Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

The bar is set for the competition

Bartending has progressed far beyond just creating popular drinks. It has evolved into a craft of mixing and reinventing old and new exotic cocktails. Today’s modern Mixologists push the overall limits of creativity of yesterday’s bartenders.

Bunny sake coolers

A few weeks ago we attended the First annual Sake competition presented by Umenoyado Brewery of Nara, Japan and Banzai Beverage Corporation at a private beachfront residence in beautiful Malibu, California. The USBG sanctioned event received over 300 submissions from some of the best mixiologists from Los Angeles. The Judges included Mr. Yoshida from the Umenoyado Brewery , Sake expert Eric Swanson, Eater LA editor Kat Odell and Black Lab‘s Joel Black.

Mr. Yoshida Judging

All the ingredients are set

Judging sheets

The judging took place about 3 weeks prior to the event at a great sushi bar in Torrance called Yanagi Japanese Bistro. The atmosphere, in the back of the restaurant was quiet. The room was dimly lit and spartan. Once we got done with our sushi lunch then attention turned to the making of each one of the final 8 drinks. All the ingredients were assembled on a central table the mixologist from the sake company carefully mixed each one of the 8 final recipes to determine which 4 were going to the competition. Each recipe was poured out and tasted by a panel of 4 judges, of course I got to partake of each of them and each one was better than the last. Some of them feature the sake more others masked the flavor of it but they were all very good. The question was which of them was going to go to make it to the final 4.

Christopher Barrigan garnishes with persian cucumber

Nikki Martin

From the 8 finalists chosen, only 4 made the cut to compete for the $1000 prize up for grabs.  The 4 finalists were Josh Curtis, Christopher Barragan, Michael Blum and “Food Network Star” Nikki Martin. Each competitor was judged based on the 5 criteria: presentation, aroma, taste, originality and best use of sake.

All of their  ingredients were meticulously prepared prior to creating the drinks. Some ingredients included but were not limited to: gin, watermelon, St Germain, mint, basil, and cucumber.

Josh Curtis created a fairly simple drink with Evoluzione jumai daiginjo sake, muddled cucumbers, lime and simple syrup.

Michael‘s drink “The Prince & Popper” consisted of plum sake, Stoli elit vodka, lime, orange juice and kaffir lime syrup.

Nikki made use of the plum sake as well, along with Pisco Porton, egg whites, simple syrup and lemon.

The full line of Umenoyado Brewery sake

Mr. Yoshida

Chris made his cocktail with Aragoshi yuzu sake, Hendrick’s gin, rose water garnished with a lemon twist and thyme. Utimately it was his attention to detail that earned him the wining title as Sake Master and the $1000.00 prize.

The winning check accepted on behalf of Christopher Barrigan

We tasted each of the cocktails and each competitor showcased their own styles with their mixology pairings.  In our opinion, some made better use of the sake than others but everyone interpreted their ultimate Sake infused drink and we were fortunate to be along for the ride.


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Antica Macelleria Falorni is the oldest butcher shop in Italy. In 1729 Gio Batta founded the Macelleria Falorni Butchers in Greve Italy. In 1840 the word Antica which means ancient was added and still hangs today. It’s in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Through the generations the techniques, recipes and “secrets” to the incredibly high quality products that they produce which have been passed down from father to son. Today it is being run by the 8th generation grandsons Lorenzo and Stefano Falorni. Their attention to quality begins with using the highest quality local certified meats, Chianina for Beef and Cinta Senese for Pork and wild boars that come from the woods of the Chianti region. Spices such as fennel, laurel, juniper, garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and more are used and all come from the local region. With this plethora of local ingredients it couldn’t be helped to create the Salumi – Salted meats, ham, salami prosciutto and more that are are characterized by the unique smell known only to fine Italian products. Even the Chianti Classico is added to some of the preparations of sausage and salame that are typical to the region of Greve also contributing to the nature of the product.

Bistec Fiorentina

Mark Schatzker said in his book “Steak, One Man’s Search for the world’s Tastiest Piece of Beef”,  the Falorni is as much a busy butcher shop as a living ode to its butchering past. Out front, facing the town square stands a butcher block that was the primary meat hacking surface from 1820 to 1956. The interior is filled with tools of the butchering trade, a stuffed wild boar, old copper scales, black & white photos of Chianinas, a bright red meat grinder and a sausage stuffing machine from 1930.

The attention to detail even goes as far as to what kind of wood is best for grilling the beef. The recommend oak and Stefano will go as far as cutting his own wood and bringing it to friends homes to make sure that the meats get their due respect.

This is one of the wonders found in the Chianti Region of Tuscany Italy. A wonderful place that we will be visiting on our Photo/Culinary experiences. Come join us in 2011 and explore the culinary wonders of this rich part of the world. Early discounts available here’s the link – Experience Italy

* Photos courtesy of Vivandare.it, Informacibo.it and Antica Macelleria Falorni

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It was an evening to be remembered. I was asked by my friend Jeff Silverman and his wife Stefanie to create an Italian evening cooking class and demonstration for a fundraiser for

Jeff & Stefanie

Jeff & Stefanie Silverman

Wilbur elementary school. As we considered the evening we had to come up with a menu that would work both for a large crowd and offer both teaching as well as demonstration possibilities. Of course there is the entertainment value of the event and that’s where I come in. We met and began to plan out the menu. Using several cookbooks as references along with my own experience to come up the a menu that would satisfy and satiate all who attended. Jeff likes meat and of course as he puts it swine.

Rico & Porterhouse

2" thick prime porterhouse steaks yum!

Jeff and my love of meat was something that was evident in the final menu. The highlight being Bisteca a la Fiorentina which is a 2″ to 3″ thick Porterhouse steak marinated in olive oil and herbs then charred on the grill to a perfect medium rare on the inside. But let me not get too far ahead of myself. I got the message from Jeff that we were going to have a huge menu without restrictions. On my own I researched some more recipes and recalled several things from my travels to Italy and settled on a final menu for the evening.Prep began at 9:00am the day of the event. Jeff was so kind as to regale us with one of his famous fritatta’s which he likes to make with pasta and meat products of many varieties. My prep crew consisted of Elio and Oscar and then Angel came in to relieve Oscar at around 4:00PM. The prep went smoothly as the day progressed and we got closer and closer to show time. We actually began our cooking at around 7:00PM. The show opening up with toasts to our hosts and guests and making sure that glasses were filled.

rico Focaccia

Getting Focaccia into Oven

Suppli – Risotto Balls filled with mozzarella cheese and breaded and deep-fried

2 types of Crostini – one with wild mushrooms the other with black kale and prosciutto

Focaccia with Arugula and Sun Dried Tomatoes – This dish I demonstrated. We had the focaccia premade so I taught how to make an alfredo sauce from scratch and then had some of the participants put the alfredo sauce on the focaccia and then top it with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, throw that in the oven for about 10 minutes and you have a delicious goodness coaxing your taste buds moments later.

cutting tomatoes

Making Arugula & fava bean salad

We then made the Arugula and fava bean salad where the participants learned how to make orange supremes, then cut tomatoes and onions and assemble the salad.

When it comes to roast potatoes the Patate al forno – Roast Potatoes with garlic cloves is the best. The potatoes need to be blanched in water for 2-3 minutes before baking then set aside. With audience participation we had the guys take care of the seasoning and tossing of the potatoes, which was a lot of fun to see who could toss the best and highest.

Of course wine was flowing throughout the evenings festivities as glasses were refilled in a timely manner.

Earlier in the day we had put the Chicken Vin Cotto (sweet wine)  into the oven to cook since it is a bit complicated and we already had enough things going on. It came out wonderfully as one might expect.

potato toss

The Guys get into the act with the potato toss

The potatoes went in the oven and then it was time to blanch the broccoli rabe and get it ready for the 2 styles of final preparation. One with sausage the other with black olives and garlic. While one person manned the sausage cooking another was in charge of blanching all the broccoli rabe. Another glass was filled and it was time to go

Rico Teaching

It's all about the ingredients and the wine

out to the grill and cook up some meat.

The first thing to go on was the Bisteca a la Fiorentina, followed by the Uccelletti Scappati

– Skirt steak rolled with prosciutto and sage then placed on a skewer with pancetta in-between.  It was a feast for the eyes to see all this fantastic prime beef going on the grill and to bear witness to it all with awe-inspiring. Then to finish everything the rack of lamb went on and was the perfect punctuation to the meat portion of the evening.

While that was going on outside I needed to get back in to make sure that Elio was taking proper care with the dessert prep in which there were three – Cannoli, Roasted Pears with Chocolate and Strawberries in balsamic vinegar. What a trio. We had participants making the pears, cutting the strawberries and filling cannoli’s. At the same time I was teaching the making of Polenta with wild mushrooms, having one participant searing the mushrooms while the other made the polenta.  And last but not least I took care of the Pasta Carbonara as the final punctuation to end the cooking portion of the evening.


Slicing up Rack of Lamb

Once everything was ready and the meat had properly rested then we were ready to put out the buffet and cut the meat. Part of the fun when cutting large quantities of meat is to feed those around you, who are looking on, tidbits from the meat as a precursor to the meal that is about to come.  Ahh the fun of cooking and feeding people. To watch as everyone lined up to eat the meal that we just prepared warmed my heart.  I had a blast cooking and entertaining the entire group of around 35. It was time for a scotch and a walk about to see how everyone was enjoying their meal. It was fun to see and hear the comments and talk to some of them as they enjoyed everything that we had prepared in a scant 2.5 hours. A good time was had by all. It’s something that I love doing and can do for you and your friends if you’re interested.  It was like having my own TV show.

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So I arrived at the Hotel Vitale to find the FoodBuzz Blogger Festival Table to my left in the lobby. At the table to greet me were several FoodBuzz employees including Dorian Asch whom I met at the Beso event several months earlier in Los Angeles. My festival pass around my neck and program in my pocket I proceeded upstairs to the 8th floor terrace for cocktails. As I walked out to the terrace I saw a sea of people with a bar in the corner.


Skyy vodka cocktails, sparkling wine and beer

The interesting thing about this sea of people was that they were all food bloggers. A bunch of foodies all in one place all talking about food.


The Ferry Building at night

The backdrop to this cocktail party was a picturesque night scene looking down the Embarcadero.  The yellow street lights illuminating the street trolly car tracks glistening as vintage trolly cars passed, each ringing their bell from times gone by. Behind that rises the Ferry Building perched at the waters edge, clock tower standing tall signaling that there is something special about this building. A building whose contents consist of some very special merchants who bring only the best culinary products to those who desire them. And isn’t it fitting that here on the terrace overlooking this marvel are about 200 to 300 foodies enjoying cocktails and telling each other of their culinary adventures.

I found my friend Adam Rubenstein from VivaLaFoodies on the lower terrace. We got caught up with the latest food goings on. He’s making sushi a the corporate café at Guess in downtown LA. It seems like he is having a good time.  Adam loves food and the blogging world. He has carved out a niche for himself writing restaurant and event reviews. The interesting thing about being amongst all these bloggers is that no two are alike. Everyone has their own story both about how they got into blogging as well as why they chose to write what they do on their blogs. Tomorrow I will have more information about some of the various bloggers here at the festival. Once the cocktail hour was finished we descended down the stairs to go to the Ferry Building where a veritable feast was awaiting us.

entry sign-4109We arrived at the Ferry Building arcade where they street food fair was awaiting us. We walked in to first have some beer from Speakeasy Ales & Lagers was pouring a wheat beer and an Ale. I chose the Ale and Adam and his wife went for the wheat beer.

adam beer-4112

Adam Rubenstein and his wife, capturing beer images for his blog

They had a nice refreshing taste to begin the dining portion of the evening. I was greeted by a woman holding a tray of chichharones to tantalize the guests with. porkrinds-0162These fried swine skin delicacies had a nice clean flavor with a spice mixture sprinkled on top.  The only problem what there was little to no crunch. Although they weren’t stale they were not crispy, but the flavor was good. So what goes with chichharones? You guessed it ice cream. Coffee ice cream to be exact. Why not. Who says you need to eat your meal in any particular order, this is after all street food which can be eaten as it comes to you. So there it was staring at me. the Strauss Family Creamery table. Topped with 2 containers of Ice Cream one coffee flavored and the other vanilla. This family owned dairy makes cream, yogurt and a wonderful european style butter with an 85% milkfat content for added flavor. The second generation agreed to stay on provided that he could make ice cream. Thus the Strauss Ice Cream was born. This is no ordinary Ice Cream it has a rich and creamy texture similar to that of gelato. There are no artificial binders or ingredients in it. The result speaks for itself. cupcakes-4115

Right next to this was the Mission Mini’s Gourmet Cupcake table. They make an assortment of cupcakes including Pumpkin, lemon custard, chocolate, ginger, red velvet and more. If you like cupcakes you’ll love these. I had the pumpkin and the lemon custard and they were both very good. Not too sweet and the frosting made a excellent compliment to the cake enhancing the experience instead of masking it.

So now it’s time to have some real food. I noticed people coming toward me with these wonderful looking tacos so I went in search of them. Luckily I didn’t have to go far. I got to the Tacolicious stand and found them busily making tacos. The were serving 3 kinds – Braised short rib, potato chorizo and blackeyed pea. I spoke to the proprietor and he told me that they were looking for something different to do with their tacos. Many tacos they tried were made with meat that was dry. So they came up with the idea of braising their meats to keep them moist. They also endeavor to use locally sourced product for all their tacos. The quality shows through.


Tacos, Tacos and More Tacos

I went to go see the Pie Truck table where they were serving 2 kinds of pies – Zucchini mushroom and steak & gruyere. These pies are all made from scratch. They have  converted catering truck that they use to cook their pies in and roll around the city serving these crusty saucers of deliciousness to their eagerly awaiting patrons. The great thing about these pies is that they are heavy on flavor and filling and light on crust. Which in my opinion makes for the perfect combination. There is just enough crust to encapsulate the filling so you get the full flavor without all the extra doughiness.


The best meat pies

Next was Hog Island Oyster company who was shucking their Kumamoto oysters which they raise in Tomales Bay. These oysters are small with an oceanic sweetness to them. They need nothing other than perhaps a drop of tapatio or tabasco to add that bit of spice that I like with my oysters. Later they were also shucking Malpec oysters which are a bit bigger and very flavorful as well.


Kumamotos, shucking and the larger Malpac

I had seen these pork sandwiches going by and as you know I love all things pork. The meat has a sweetness that is not found in any other. I walked over to the Roli Roti Truck whos motto is I love crispy skin. And boy do they live up to that. In speaking with the owner who has a deep seeded passion for his craft. He is Swiss and he lives by the philosophy to do what you do the best that you can do it. He raises all his own hogs, which keeps his quality way up. He only butchers his hogs when they are at their optimum flavor. If they are not quite ready then he waits until they are. As he said – “If I have to wait a week until they are ready then I wait a week.” That is the type of passion that I admire in the culinary world. He makes a large roll out of his pigs with the skin on the outside of the roll. Then he slow roasts it on a spit to ensure that the meat stays tender and the skin becomes crispy. The sandwich contains succulent pork with crispy pork skin, onions carmelized to a dark brown with greens and placed on a fresh cibatta roll. This was my hands down favorite of the evening.


The ultimate porcine experience

Next I explored the world of Raw food with Chef Leland Jung from Alive. He specializes in raw food. He was serving 3 things- 2 kinds of pizza and a lavender cheesecake. The pizza was made with a flaxseed crust that was dehydrated and topped with tomato and avocado. I had that one and it was surprisingly good for what it was. Not my favorite but if you are into the raw food thing then you’ll probably love his stuff.Raw pizza and cheesecake

I stopped by Spencer on the Go to see what was cooking. He had a mushroom dish comprised of oyster and shmeji mushrooms in a light cream sauce on top of a puff pastry topped with watercress and truffle cream. This was a wonderful dish. He added just a touch of parmesan cheese which gave offset the richness of the cream. He also made a beet salad from both red and golden beets. He slow roasted the beets in a 300º oven for about 4 hours to maximize the sweetness of the beets. It was a simple dish with only a very light olive oil vinaigrette and Point Reyes blue cheese which complimented the sweetness of the beets beautifully.beet&mushroom

So I’m getting kinda full. The bloggers are buzzing all around and some of them are beginning to dwindle down. I pressed on to find a mobile wood burning oven that was cooking pizzas to perfection. The pizzas that Pizza Politana was making were topped with spinach, olives, feta and mozzarella cheese. They got their start at the farmers market in Novato. They found that they really love what they are doing and are happy to make pizzas at all hours of the day or night. They buy all their ingredients locally with the exception of the mozzarella cheese which comes from Wisconsin and the San Marzano tomatoes which come from Italy. It’s interesting but when I was speaking with the owners wife she told me that the reason they import their tomatoes from Italy is because the American tomatoes were just too sweet. I thought to myself, that’s a first. I was always under the impression that most commercial tomatoes were relatively tasteless and not anywhere near the sweetness that I have found overseas, particularly in Greece. They also use a combination of 2 different flours for their crust. One is higher protien content which is good for building up gluten which gives it a good structure and the other has a malt flavor so the combination gives the dough the perfect flavor, structure and elasticity for their use. An you know what, it works. Their crust is thin and with a nice balance of flavor. Their woodburning oven is on wheels for easy transport to some of the street corners and farmers markets they frequent as well as the evening bar crowd.


Simply great pizza

last cocktail-0183

Last cocktail of the evening

So last but not least on my trek was to have a cocktail from Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. It was called a blood and sand that was made from Glenrothes Select Reserve whiskey, orange juice, Cinzano and cherry liqueur. The drink was a perfect way to cap off a wonderful evening filled with great food interesting people and the ambiance of San Francisco as a backdrop for the entire event.

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Entry from PCH

Vital Zuman – Since 1954

It is rare to come across a sustaimable farm in LA County so near to the coast, but we made the discovery. On one of my road trips to the local wineries with my business partner Helen, we stumbled upon this gem of a farm called Vital Zuman on PCH in Malibu.

Alan the owner of Vital Zuman. Family owned since 1954

Alan, the owner of Vital Zuman.

We went in to see what it was all about and it is amazing.  The farm has been in existence since 1954! We met Alan the owner who is a wealth of knowledge of both the native and cultivated plants on his property.  He can tell you the nutritional value of most of his crops. His growing season is year round thanks to the good climate in Southern California.

Vital Zuman farm stand

Vital Zuman farm stand

Alan’s parents bought the property in the early 50’s and always kept it a chemical-free agricultural zone. Vital Zuman sits on 6 beautiful acres, the soil has a rich dark color that exudes the full compliment of nutrients that make any plant thrive.

The farm stand has an eclectic bohemian feel. The staff is knowledgeable and willing to go out and pick items for you.

VZ gardenIn October we can expect a wonderful array of greens, lettuces and still some heirloom tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Squash of all sorts are also available. One interesting discovery that Alan introduced me to were the Rangpur limes that look like clementine tangerines but definitely taste like limes with a wonderful sweet rind.

A variety of squash

A variety of squash

I will be using these gems in the dessert that I am preparing for our October 24th fundraiserVital Zuman squash is truly divine with varieties such as spaghetti, butternut, zucchini and kuri. They also grow wonderful figs and stone fruit when in season.

Vital Zuman is a gem to visit and the product is very fresh and tasty too!

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I signed up for the Visa Signature sponsored event at Beso for Foodbuzz and was one of the ones who got to go. I decided to do some research on the net about Beso and didn’t find much that was positive. This made me skeptical but never having been there I went with an open mind and an empty stomach. Wednesday evening, September 9th, finally came.  I pulled up to a nondescript building that almost looked like one of the abandoned ones on Hollywood blvd.  I went in the large black wooden doors into a dark cavernous dining room.  The Hostess greeted me and pointed me in the right direction, where I found the other Foodbuzz bloggers mingling.rico-2836-2

I was greeted by Dorian Asch, assistant editor of Foodbuzz, who introduced me to some of the other bloggers.  Michael, from South Bay Foodies, and I talked about the foodie fights battle kohlrabi & rosemary, we were both in the same competition and we talked about the competition amongst other things. Dorian handed me my Sangria which was not as sweet or fruity as some that I have had in the past. It had just the right balance of red wine with a hint of sweetness and citrus flavor from the fruit. I enjoyed it very much.

Shooting Flatbread

Shooting Flatbread

A bit later we were escorted the the long table which was nicely set with menu and wine glasses ready.  The service was wonderful.  My Sangria glass was never empty throughout the starter course which included – Avocado Guacamole with corn chips and  Artichoke Guacamole with za’tar chips, basically corn chips with za’tar spice. The Sangria went well with the two of these. I was seated next to Nancy, Food Stylist extraordinaire from FoodArt , Dorian on the other side, Wendy the engineer who loves baking from Pink Stripes, across from me the team of Krissy and Daniel from Food Addicts and next to Nancy was Esi from Dishing Up Delights .

What a great group of people. It’s kind of funny, I almost feel like I’m breaking people’s anonymity writing this blog like I am outing them from the bloggosphere and screaming I have seen you and know what you look like. It’s more than just words and photos, blogs are people.  What a concept. I know to some of you it may seem obvious but there is always that realization when you meet people from the virtual world whether from TV, movies or blogs etc… there is that reality factor that finally hits you. That it’s not all make believe and that real people are behind these electronic devices that put words and images in front of up.

Ok enough of a transgression.  The tables were long and those I just described were in my immediate sphere of influence for most of the meal. Then there was Adam from LAFoodies, we talked a bit about Hell’s kitchen and cooking. He’s a gregarious guy, going  around to everyone there handing out his blogger card.  Blogger cards, another great idea, it never occured to me to have a blogger card.  A card that announces to the world that I too am a blogger, please read the stuff I post and look at my photos. I am one of a select thousands of food bloggers who have discovered this wonderful thing and want to share it with the world. It’s great to hang out with bloggers especially food bloggers the conversation never dies.

Margarita Flatbread

Margarita Flatbread

OK so back to the meal. The server comes around and pours the Grenache “Gran Feudo” Bodegas Julian Chivite, this was my signal to stop drinking Sangria.  Shortly after that the appetizers were served, Taqueria tasting – steak, ahi tuna, plantain, chicken adobo and fish, Shrimp and chorizo flatbread harissa, queso fresco, mexican crema, and Margarita flat bread – spicy tomato sauce, queso fresco and cilantro.  The plates went down and the cameras came out, everyone had their take for each dish. I try to shoot everything natural light so I was moving the candles around the table to get as much light on each thing as I could to get a shot. Less than perfect but a reproduction that works. The wine had a crisp slightly fruity flavor it paired well with the appetizers. I had the chicken taco which was a bit dry but tasty none the less, the flat breads were good the flavors came through nicely.  After some more stories from Nancy about food styling and the shows that she has and is working on there was the discussion of the difference between baking and cooking, baking being a science and requiring patience and delayed gratification whereas cooking is more from the gut using a mixture of flavors and cooking methods to come up with something new. It doesn’t require the exacting measurements of baking.  Two different disciplines both to be admired. In addition the conversation had to inclue  some reality tv talk thrown in for good measure.

Seared Diver Scallop

Seared Diver Scallop

The next course came out which was the Pescado – Seared diver scallop with oxtail rosti, roasted beet pico, carmelized fennel and horseradish this was served with Albarino, Don Olegario. From what I can recall about the wine it had a nice flavor crisp that paired well with the scallop. The scallop was cooked perfectly, I could taste everything except the oxtail, perhaps they forgot to put it on the plate, the textures and flavors went very well together. The sweetness of the scallop was offset by the horseradish crema and carmelized fennel it was definitely one of my favorites of the evening.

The evening had a leisurely pace to it, which I found very nice and relaxing. As the evening wore on the restaurant filled up. Seated behind us was Eva Longoria with her friends at a long table. There was some private party going on in the upstairs “special” room. Not sure what it was but it’s reserved only for super VIP’s.  Time for the Entree’s the white wine glasses were scooped up and the red was being poured which was a Malbec “Bonardo” (organic), La Posta.  It was ok but nothing worth noting. I love Malbec and this one was kinda dull.

Chili Rubbed Skirt Steak, Roasted Jidori Chicken, Beso Paella

Chili Rubbed Skirt Steak, Roasted Jidori Chicken, Beso Paella

The entree’s were Chili Rubbed Skirt Steak with tortilla fattoush, Roasted Jidori Chicken breast – aji-oregano rub, heirloom tomato, cornbread panzanella, crispy Maui onion on top, and finally the Beso Paella – saffron rice, lobster, roasted chicken, shellfish and chorizo.  This is my kind of entree buffet.  The skirt steak was out of this world wonderful flavor cooked medium rare and worked well with the wine. The chicken skin was crispy which was enhanced by the crispy Maui onion it was moist and tasty. I love Paella and when I saw this come out

Eva Longoria, Dorian Asch, The GM of Beso and

Ryan Stern, Dorian Asch, Eva Longoria, The GM of Beso

I was excited. The rice could have had a bit more flavor perhaps it just needed a bit more salt to bring out the saffron taste in the rice, I also prefer my Paella to have more of a seafood flavor that being said I liked it better than the chicken.  It was good the seafood cooked well and the flavors blended together nicely. All in all the entrees were great.

Greg from Sippitysup

Greg from Sippitysup

So, after this it was time to see what was happening at the other end of the tables.  I went over and introduced myself  and met up with Greg from Sippitysup and Abby from Pleasure Palate and Ken and Annalise with no blogs and I think that Barbara from Table Conversation was there as well. We were all just yaking up a storm about the meal blogging and the upcoming Foodbuzz event in November.  Several us will be going so it’s nice that I will recognize someone at the event. The scallop, skirt steak and paella were the best dishes. Dessert was served some sort of cheese cake and a nutter butter dessert and churros.

Cheesecake, bloggers photographing Churos, Nutter Butter

Cheesecake, bloggers photographing Churos, Nutter Butter

They were all good however there is nothing like the fresh churros that are made on Olvera Street.  At the end Eva Longoria stopped by the table to say hi to everyone.  She was very nice and appreciative of us coming to her restaurant. All in all it was a great evening, meeting new people eating good food and being in Hollywood, a town that I like visiting and I have fond memories of.

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_DSC2242-3I am an omnivore in the truest sense of the word.  I will eat almost anything and certainly try anything at least once.  So when I recently befriended Mandy Unruh, the baking queen, she proceeded to tell me about her baking adventures and that she is particularly interested in vegan baking.  I admit that I was skeptical and when she told me that she also baked non-vegan delights I was relieved.  I have tasted a variety of vegan cookies and quite frankly have been unimpressed.  Most tasted like cardboard or lacked any depth of flavor or the texture was off in some way or another.  She and I spoke about a variety of things culinary and I could tell that she was passionate about food. She’s not a vegan, another relief, and has a passion for food and flavor that she explores on her blog and with her experimenting.   We decided to carpool to the recent Western Food Service and Hospitality Expo in San Diego.  I would drive and she would bake.  It sounded like a good deal to me.  She asked me what I liked and I told her chocolate chip cookies which was uneventful so I just said to make what she felt like and I’d eat it.  I like culinary surprises I love going to restaurants and having the tasting menu. If I know the chef then it’s even better when they just send out courses of what ever the chef feels like which makes things more adventurous.  So the deal was struck and Monday morning arrived.

I picked up Mandy and she had a little goodie bag filled with 3 different types of vegan cookies.  I thought to myself if she can make vegan cookies taste good then I’m sure that anything else she makes will be great. She handed me one of her almond coconut macaroons.  It was a small bite sized dome-shaped cookie that looked similar to a thumbprint cookie.  I bit into it and there was a rush of complex flavors. The texture was firm and a bit chewey.  She used almond meal mixed with the coconut.  The almond flavor hits me first reminding me of Viennese butter cookies that my grandmother used to make which incorporated almond meal to give it a nutty flavor.   Next came the coconut flavor and texture blending with the almonds to create a nutty symphony of flavor at the finish accompanied with a bit of crunch from some small almond bits.  Wow I said, this doesn’t taste like any vegan cookie that I have ever tasted. It was delicious and complex.

I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for the restaurant show since I knew that we were going to eat and drink our way through sampling different offerings from various vendors.  On our way back home it was time to sample the other two delights that she brought with her.  At this point I knew that she had something.  She handed me a lemon star cookie. _DSC2240-2 It had a nice soft moist cookie texture.  At first bite you taste cookie dough and as you chew a burst of lemon begins to grow in your mouth, not fake lemon but fresh picked lemon almost like a meyer lemon. I never knew you could get so much lemony goodness out of a cookie. It was not overpowering and the flavor stayed with me for a bit after I had finished the cookie.  Next she handed me one of her chocolate chip cookies made with vegan chocolate chips the texture was similar to the lemon star cookies soft and cakey but this time the chocolate flavor burst out instead of the lemon. What a wonderful treat to have these cookies that were full of flavor yet not over sweetened, just the right balance of flavor for any palate to enjoy be it vegan or not. I’m thinking if she can create cookies this good that are vegan I can only imagine what she can make that is not. Mandy you are the Vegan Baking Goddess.

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