coconut marshmallow.  He asked what I thought of it, and I was honest, telling him that I really didn't like it, and explained that the coconut flakes inside really just were off-putting to me, like it was infused with sawdust.  He told me he agreed completely, and that they used to have another flavor that he loved, and they removed that one, but kept the coconut, which he disagreed with.

He brought my bill, and I pulled out my card to settle it.  Moments later, he reappeared, with another treat: an apricot marshmallow.

It was much better.  Not as puffy and light as the coconut, but sweet and fruity, with sugar crystals all around the outside.  A lovely closing note, and although normally $1, he brought it to me complimentary.
The Bazaar by José Andrés Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, August 29, 2016

Joan's on Third, Los Angeles

On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I discovered Joan's on Third.  I had a poorly timed flight out of LAX terminal 3 (aka, a wasteland with, literally, a news stand, a Starbucks, and the worst rated Burger King I've ever seen), and I needed dinner.  So, rather than dealing with the non-options at the airport, I sought out food in advance to bring on board.

I asked my hotel if they had a recommendation for where to pick up food, and they said Joan's on Third.  I did a quick search online, and saw rave reviews.  Sounded very promising.  I stopped by a few days prior to my departure to scope the place out, and I wish I'd remembered to take photos when I did.  Because, it is a memorable venue.

Joan's on Third is a cafe.  And a deli.  And a bakery.  And a coffee shop.  And a cheese shop.  And a gourmet foods store.  If that sounds a bit confusing, it is.

The cafe has abundant outside seating with sidewalk tables and a few tables inside.  I believe if you order food to eat there, it is brought to you at your table.  So, part one, cafe.

Next is the deli, on one side of the store inside.  You can order salads and sandwiches made to order, and they have a very, very extensive deli counter with a myriad of pre-made salads.

Next, a bakery, on the other side inside.  It has all kinds of pastries, stunning cakes, and an ice cream counter.

Adjacent to that is the coffee bar.

In the middle of the whole space is a cheese counter, with cut to order cheeses.

Along one back wall is fridges with pre-packed grab and go items, drinks, and assorted housemade dips and dressings.  Adjacent to that is a freezer section.  And then there are the snacks.  Housemade flavored popcorns, spiced nuts, and other munchies.  Candies, chocolates, chips, and more.

Seriously, the place has ... everything, all in its own section, but all in one not-as-large-as-it-sounds, space.

The day of our flight, I was running very behind schedule in terms of taking a shower, packing, and being ready to leave the hotel, so I sent Ojan to Joan's to pick up food.  I gave him some suggestions on what to purchase.  Given my popcorn addiction, I asked for savory popcorn (his choice of flavor), thinking it would make a great munchie on the flight.  I was of course eyeing the bakery, so suggested a baked good (his choice) too.  And some candy, because the selection looked great.  Oh, and of course, some real food too.  I suggested that we get salads from the deli to bring on the flight, and listed of my top 8 picks, which was about as much as I could narrow it down given how great they all sounded.

I kinda assumed he'd be like I was when I stepped inside, a kid in a candy-store, and that he'd come back with a big sack full of goodies.  There were so many amazing things to pick from!  I was absolutely shocked when he didn't pick up anything else in addition to my basic list, except for a soda for himself (and no drink for me!)

I didn't get a photo of the popcorn he selected, but it was a house made popcorn, packed in a re-sealable plastic bag.  Now, I love popcorn, so I was seriously looking forward to my savory treat to munch on during the flight.  But ... he selected "Moroccan Spice", which is not what I'd ever pick.  And, as I feared when I saw the variety, I didn't like it.  I don't know what the spices were, as, the ingredients just said popcorn, oil, salt, and ... "Moroccan spices".  Strangely, it was also sweet.  The kernels were nicely coated, and it was fresh tasting, but, alas, I just couldn't stand the flavor.  But, kudos to Joan's for having gourmet flavored popcorn, I'd like to see this trend continue.

I also didn't get a photo of the bakery item he selected, another disappointment to me.  I love all sorts of desserts and pastries, and honestly, I thought nearly everything looked pretty good when I visited.  I had my eyes on the mini fruit crostata and the cakes.  Yet, he selected ... an eclair.  Doh.  I don't usually like choux pastry.  That said, of course I had my share, and, for an eclair, I'll admit that it was indeed quite good.  The chocolate on top was a thick rich ganache, the choux pastry wasn't too eggy and the shell was actually quite thin, and the filling was a really delicious cream, almost more like a slightly custardy whipped cream than a pudding.  He really enjoyed it.  It didn't even last more than 2 minutes into the cab ride.

So, on the popcorn and baked goods front, I didn't fare so well having sent Ojan to pick out goods.  I think however that this is just a reflection of his picks, not of Joan's.  I'd gladly try more baked goods and more popcorn.

Luckily, the salads were amazing.
Trio Salad: Tarragon Chicken, Cavatappi, Kale.  $14.00.
Joan's makes a variety of composed entree salads featuring greens, and those are made to order.  But they also have probably 20 or so pre-made deli salads, ranging from grains (green lentil salad, brown rice with crunchy veggies in asian dressing, couscous with toasted pine nuts and dried cranberries, etc) to veggies (szechwan green beans, sautéed baby brussels sprouts with dates, almonds, and manchego, golden beets with goat cheese and walnuts, etc), to proteins (curried chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, etc).

The top three I listed out to Ojan were 1) butternut squash with basil, pickled red onion, pine nuts & lemon yogurt, 2) tree oyster mushrooms with toasted walnuts, and 3) kale salad.  But I couldn't stop there, and rounded out my top 8 with other fresh seasonal grilled veggie choices.  Ojan came back with an interesting assortment: the kale salad I had suggested in my top 3, cavatappi pasta salad, and, chicken salad.  I did tell him to pick what he wanted and just make sure at least one was something I'd like, but, chicken?  I loathe chicken!

So, starting with my pick, "kale salad with spicy peanuts, cranberries, tortilla strips and queso fresco".  It was pretty good, although overdressed.  Interestingly, our salads came with a tiny container of extra dressing in the center, which I believe was the dressing for this one.  Why would we need more?  I would have preferred it with less to begin with.  Anyway, the kale was not crispy but also not soggy, if that makes sense.  Clearly it had been soaking up dressing for a while, but it wasn't mushy.  The spicy peanuts were a fun touch, crunchy, and, well, spicy.  I loved the soft, fresh queso fresco.  Cranberries aren't my favorite, but,  they added a nice sweetness.  The menu said there was supposed to be tortilla strips, but, we didn't have any.  The dressing was a tangy vinaigrette that I didn't love.  This was a good salad, with interesting components, but, both of us put it as our last pick.

Next, "cavatappi with tomato artichoke sauce".  This wasn't like any pasta salad I've had before.  Instead, it was kinda like cold leftover pasta.  Which I don't say as a bad thing.  I actually really like cold leftover mac and cheese, american chop suey, or even lasagna.  The pasta was nicely cooked and not mushy, and the sauce was extremely flavorful.  There was a lot of sauce, so, like the kale salad, it almost seemed overdressed, where in this case the "dressing" was tomato based sauce.  This was my second pick, and Ojan's favorite.  He was shocked by how much he liked it.

And finally, Ojan's chicken pick, "tarragon chicken salad with apples and toasted pecans."  I was pretty sad when I saw this choice, particularly given all the delicious vegetable salad suggestions I had made.  I actually wanted those and didn't want this.  Of course, he got it for him, to be responsible and have protein.  I took a tiny nibble, inspired by the promise of toasted pecans and the generous amount of mayo.  Um.  It was good.  The chicken was all white meat, tender, shredded.  The chunks of apple added a crunchy fresh element, like celery often brings, but, a bit sweeter and larger chunks.  I love pecans.  The tarragon mayo was creamy and delicious.  I was amused and intrigued by the fact that I not only tolerated this, but actually liked it.  Like the others, I'd say it was overdressed, as it was drowning in mayo, but, that is certainly what made me like it, so I'm not complaining.  My favorite of the salads, Ojan's second favorite.  Yes, you can laugh at me now.

The three salads were each several scoops.  You can't tell from the photo, but, this was a deep container.  I can't imagine a single person eating the entire container, particularly when one is as filling as the chicken or pasta salad.  The salads were served on top of mixed greens, which soaked up all the flavors and dressings from the salads on top.  This made the mixed greens kinda a bonus fourth salad, with all the various flavors combined.  The greens that were directly under the mayo chicken salad were my favorite, as they were coated in the creamy dressing.

Overall, generous portions, flavorful ingredients cooked well, at a reasonable price.  I'd certainly return, and would love to try more items (although, next time, I'd go myself so I could pick!)
Joan's on Third Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato