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In Compton—a city, cloaked in unnecessary falsehoods and wild ideas of a rough landscape—there is an over-achiever, when it comes to barbecue. Bludso’s sits on South Long Beach Blvd, providing the hole-in-the-wall- atmosphere synonymous with “good eats.” I recently amassed a group of twelve (members of the Better Burger Bureau) to get some take out with wine, meanwhile introducing a few people to the fine smoked meats and heavenly sauces made to taste from Bludso’s.

Despite the restaurant’s petite frame, the production is colossal; two massive smokers in the back are forcing connective tissue and other tough meats into a tender submission, nearly all day. As a result, they have a deep menu.

With a group as large as ours, we simplify ordering—placing them in groups (divisible by factors of three)—by choosing the “Texas Sampler” for an affordable twenty-eight dollars, per group. * The sampler provides two sides, and a large smattering of meats: ribs, rib tips, chicken, hotlinks (two varieties) and brisket. It covers all bases and like the name implies, it is a great way to acquaint one’s palate with the house style of BBQ.

Bludso’s is keen on service too, amiable and very accommodating—I often come with bigger groups than can be supported at the four seat bar—they also sweeten the deal by adding in a free side or throwing in a drink of water.

The ribs are first to go, crowned on top of the piled-high plate of meats and poultry, which must be parceled out to get to the other items of the sampler. It is a generous portion, roughly five to six pounds, insulated by aluminum foil. The glazed ribs voluntarily separate from the bone. The hotlinks have a nice kick (mildly piquant), a little crunch from the casing, and a coarse texture that makes them satisfying but not for everyone. The chicken, from breast to legs was smothered in rich sauce and still maintained moisture in the white meat, which can be notorious for its dryness. The ultimate food item in the sampler was the brisket, buried under the other items on the plate. The brisket was fatty (in the best way) and melted on your tongue, with sweet and smoky flavors adding complexity. Truly, saving the best for last.

We paired the samplers offerings with California zinfandels: Blackstone, Stryker Kights Valley 04 and one French import:  Cote-du-Rhone from Domaine Charvin 07. The pairings yielded typical results—Charvin stood up perfectly to the rich sauce. Domaine Charvin exhibited the largest backbone (significant structure), a big full feeling across the palate and was coupled with an intense bouquet of black fruit and pepper. The zinfandels were both enjoyable but unfortunately could not support the weight of the food and the richness present in the sauce.

While Compton is not filled with poodles or kids skipping on street corners, it is not deserving of it rough and rumble reputation, at least not where food is concerned. Instead, Compton represents a value in food and it also houses a barbecuing lodestar. Bludso’s consistency and service are unparalleled in Southern California and I cannot wait to return.

* I alluded to it already, but the value in food (amount and price) cannot be rivaled. Approximately $31.00 for that much food will double at another eatery, and while I am not a fan of just going for cheap eats, the food is of high quality and worth seeking out.

In downtown Los Angeles, the Learn About Wine team hosted Georg Riedel—one member, in a long line (11 generations deep) of the Riedel Glassware Empire—in their swanky loft. Mr. Riedel was on hand to give an interactive presentation that would champion his family’s legendary glassware and stress the importance of proper glassware usage, all the while actively recruiting new customers.  Would the dapper Austrian inveigle me?

As I took my seat, a placemat was laid before me with three glasses from the signature Sommelier’s set, a plastic “beaker” and a traditional wine glass. Each glass was labeled and would be used in a battery of experiments. The Sommelier glassware contained Joseph Phelps’s highly acclaimed wines: a pinot noir, chardonnay and Insignia—a blend of Bordeaux varietals, mostly cabernet sauvignon  (95%) and the remainder, petit verdot. The Burgundy glass was visually stunning; its unique and massive bowl could house an impressive volume of wine (more than a bottle’s worth).

The presentation began with a brief and succinct history of the Riedel family. Once a background was sufficiently painted, the talk quickly homed in on the glassware that was before us. “Precision instruments.” The accolades and achievements garnered by the immaculate stemware were shared with us, it was impressive, to say the least. The idea behind changing the glassware to accommodate tannins or to show off bright acidity all through the shape of the glass was enthralling. This we were told was purely physics.

If we (the large group of attendees) were not sold by the amount of knowledge Mr. Riedel had to offer (like learning the proper way to drink and smell from a glass), than we were swayed—collectively—by the experiments, tasting firsthand how a glass of wine could change by the vehicle that delivers it to your palate.  The Montrachet glass was cited as the “enemy of all red wine,” a glass that would limit the aromatics by highlighting other qualities and stripping your palate of flush ripe fruit and replacing it with acid you would not know is present, if you served that same glass of wine with the proper vessel.

Throughout the course of the night, we sipped reds and whites and learned which varietals were acceptable to drink in the glasses. Our presenteur emphasized the correct selection of glassware to accompany one’s wine. He relayed a major “booboo” of his customers was drinking strictly out of the Bordeaux glass; we began to see/taste the truth of his words. He also exhibited some utterly gorgeous decanters, stressing their role and proffering tips on cleaning these decadent glass objects.

The wine was great, Insignia—was big, too big for my taste—but, the pinot noir displayed beautiful structure, soft tannins, ripe fruit and coated my palate flush thanks to the vessel. The wines were an added treat to a stellar night’s lineup that featured an intimate setting, some personal anecdotes and a significant figure in the wine world. After the class, I felt confident that these glasses were a necessary flavor enhancer and I look forward to using the set that I went home with (another bonus of attending the class) to bring out the most of my cellar selections.

Fairfax Avenue is a fashionista’s paradise, sporting kids with wild styles and of course, jeans tailored too tight—often exposing ankles. In addition to the hip hoards of youth that inhabit and prowl the avenue, the area houses a culinary epicenter; a lot of Los Angeles staples can be found somewhere on that road, like Canter’s Deli (practically, an institution, though not my favorite deli), Meals By Genet, Animal and many others. Friday night, I went to the Golden State seeking out “The Burger” but possibly finding the next great café on an Avenue that is rich in food options.

Inside The Golden State Café was a handsome collection of art adorning the walls, unevenly; wood tables were coupled with matching chairs, a lonely flat screen TV projected ESPN highlights and cement flooring all worked in concert to provide the ambiance of an art studio that cooks. Casual yet refined. The soignée establishment was hopping, each seat was filled, and lively chatter took place at every table. One of the owners (a bespectacled and friendly man) and a young waitress (Eva) were behind the counter to field all of our queries, making sure we placed the proper orders on beverages and chow. The entire group was there for burgers so the only thing that changed amongst ordering were the sides; I elected for jalapeño cabbage slaw to accompany the house burger sans cheese. It incorporated: Harris Ranch beef, Fiscalini Farms Cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, arugula, house made aioli and ketchup served on a brioche bun*. I also inquired about the wines and was set up with a glass of Meritage blend.

Food arrived shortly after ordering; the impressive speed was not the only thing to get excited over, rather the burger’s generous presentation was as inviting as the interior of the restaurant, with the bun slightly hinting at what was under the hood. A thick slab of flavorful bacon, a stout patty, and some arugula and on the side laid a mountain of lightly dressed jalapeño cabbage slaw.

The patty was perfectly executed, medium and yielding some jus; my teeth were delighted by the texture, soft interior encased by a little crispness from the char. The complexity wasn’t only in the texture but the bacon, which added sweetness to give the burger some depth. The bun’s egginess was off-putting but that would be my only criticism, since it held up for the entire meal unlike so many other brioche buns I have had. The balance of flavors was there. As for the side… sublime. A little heat was derived from the raw slices of jalapeño that were wedged in between finely shredded cabbage and thin slices of carrot that had bright crispness and was not swimming in a broth of mayonnaise, like so many other restaurants choose to make a slaw. It was a refreshing change.

Another bright spot was Golden State’s dessert. An ice cream case that was open to a couple of possibilities: floats or by the scoop; our table split (as evenly as five people can) to have beer floats—Old Rasputin Ale with a scoop of your choice of ice cream— and some scoops of the unusual flavors like bread, chai tea, and black currant n’ orange. I heard only good things about the beer float and as far as my scoop of ice cream was concerned I chose honey salt that was predominantly a rich honey flavor rounded out by the salt, keeping the honey in check. A smart combination.

On the whole this is a place I want to come back to. The food is enough reason to come—simple but well executed. Friendly service and a relaxed atmosphere highlight the experience. Fairfax Avenue has, indeed, another stalwart eatery.

* Sourcing is a big deal for a lot of foodies; it ensures that the vendor has selected quality goods from a purveyor that is proud enough to have their name on the product.

On Saturday night I headed out to North Hills in the Valley to see off some great friends, Erik and Marie Aalto (husband and wife) who are relocating to North Carolina because Marie had very recently accepted a lucrative job offer as a food scientist out on the east coast. Before they flew out, a barbecue was held to honor and enjoy them before they left. I brought a bottle of Port to help make the night a little sweeter.

Hot dogs and hamburgers were being grilled, poolside as the weather was permitting and people were reciting stories, feeling chipper and euphoric. The food was simple and definitely not the star, even though they had Dodger dogs, instead the main attraction was the couple. After a lot of eating and reminiscing, people seemed in a hurry to open the bottle of Port I brought and continue the night’s enthusiasm with a little bit of dessert, keeping the mood sweet. A generous father (Erik’s dad) stood in the way of this, he would not have just one bottle being passed around, and instead he favored a larger smattering to compliment the night. He began to showcase a lot of his ports that lay in the cellar to help supplement the wine. Diversifying.

Suddenly it was “the Great Port Showcase” four bottles were dusted off and uncorked, manifesting enough glasses seemed to be a new challenge. Luckily, there were plenty of glasses sitting dormant in a high-up-and-out-of-the-way cupboard. The spigots were opened and a taste of each morphed into a liberal helping as the sweet liquid found the bottom of the tiny glasses of everyone in attendance.

Small chat ensued as people casually sipped their fortified wines and the topic of music came up, with a heavy concentration on tone poems. I was about to hear, embark rather, on the power of McIntosh speakers and an introduction to Respighi as Erik’s father took me aside to listen to “the best recorded performance of the Pines of Rome,” Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony played at ear shattering intensity.

Maybe it was the mind-numbing power of the speakers at three-quarters volume or the intense theatrical qualities inherent in the music but the wine seemed to demonstrate its own magical prowess. I was buzzed.

My critical faculties were stunned. This is not to say that I was intoxicated but as far as this blog is concerned I could not really give you a proper evaluation of the Ports that I tasted. I know that I dutifully sampled all four of them, remaining sharp and trading quips with others in attendance, preferring this one to that one for “x” reason but no specifics stand out. When it came time to choose one for the duration of the evening it was Graham’s Six Grapes that I elected. I enjoyed my tasting so much that I finished my glass and was poured another promptly. By way of the third hearty pour my palate was obliterated but my ears remained perked. Respighi’s music was enthralling.

Erik and Marie’s barbecue wound down and then people started leaving, hugging and extending a promised visit to North Carolina (probably to be left unfulfilled). The night, though mostly wonderful was bittersweet; I parted with friends that I have known for a little over half a decade but in the process I was introduced to Respighi and unfortunately to the loss of discernment that comes with downing too much Port in too little time.

Dust off and fire up those barbecues—assuming you ever put them away—because the weather ahead is typical California, sunshine and heat waves are on the horizon. The sun was out on the past weekend; it was the perfect weather for firing up the grill and basking in the warm rays after an extended period of gloom.

I was invited to an ambitious meal on that Friday night to celebrate the occasion. On that night’s menu were coffee rubbed burgers with bacon, onions, thin wedges of tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese all crammed in a potato bun with a generous helping of tantalizing chipotle sauce (made from scratch) for the condiment. I could not go empty handed, I just couldn’t, so I brought a bottle of Malbec to pair with the subtle notes of coffee on the patty and matchup with the sauce, at least that is what I was hoping for.

I was excited about the outing, being invited to spend time with close friends is always awesome, and of course eating a favorite food, that too makes any event that much better. When I first learned of the burger that would be served, I was a little skeptical because too many flavors can crowd the palate, overwhelming the taste buds. It was not too daring but the sauce and bacon were going to be heavy and hard to compete with. This left me to recount—mentally—all the failed burgers I have eaten because they were too bold, the ideas too grand. This burger however was well thought out.

When the burger made the plate I took a ceremonial picture (to officially mark the beginning of the season) and then dug in. Upon first bite the flavors were rich and well balanced; the tang from the sauce was mildly piquant and married the flavors of the coffee rub perfectly. The barbecuing also helped melt the rub into the ground meat, saturating the beef with complexity, which was quite savory. The texture of the meat was firm, not too crisp from the charred exterior of the patty lending to the depth of the burger. It was the best homemade hamburger I have had—it got better with each bite. A lot of time and trouble went into making that epicurean delight and each person polished their plates—so the chef (a friend’s girlfriend) could take pride in the fact that her guests were enraptured.

The Malbec—Doña Paula 2007 from Argentina, redolent of dark berries, currants and a little chocolate cocoa coated the tongue like a cashmere jacket. It has been a favorite wine of mine for a few years for the following reasons: it is affordable, approachable and consistent. The big fruit flavors are intense hitting your mouth instantly and they held up pretty well to the chipotle sauce on that burger. The wine is even satisfying on its own but it gets better when it is paired with matching flavors.

It was a nice night, punctuated by a fantastic homemade barbecue burger. This was a great way to kickoff the barbecue season and I sure hope it will be a long one if this is any sign of things to come.

Summertime ushers in an enormous assortment of local fruits and vegetables throughout the northern hemisphere. Although Los Angeles weather has been a little cooler of late (for early July) local grocers and farmers are bringing in hoards of interesting melons, tomatoes, strawberries, etc. Figs—a favorite of mine–have come on line and make for the perfect dessert or even starter*. Restaurants and local enthusiasts flock to nearby purveyors and begin amassing all the heirloom fruits n’ veggies that will begin to complete their newly revamped menus or just make dinner a little less banal. While menus get their makeovers wine lists begin a metamorphosis.

Rosé makes its appearance as summertime begins, pinkish-hued (“blush”) and most often from France, these wines quickly take root like a runner in a garden. A rosé can be bone dry yet is always refreshing and crisp. Rosé is most commonly colored by a short lived maceration—a technique that has the red grape skins (from various varietals) lending their color to the juice—to extract the desired pantone. After the color is achieved the wine sits shortly to ferment and then quickly bottled and sent out to be enjoyed in the urban cafes to the countryside’s of every country that consumes wine. Rarely are they shelved in cellars.

Rosé is not complex but enjoyable—somewhere between a white and red; the hybrid should be enjoyed on a warm day/night. Seafood can be enhanced, fruits and vegetables can be paired with it and best of all it is a bargain wine, roughly $14 can fetch you a perfect summer sipper.

*As for those figs:

  • Wash and halve a fig(s)
  • Wrap a very thin slice of prosciutto (from Parma or even a domestic choice) around the halved fig
  • Finish with a light and artistic drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
  • You can also substitute fig with a ripe piece of Honeydew melon.
  • Serve and enjoy

Rueda is a small winemaking region within Spain, northwest of Madrid, still developing its younger wines and thirty years ago, granted D.O. (denomination of origin) status in 1980; winemakers there are on a mission to develop and introduce their own brand of white varietals to America and the world, feeding off of centuries of sherry-making experience. On Sunday afternoon I attended a Learn About Wine tasting event held at Josie Restaurant in Santa Monica, to imbibe these white wines.

Spain is already an enormous producer (third largest in the world)—red varietals and Sherry’s tend to dominate the landscape yet white varietals like Verdejo, Palomino and Albriño are also widely available.

However, whites have been on the decline—a stat thrown out by professional sommelier and instructor Ian Blackburn said that we are approaching a 4:1 ratio in favor of red wine to white wine bottles being drunk. I personally am guilty of facilitating the stat but do not shun any particular wine by color.

This class/tasting event showcased Rueda’s white wine characteristics—strong acid and bright mineral flavors, by pairing them with a wide range of fare. We began conventionally with cheeses moving to seafood (Baby Octopus a la Plancha), then escalated to Slow-Roasted Pork Belly ‘Porchetta’ and finished the pairings with Moroccan-Style Beef Short Ribs.

The head chef of Josie Restaurant, Josie Le Balch was on hand to prepare the meals and tell us about a lot of the dishes. That made the class much more special to have the chef walk you through her philosophy behind the plates and highlighting certain aspects that might have been overlooked while dining.

The glasses were laid out before us, two glasses to a course. All glasses contained a 2009-harvested Verdejo varietal (not always 100% Verdejo; sometimes a “kiss” of Sauvignon Blanc) from various producers. The flavor profiles were dynamic; some were grassy and herbaceous while others had strong citrus components like grapefruit rind on the nose with a little pear or apple. More surprising than the broad spectrum of flavors and aromatics between producers from the petite wine region was the ability to hold up to meat. The acid was equal to the task of the fatty ‘Porchetta’ and it also intensified the spices in the Moroccan-Style Beef Short Ribs.

For a wine with this kind of diversity it also has a great price point, between thirteen to eighteen dollars, more than enough to try the best of Rueda.

Sunday proved to be a first in many ways, like eating octopus, eating at Josie Restaurant and trying white wines from Rueda; I did not expect a lot other than exposure and instead was made a believer in white wines ability to pair well with bold flavors and definitely a fan of Josie Restaurant. With summer heat fast upon us, it will be nice to have some depth in the cellar with Rueda’s white wines.

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