Thursday, May 23, 2013

Petty Cash Taqueria - 05/22/2013

7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-5300

Sometimes you can do everything right and still not succeed; such was the case with John Sedlar's Playa which folded despite being generally well received by critics and diners alike. Fast forward little more than two months and a lot has changed; Sedlar is out of the picture in favor of Walter Manzke and Guillermo Campos Moreno of Tacos Kokopelli and the pan-Latin Playa has become a gourmet taqueria named Petty Cash.

Chips - Salsa & Tomatillo
In lieu of bread, our waitress brought out a big bowl of chips to go with the house made salsas already on the table. Pretty classic tortilla chips and salsa, they are a nice accompaniment to Petty Cash's slate of Julian Cox-designed cocktails.

He'brew Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. - Saratosa Springs, NY, 10% Rye-based double I.P.A.
Great Divide Colette - Denver, Co, 7.3% Farmhouse Saison
One of my companions was running a little late so we decided to get some beers to go with the chips while we waited. I grabbed a refreshing and light farmhouse ale from Great Divide while my friend went the opposite route and got a malt laden double IPA.

Ceviche Negro - pacific sea bass, squid, ink, mango, peanuts
We started off with a ceviche of sea bass stained black with squid ink. Though the requisite acid and spice are present, they are balanced by the earthy heft of the crushed peanuts and squid ink

Chicharrones - pineapple-carrot hot sauce
While I like the idea of fried pork rinds, the execution often leaves much to be desired with a flavor of stale oil and overly hard texture. Manzke's preparation was just how I'd always imagined a Chicharrone should be; crunchy yet airy with an undercurrent of porcine savor. Though delicious on their own, the hot sauce was an equally effective compliment with a deceptive tropical sweetness that hides a potent lingering burn.

Pig Ear Nachos - creama poblana, soft egg
The pig ear nachos were a hold over from Manzke's Test Kitchen dinner at Bestia. The pig ears are lightly fried giving some crunch to the gooey cartilaginous bits deftly brightened by the fresh cilantro. The runny egg has a soft silky flow to it that contrasted well with the toasty crunch of the chips. While still enjoyable I thought the dish felt a bit muted in terms of flavor, though that could have been the result of having overindulged on the habenero sauce that came with the chicharrones.

Kanpachi Ceviche - tomatillo, avocado
A much more conventional ceviche than the Negro we started with. The Kanpachi is noticeably oilier than the sea bass but a heavy dose tomatillo and herbs provides an austere grassy counterpoint to the fish.

Cook Ranch Pork Ceviche - nopales, pickled red onion, avocado
The last ceviche was the most interesting in the sense that it was hard to identify as pork. The meat possesses a supple yet lean texture and clean mild flavor very reminiscent of a some heavier cuts of fish.

Aguachile en Molcajete - homemade clamato, wild Sonoran chiltepin
Petty Cash's aguachile (chili water) preparation lets diners combine up to 6 types of seafood (Kanpachi, Kumamoto Oysters, Littleneck Clams, Octopus, Gulf White Prawns, Live Santa Barbara Prawn) though getting all of them makes this a $56 dish. Freshness is paramount with aguachile, because unlike ceviches where the raw fish cures in the acid for hours, here the fish is only placed in the seasoning 15-20 minutes before serving. The result is a heady bounty of the shellfish coupled with a delightfully fruity clamato. The quality of the shellfish is readily apparent even under the spicy, sweet, and sour flavors of the aguachile. We were also given glasses of piping hot michi (fish soup) and the brazenly salty fishy broth proved to be perfect chaser between bites of the aguachile.

Fly by Night - Petty Cash scotch, medley, Saler's gentiane, King's ginger, angostura, peychaud bitters, grapefruit twist
The Fly by Night is one of Petty Cash's two draft cocktails and a surprisingly boozy one at that. There is a touch of fruit evident on the nose but the palate is dominated by the sweet and smoky punch of the Scotch.

Cheesy Churros - green mole-corn dip
The manchego beignets from Manzke's Test Kitchen dinner at Bestia returned here in churro form. The fried pastries have a Cheesz-It like flavor coupled with a toasty oily crunch. While I preferred the churros on their own, the warm herbaceous sweetness of the dipping sauce did have its charms.

Oaxacan Old Fashioned - Reposado tequila, Oaxacan mezcal, house agave, angostura bitters, orange oil
Petty Cash Margarita - blanco tequila, lime, citrus-spiked agave nectar
Banana Hammock - Petty Cash rum blend, banana infusion, fresh lime, tamarind, cassia, dehydrated banana chip
The Oaxacan Old Fashioned certainly had the stiffness of its classic namesake all smoky gravitas and fresh citrus. The margarita was certainly a well put together example of the famous cocktail, while enjoyable it lacked complexity when compared to the other cocktails. I liked the Banana Hammock much more than I though I would (talking about the drink here), the drink has a vivacious tropical feel to it, fresh and fruity but not syrupy or cloying even with the addition of banana.

Deep Fried Quesadilla - white prawns, cabbage, roasted tomato sauce
Conceptually there was lots to like about this course take a quesadilla and make it even better with a quick bath in bubbling oil. Unfortunately the execution was a bit heavy-handed for me. The deep fried exterior is wrapped around a fat pouch of melted cheese which paired nicely with the ripe tang of the tomato sauce but the prawns were all but invisible.

"Pocho Style" - flour tortilla, zucchini flower, jack cheese, crema
This was a much more conventional style of quesadilla. At its heart, the combination of flour tortilla and jack cheese is reminiscent of a Del Taco quesadilla, but the tortilla has a toasty savor reminiscent of a Chinese onion oil cake while the cream adds a smooth luxurious twang.

Al Pastor - adobo-chile rubbed pork shoulder, onions, avocado
This was easily the most interesting sounding of the tacos. The sclow cooked pork shoulder is seasoned with pineapple juice and almost dissolves into pork meal on the tongue. The avocado and onions add a much needed moisture that brings everything together.

Dorados - crispy rolled potato tacos, avocado, tomatillo, cotija cheese
This was the least successful of the tacos for me. The crispy shell has quite a bit of flavor but the potato filling was too bland and a bit monolithic.

Baja Fish Taco - beer-battered pacific sea bass, pico de gallo, cabbage
Manzke doesn't stray far from the classic fish taco recipe he just does it better than everybody else. The lightly fried fish has a pronounced salinity married with the perfect amount of creamy mayo, crunchy bitter cabbage, and lush pico.

The Obligatory Vodka Drink - vodka, fresh lime, rose water, ginger, candied rose petal
Nacho Libre - pisco, lime, caramelized pineapple syrup, Jamaichael Jordan, egg white, creole bitters
Tangy, spicy and refreshing the Obligatory Vodka Drink doesn't break new ground though the candied rose petals were a tasty treat. The Nacho Libre was overly florid for me thanks to the hibiscus tea that gave the drink a flavor reminiscent to a potpourri wax candle

Charcoal Grilled Octopus - chile de arbol, peanuts, jack cheese
The grilled octopus is tender but with a substantive meatiness and smoky, earthy, and bitter with the barest twinge of mole-like dark chocolate sweetness.

Charcoal-Roasted Portobello Mushroom - asparagus, jack cheese, pipian
Despite my fondness for mushrooms I struggled with this taco. The large chunks of Portobello felt a bit overwhelming at times and there wasn't any contrasting element to give the dish some balance

Cook Ranch Pork Carnitas - salsa verde, guacamole
The Carita was definitely one of the stronger tacos, the pork is mostly lean with just enough rendered fat to give the taco a sense of unctuousness with plenty of green stuff for contrast and a quick hit of spicy zest from the salsa verde.

Prime Beef Striploin Carne Asada - refried beans, guacamole
A very light carne asada, I would have liked a bit more heft and char on the meat though I did appreciate the extra succulence that the lower temperature provided.

Tlacuache Raicilla - Valenciana Agave, Jalisco
La Valentina Sotol - Sotol, Durango
Minotauro Mezcal - Cenzino Agave, Durango
Mezcal has been gaining traction in bars but still lags far behind its cousin tequila in terms of popularity. Our waitress mentioned that Petty Cash offered three types of artisanal mezcals so naturally we decided to try them all. The Raicilla was the mildest of the three spirits, it still had some of the smoke but went down sweet and smooth without the characteristic burn. Unlike Mezcal, the Sotol is not made from agave but a plant known as the Desert Spoon or Sotol and the La Valentina has a similar flavor if a bit harsher and heavier on the petrol notes. The Minotauro was the happy medium between the other two and offered an anise tinged sweetness shrouded by smoke.

Buck Dynasty - your choice of spirit(mezcal), house fermented ginger beer
We left the choice of spirit to the bartender and he opted for a mezcal. The spicy sweetness of the housemade ginger beer is readily apparent at first but the mezcal shows up on the finish with a lingering smoky bite.

"Dirty" Horchata - long grain brown rice, pecans, Chinese cinnamon, evaporated milk
Damn Handsome Cold Brew Coffee - La Granja rancho, Columbia full-body, on tap
With their rapid opening, Petty Cash hasn't gotten around to designing a dessert menu though I'm told Manzke's wife will be in charge of pastry so we decided to try some of their non-alcoholic beverages. The horchata was the best I've ever had with plenty of cinnamon sweetness as well as a creamy heft. Likewise the cold brewed coffee was one of the best I've ever tasted, a bit of acid is present but the taste is dominated by aromas of toasted nuts and dark chocolate.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts - morita-cauliflower crema
Though I'm not a fan of Brussels sprouts I did like the initial potato chip like saltiness though I didn't care for the bitter aftertaste. The base of the bowl was smeared with a sauce made from morita and cauliflower that tasted almost like a smoked cheese sauce.

"Roof Top" Baby Green Salad - cucumber, radish, pepitas, sungold tomatoes, avocado-lime dressing
Playa's Cielo Verde rooftop garden provided much of the produce for Sedlar's restaurants and we were told it would play a role in Playa's successor as well. The salad was quite refreshing a mix of nutty greens and lush tomatoes with a light tangy dressing.

We initially skipped the guac to save room for the more interesting dishes which proved to be a good decision as this proved to be enjoyable but fairly pedestrian.

Baby Beets - grilled corn, black quinoa, kale, tamarind, pistachio, cotija cheese
Given that I was bursting full and this dish pairs two of my least liked foods: quinoa and beets; it was all I could do to take a single shuddering bite that had our waitress staring at me with a worried look, probably wondering if I was going into a seizure.

Despite being a taqueria, I found that I enjoyed the appetizers and ceviches far more than I did the tacos though they were by no means bad, they needed a bit more polish. Overall the restaurant feels a bit rushed, the lack of a dessert menu was the most glaring problem, but there were some service gaffes as well. These issues notwithstanding, the concept itself makes a lot of sense for all parties involved; Chait and his partners get an accomplished chef at the helm; Manzke gets to stay busy while working on his own place; and diners get a restaurant that serves equally well as a casual hangout spot or a dinner out.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

LQ Foodings @ Vertical Wine Bistro - 05/19/2013

70 N Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 795-3999

After shuttering his Bistro LQ, Quenioux launched his "LQ Fooding Around in LA" pop-up concept. The series kicked of during summer of 2011 initially started off with a six month run now shuttered Starry Kitchen. Since moving on from Starry Kitchen, the pop-ups have been a bit less frequent but the chef has kept himself busy running the kitchen at Vertical Wine Bistro which also happens to be the site of his latest LQ "Foodings"

Kir Vertical - Prosecco, St Germain Liqueur, Fresh Mint
Around The World - Cucumber, Hendrick's Gin, Agave Nectar, Elderflower Liqueur, Yuzu Juice
The Lolita - Plymouth Gin, Blueberries, Agave Nectar, Brown Sugar, Lemon Juice, Prosecco
The Kir was the weakest of the three cocktails, while certainly redolent of fresh mint, the St. Germain needed to be a bit more apparent. The Around the World is my kind of drink; delightfully refreshing with a palpable booziness tempered with citrus. The Lolita was the surprise favorite of the trio: fresh, soft, and sweet the alcohol was barely noticeable making this a very dangerous drink.

Mise en Bouche: Hokkaido Scallop smoked for 6 hours - Toasted Waffle, Nori Butter; Roasted Bone Marrow, Crayfish, Grated Celeriac
NV Terres Dorées Cremant de Bourgogne Chardonnay
The meal got of to a fantastic start. Despite the copious amount of rendered fat the marrow was nicely balanced by the bisque-like flavor of the crawfish as well as the herbaceousness of the celeriac. Next up was a toasted waffle that needed to be a bit warmer but the salty sweet flavor of the nori butter certainly hit the spot. The scallop was easily the best of the trio with an exquisitely slick yet meaty texture, the sweet salinity is infused with a deep essence of wood smoke then topped with a feisty citrus spice similar to yuzu kocho.

Minestrone - Serrano Ham, Ramps Hazelnut Pesto, Amy’s Farm Duck Egg, Rillette, FG Macaron
2012 Domaine Sauvete Pineau D'Aunis Rosé Meli-Melo
Despite their abundant zest, the vegetables definitely play second fiddle here to the umami essence of the serrano ham and the trifecta of duck. The tempura egg tends to dominate the soup at once savory and silky but I would have forgone all of that for a few more of the foie gras macarons. Proving once again that forbidden fruit is the sweetest, the little bacon-topped gems have that perfect blend of chewy and crunch and an equally savory sweetness that left my entire party wanting more.

Cold Poached Skate - Fried Capers, Watermelon Pico, Bonito Emulsion, Dehydrated Kale, Blis Char Roe, Dehydrated Beet, Morels
2011 Domaine du Closel "La Jalousie" Savenniere
I've never been a huge fan of skate but there was a lot to like with this preparation. Between bits of lean meat is plenty of gellied connective tissue giving the skate a tender yet unexpectedly substantial texture. Earth, salinity, and savor are balanced by a deft application of succulence from the watermelon while the char roe adds an charming smoky brine. The wine was a spot on pairing for the skate, the chenin blanc offered an overarching saline minerality as well as plenty of citrus for the more austere aspects of the dish.

Rice Porridge - Veal Sweetbreads, Uni Bottarga, Uni, Wood Sorrel
2010 Monasterio De Corias, Maceration Carbonica
Easily the star of the night, this ambitious dish blended the salinity of uni and bottarga with the earthy gravitas of sweetbreads all on top of a lush creamy bed of rice. Though the uni and sweetbreads didn't compliment each other particularly well, I found myself wanting a huge bowl of the stuff or better yet two bowls of porridge one topped with sweetbreads and the other with uni. Surprisingly dry and refreshing for a red wine, the De Corias reminded me of a Beaujolais, an aptly subdued compliment to the multifaceted porridge

A3 Japanese Wagyu (served rare to medium rare only) - Pan Drippings, Green Garlic Soil, English Pea Frozen Yogurt, Harrissa Emulsion, Shaved Asparagus, Shaved Radishes
2010 Mas de Gourgonnie, Les Baux de Provence Rouge
I was a bit amused to see the A3 rating on the beef as restaurants typically refrain from displaying anything less than a perfect score of A5. Despite only scoring a 3 out of 5 on marbling, I ended up with the rib cap which still offered plenty of marbling. Sadly my piece was a bit too fatty needing a bit more heat to render fully (a nuance I've come to appreciate more fully after recent steak tasting). My companion's leaner cut still exuded a lusty richness nicely augmented by the spicy bite of the harissa. The asparagus and radish provided a sharp contrast from the beef; the pea froyo in particular was almost startling in its intensity.

The Cheese Cart - Selection of over 38 non-pasteurized cheeses, imported from France, served with our famous house-made condiments
No LQ meal would be complete without a selection from his cheese cart. With 38 cheeses to pick from, Laurent offers the most extensive cheese cart I've found in LA. We ended up asking Chef to pick a handful of his favorite cheeses with a mix of hard (Mimolette, Tome de Beloc, Gruyere, and Fumaison) and soft (Cerré Mirabelle, Munster, Filetta Corsica, Chambertin, Camenbert, and Reblochon). The soft cheeses were all of the stinky gooey persuasion while the hard cheeses were more restrained and varied.

Caramel Miso Goat Cheesecake - Black Sesame Graham Cracker Crumb, Tofu Cream, Grapefruit Sorbet, Brown Butter Croquant
Despite not being a fan of either miso or goat cheese, I was exceedingly pleased with how the combination turned out here. At once salty but with a lightly piquant sweetness, the creamy filling of the cheesecake came with a wonderfully buttery crisp as well as a slight hint of nuttiness from the crumbs while the grapefruit sorbet adds the perfect touch of citrus and bitterness .

At $48 dollars per person LQ Foodings represents one of the best values considering the quality of food provided. By comparison, I spent a comparable amount on food at a "nice" chain restaurant the night before, but instead of Japanese Scallops and Beef the food consisted of chicken, ribs, and brisket. Laurent's popups exemplify the spirit of bistronomy, offering a fine-dining level of creativity and luxury served up in a casual setting at a much more affordable price.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Steak Tasting - 05/11/2013

The last couple times that I've eaten at steakhouses I've come away thinking that I could do better at home which lead my friends and I to come up with to the idea of a steak tasting. For the steaks we opted for a mix of premium mail-order steaks, top butcher shops, and big box store. The steaks would be graded on three categories: taste (15pts), texture (10pts), and appearance (5pts) with a total possible score of 30 points.

Naturally, for this test we decided that consistency between cuts was key which meant that sous vide was the way to go. The steaks were seasoned with salt and pepper then dropped into the bath set to 123.0F for about 2 hours then finished on a hot cast iron pan with butter.

Flannery California Reserve | Prime | 28 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 18oz | $62.75
My Score: Taste: 12 | Texture: 4 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 19 (T 5th)
Average: Taste: 11.1 | Texture: 6.4 | Appearance: 4.1 | Total: 21.7 (6th)
Its rare that I find a steak too rare, but that was definitely the case with Flannery's California Reserve. With a marbling that rivaled Wagyu beef this was easily the fattiest cut of the competition and while I enjoyed the intensity of the fat, I was looking for more of that dry-aged character. Unfortunately the steak never got warm enough to render all of the fat leaving the meat chewy at times and with the absolute lowest score for texture. Personally I think the sixth place finish doesn't reflect the true potential of this steak which would have done much better if cooked to medium rare.

Pat La Freida | Prime | 50 Day Dry-Aged | 2" thick | 18oz | $55
My Score: Taste: 13 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 23 (T 1st)
Average: Taste: 12.3| Texture: 7.3| Appearance: 3.9| Total: 23.5 (3rd)
A family run business since 1922, La Freida primarily sells to restaurants in the New York area though they offer online retail sales as well. I expected this steak to do well and it didn't disappoint in terms of flavor, but the texture was at times firm and gristly which cost it some points. Easily the thickest steak and one of the most marbled, perhaps the La Freida suffered from the same problem as the California Reserve.

Costco | Prime | Unaged | 1.25" thick | 12oz | $ 9.07(11.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 11 | Texture: 9 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 23 (T 1st)
Average: Taste: 10.1 | Texture: 8.1 | Appearance: 3.3 | Total: 21.6 (7th)
While not quite at the level of the dry-aged beef, Costco's prime New York represents quite the value, with an $11.99 price tag not too far off what Wal-Mart and Ralphs charge for lesser cuts. With an incredibly juicy and soft mouthfeel the steak fared well on texture but dismal appearance scores dropped the steak from fifth to seventh overall.

Beef Palace | Prime | 21 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 12oz | $19.70 ($25.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 12 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 22 (T 3rd)
Average: Taste: 10.8 | Texture: 7.8 | Appearance: 3.9 | Total: 22.4 (4th)
I was turned onto this place by a co-worker and it has since become my goto place for Prime steaks. For the best meat, ask for the extra aged cuts in the locker rather than the pre-cut selections in the case; the price is the same but the meat is more tender and flavorful. Generally a solid all around steak with a fair amount of the nutty dry aged character and a good texture but not quite as tender as the Costco above.

Wal-Mart | Choice | Unaged | 1.125" thick | 13oz | $8.54 ($10.48/lb)
My Score: Taste: 9 | Texture: 5 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 17 (9th)
Average: Taste: 8.8 | Texture: 7.4 | Appearance: 3.4 | Total: 19.6 (8th)
More of a joke than a serious entry the Wal-Mart steak actually tasted better than I expected which is to say it wasn't bad but in no way would I ever confuse this for beef from a top steakhouse which is what their marketing implies. With relatively little flavor of its own, the steak picked up an intense aroma of butter; making it enjoyable if forgettable. Certainly a reasonable choice for someone wanting steak on a budget. but with very little intrinsic value it was my lowest scoring steak and the second lowest overall.

Whole Foods | Prime | 28 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 12oz | $34.96 ($21.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 12 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 22(T 3rd)
Average: Taste: 12.3 | Texture: 8.6 | Appearance: 4.0 | Total: 24.9 (1st)
A handful of Whole Foods stock dry aged beef unfortunately the place I went only offered Rib-Eye and T-Bone cuts. The butcher agreed to cut just a New York Steak but unlike most shops, weighted the meat before trimming. That plus the weight of the bone meant that a 1.5lb steak only yielded about 12oz of usable meat. Despite my misgivings on the price, they put that 12 ounces to good use, scoring second overall in terms of flavor and first in terms of texture.

Flannery Midwestern | Prime | 28Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 18oz | $48.50
My Score: Taste: 10 | Texture: 6 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 19 (T 5th)
Average: Taste: 12.1 | Texture: 8.2 | Appearance: 4.2 | Total: 24.5 (2nd)
An oddly inconsistent steak, the Midwestern had a number of very high scores including 2 perfect scores but also some fairly low ones. Less fatty than its California Reserve sibling, the Midwestern had a more complex flavor striking a good balance between: buttery, nutty, and mineral-y. Overall the proponents carried the day, making this the second place finisher overall.

Lindy & Grundy | Prime | 42 Day Dry-Aged | 1.5" thick | 16oz | $41
My Score: Taste: 6 | Texture: 9 | Appearance: 3 | Total: 18 (T 7th)
Average: Taste: 7.1 | Texture: 7.4 | Appearance: 3.6 | Total: 18.1 (9th)
Run by Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura, Lindy and Grundy is arguably the hottest butcher's shop in LA; not bad for two former vegetarians. The duo apprenticed at Fleisher's in New York before making the trek cross country to set up a sustainable shop that sources their meats locally and practices nose-to-tail butchering. Among their sustainable initiatives is the decision to sell grass-fed beef. For those who haven't tried it before, the meat is noticeably leaner with a steely mineral flavor where a corn-fed cow has a light sweetness to it. Already something of an acquired taste, dry aging amplifies the grass-fed flavor leading to tasting notes like "fishy" or "seaweed" which clearly our party hadn't acquired a taste for.

Ralphs | Select | Unaged | 1.5" thick | 20oz | $13.74 ($10.99/lb)
My Score: Taste: 8 | Texture: 7 | Appearance: 3| Total: 18 (T 7th)
Average: Taste: 10.2 | Texture: 7.5 | Appearance: 4.0 | Total: 21.7(5th)
Representing generic supermarket steak was a select cut from Ralphs. Frankly I was surprised how well this steak fared, a bit steely and lean for me but fairly tender it managed a very respectable fifth place showing overall just slightly edging out the California Reserve.

In some respects the tasting went largely as I expected, with the La Freida and Flannery scoring well though I was surprised at how well Whole Foods and Ralphs did. While I initially wanted to go for a less formal tasting process I am happy with how the grading turned out though I would probably drop the appearance category next time since how the meat looks is largely a function of how its cooked and cut rather than any intrinsic worth
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