Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Goy's Guide to Passover from an Honorary Jew

CakeWrecks Sassover

Quick: why is this Passover cake a fail in more ways than one? No clue? Read on, my Gentile friend.

Yesterday marked the beginning of Passover, the eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The traditions observed during the holiday encourage the Jewish people to reflect on and, to a degree, relive the history of their ancestors to better appreciate their experiences. Justin often jokes that Jewish holidays revolve around eating and drinking under the guise of religious observance, and food and wine certainly play a starring role during Passover. If you're headed to a Seder tonight and are looking for a goy's guide to the holiday, this honorary Jew has covered the basics for you:

The Hebrew term for Passover. The word means to pass through or over, symbolizing God passing over and sparing Jewish households during the slaying of the firstborn in Egypt.

Perhaps the most significant observance during Passover is the elimination of chametz, or leavened grains, which commemorates the fact that the Jews fleeing Egypt did not have time to allow their bread to rise. Goodbye, carbs. Anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after first coming into contact with water is considered chametz and is not eaten during Passover. Some families even clear their homes of all chametz (and do a thorough cleaning any surface that may have come into contact with it) leading up to the holiday. Full disclosure: my Hawaiian shortbread cookies are still in our cupboard. Depending on someone's ethnic origins, they may also avoid rice, corn, and legumes, which are grown and/or processed near chametz. These items are referred to as kitniyot. Symbolically, the practice also encourages one to remove the puffiness (i.e. arrogance) from their lives--a little dose of Jewish guilt for when people are feeling sorry for themselves and missing bread.

Ah, matzoh. These cracker-like unleavened sheets of bread take the place of chametz during Passover. If you begin to opine that matzoh "isn't that bad," you will annoy everyone at the table who will invariably be sick of the stuff in two days.

The Seder:
The focal point of Passover is the Seder, a fifteen-step family tradition and dinner observed on the first two nights of the holiday (i.e. this is where you come in, Gentile). During the Seder, someone will read from the Haggadah, a liturgy that tells the story of the exodus from Egypt and explains the symbols and practices of the holiday. See? Instructions are built-in! Follow along and you'll be fine. Bonus: you get to drink four glasses of wine. You know, to commemorate freedom.

The Seder Plate:
Each item on the Seder plate has a symbolic meaning relevant to the Passover story. 

Seder Plate

*Shankbone (Zro'a): A roasted shankbone symbolizes the lamb that the Jews sacrificed as a special Passover offering before their exodus.

*Egg (Beitzah): A hard-boiled egg represents the traditional offering at the temple in Jerusalem that was required on every holiday. The roundness of the egg also symbolizes the cycle of life-- even in the most difficult of times, there is hope for a new beginning. In the words of Rust Cohle...time is a flat circle.

*Bitter Herbs (Maror): Bitter herbs such as horseradish serve as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery.

*Charoset: This mixture of apples, nuts and wine represents the mortar used by the Israelite slaves as they constructed buildings for the Pharaoh and is delicious.

*Karpas: A green vegetable, usually parsley, that represents the initial flourishing of the Israelites during their first years in Egypt. During the Seder, the karpas is dipped in either salt water or vinegar in order to taste both the hope of new birth and the tears the Israelite slaves shed over their strife.

*Hazeret: A second bitter herb-- to really drive home the bitterness/suffering point. Like how your friend's mom keeps nudging him to find a nice Jewish girl.

So, what do I bring?:

Matzoh Ball Soup

If you really want to dazzle your hosts, I recommend contributing this Matzoh Ball Soup, which yields fluffy matzoh balls and was the perfect appetizer to my and Justin's dinner last night. If you have a sweet tooth, this Almond-Coconut Berry Tart (to which I added a layer of chocolate) has a special place in my heart. Early in our relationship (six years ago!), Justin invited me to celebrate Passover with him and, after some clueless Googling of the holiday and burning myself in one of my first ever attempts at baking, I showed up with this dessert, which he says is the moment he fell in love with me.

There are many finer points and details about the holiday (it is eight days, after all), but, if you're simply looking for an overview and not to embarrass yourself during your friend's/boss'/neighbors'/new significant other's Seder, you should be all set. Chag sameach!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Faith and Flower

The glamour of the Gilded Age and the Roaring '20s has been revived at Faith and Flower, downtown LA's newest hot ticket. The restaurant is a collaboration between restaurateur Stephane Bombet (who opened Mo-Chica, Picca, and Paiche with Ricardo Zarate) and David Bernahl and Rob Weakley of Coastal Luxury Management (Restaurant 1833 and Cannery Row Brewing Company in Northern California; Rose.Rabbit.Lie in Las Vegas; LA Food and Wine Festival). In the kitchen are executive chef Michael Hung, former chef de cuisine at La Folie, and pastry chef Ben Spungin, formerly of French Laundry. With this team behind the restaurant, my dining partner Justin and I were particularly excited about this one.

Faith and Flower

Faith and Flower

In celebration of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Faith and Flower eschews the spare, modern aesthetic in vogue nowadays in favor of a plush, luxurious look. Sumptuous tufted sofas line the space, beautiful plates sit at the tables and in the entryway hangs a chandelier that would make even Jay Gatsby envious. The decor also pays homage to downtown LA's historical entertainment ties: the host stand is the original ticket booth from a downtown theater, and one of the doors forming a feature wall is from one of Bob Hope's dressing rooms. You can keep your concrete floors and exposed Edison bulbs; I absolutely adored this space.

Faith and Flower

Faith and Flower

Behind the bar is mixologist Michael Lay, who has previously worked with Coastal Luxury Management at Restaurant 1833 and Rose. Rabbit. Lie. The cocktail program features both updated takes on throwback drinks as well as original recipes.

Faith and Flower

Stormy Phosphate at Faith and Flower

The Stormy Phosphate with Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum, lime gum, acid phosphate, and house-brewed ginger beer was fizzy with a nice ginger kick.

English Milk Punch

The English Milk Punch was made with Smith & Cross, Appleton and Barcardi Rums, Bulleit Bourbon, Battavia Arack, Pernod Absinthe, pineapple, sencha tea, and milk clarification (a process that takes three days). The complex but deceptively simple-looking drink was incredibly smooth and balanced-- our favorite of the night.

Angel's Flight at Faith and Flower

The refreshing Angel's Flight combined Denizen's Rum, yuzu, and palm sugar and was finished with a keffir lime leaf.

Deviled Jidori Eggs at Faith and Flower

Properly boozed up, we began with a plate of Deviled Jidori Eggs in which deviled eggs were spiced up with a cap of kimchi and sprinkling of Korean chili.

Spring Garlic Soup at Faith and Flower

One of the evening's standout bites arrived next: the Spring Garlic Soup, a creamy, garlicky bowl teeming with confit pork shoulder, yellow wax beans, and the most darling miniature black pepper biscuits. This might just be my new favorite soup in town.

Crushed New Potatoes with Faith and Flower

We enjoyed munching on these creamy Crushed New Potatoes with vadouvan-spiced creme fraiche, which were tender with a few delightfully crispy bites mixed in.

Dungeness Crab Toast at Faith and Flower

Another favorite of the evening was the piquant Dungeness Crab Toast in which chunks of succulent crab, jicama, pickled sea beans, diced avocado and "Green Goddess aioli" were layered upon a slab of thick, crusty toast. No skimping here! Nearly every bite of this refreshing toast yielded a taste of crab.

Braised Boneless Veal Shortrib

The Braised Boneless Veal Shortrib, arriving atop a bed of barley polenta and sweet and sour cabbage, was almost impossibly juicy. The veal's crown of greens nicely brightened up the dish's hearty flavors.

Oxtail Agnolotti at Faith and Flower

My friend Cathy of Gastronomy Blog who'd dined here the night before let me know that the pastas were not to be missed. We heeded her advice and ordered the Oxtail Agnolotti, a plate of pillowy, al dente pasta filled with shredded oxtail and bathed in bone marrow butter. Tangerine salsa and puffs of beef tendon chicharrones set the dish in motion. This inventive rendition of a familiar dish really hit the mark for us.

Eggs Benedict Pizza at Faith and Flower

Our final savory course was the one that most caught my eye-- the Eggs Benedict Pizza, a decadent marriage of bacon strips, eggs, spinach, and hollandaise drizzles atop a chewy, nicely charred crust. This is the perfect dinner indulgence... or hangover cure!

Goat Yogurt Panna Cotta at Faith and Flower

My choice for dessert was the Goat Yogurt Panna Cotta, a crisp, abstract plate of creamy goat's milk panna cotta and icy yuzu granite accompanied by puffed wild rice, honey and laced with bee pollen. I combined a little panna cotta, honey and wild rice in each bite and finished with the granite. Yum.

Stumptown Coffee Bean Creme at Faith and Flower

It was the Stumptown Coffee Bean Creme that called Justin's name, a whimsical plate with dollops of thick coffee creme, star anise meringue, a quenelle of coconut sorbet and shreds of almond sponge. From the pure coffee flavor of the cream to the unique, sponge-like texture of the cake, everything about this dessert was pretty remarkable. 

Faith and Flower is an outstanding addition to the downtown LA dining scene in an area in need of it. If the restaurant is this strong right out of the gate, I can't wait to see what happens next. 

Faith and Flower
705 W. 9th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 239-0642

Faith & Flower on Urbanspoon

*Food and drink were hosted. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Weekend Getaway: South Florida

Last weekend, I jetted to Florida for a quick getaway to sunbathe and celebrate Justin's bubbe's 85th birthday. Justin and I were both overdue for some R&R (doesn't Christmas feel like it was eons ago?), so the timing was impeccable. I was especially excited because I'd never visited Florida and love any vacation spot that allows me to log some beach time. Here's a look at the sights and bites of our stay.

Lago Mar Hotel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

{Sunrise from our balcony at the Lago Mar Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale after our red-eye arrival}

Brazo Fuerte Bakery (Miami, FL)

{El Brazo Fuerte, a 35 year-old Cuban bakery in Miami that consistently tops "Best Of" lists}

Brazo Fuerte Bakery (Miami, FL)

{Guava, Guava and Cream Cheese, and Meat Pastelitos (turnover-like pastries) with an addictive Cafe con Leche. All of this was under $6.00!}

Laduree (Miami, FL)

{A rainbow of macarons at the newly opened Laduree on Miami Beach's Lincoln Road}

Laduree (Miami, FL)

{An art deco-inspired macaron box exclusive to the Miami location}

Laduree (Miami, FL)

{Rose, "Marie Antoinette," Lemon Verbena, Raspberry and Pistachio Macarons}

051713 - checking in (3)

{Lunch at Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm in Miami}

Pomegranate Cucumber Mojito at Florida Cookery (Miami, FL)

{Pomegranate Cucumber Mojito}

Michelada Cubana at Florida Cookery (Miami, FL)

{Michelada Cubana: Tecate, Lime, Maggi, Clamato, Cholula, Salt}

Tostadas at Florida Cookery (Miami, FL)

{Surf and Turf Tostada: Guava Pulled Pork and Lime Jalapeno Shrimp with Papaya Slaw}

Guava Pulled Pork at Florida Cookery (Miami, FL)

{Guava Smoked Pork Sandwich}

Azucar (Miami, FL)

{Azucar Ice Cream Company, artisanal ice cream inspired by Cuban and tropical flavors}

Guava Ice Cream at Azucar (Miami, FL)

{A scoop of tart, refreshing, creamy Guava Ice Cream}

Mai Kai (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

{Mai Kai, a tiki-themed bar and restaurant plus "Polynesian Islander Revue!" It is the only restaurant or bar still serving the original recipes of Don the Beachcomber's.}

Mai Kai (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

Mai Kai (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

{We had a little bit of trouble narrowing down the drink options from their epic menu}

Mai Kai (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

{Tahitian Breeze: Rum, Passion Fruit, Juice}

Mai Kai (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

{Does it get any more tiki than rum in a whole pineapple?}

Mai Kai (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

{Mai Tai}

Happy birthday!

{Above: Justin's bubbe, poised to blow out the candles on her cake after dinner at 3030 Ocean and before her husband yelled, "Give it a blowjob!" Below: After. }

Ft. Lauderdale

{Sunbathing poolside on the last day of our trip}

Ft. Lauderdale

{A walk on the beach}

El Brazo Fuerte
1697 SW 32nd Ave
Miami, FL 33145
(305) 444-7720

1118 Lincoln Rd
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm
1545 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(786) 276-0333

Azucar Ice Cream Company
1503 SW 8th St
Miami, FL 33135
(305) 381-0369

Mai Kai
3599 N Federal Hwy
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
(954) 563-3272

3030 Ocean
Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
3030 Holiday Dr
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
(954) 765-3030

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mid-Week InstaNom: Singapore Sling at POT Bar

Here's your mid-week InstaNom to get you over the hump:

Singapore Sling at POT Bar

At the newly opened POT Bar at the Line Hotel in Koreatown, chef Roy Choi and mixologist Matt Biancaniello have collaborated to create one bad-ass watering hole. From the gold mylar balloons spelling out "POT BAR" on the ceiling to the uni-infused, nori-flecked tequila cocktail on the menu, everything about POT Bar is bold and playful. Biancaniello's cocktail program both breathes new life into 80s drinks like the White Russian and Fuzzy Navel and presents patrons with brash flavors like kimchi- and natto-infused soju. During my visit, I wasn't feeling quite that adventurous, but this fruity Singapore Sling with clove-infused grenadine and colorful flourishes of bitters was just my style.

The Line Hotel
3515 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 368-3030

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Recipe: Ice Cream Sundae with Strawberries, Raspberry Sauce and Toasted Coconut

With Spring just around the corner, some of my favorite fruits are coming into season. Chief among those faves are strawberries and raspberries and now is an excellent time to stock up some gorgeous berries on for a sweet, healthy snack...or an ice cream sundae. I've been making a lot of this Sweet Rose Creamery-inspired ice cream sundae lately and adore the vibrant colors of the homemade raspberry sauce and fresh strawberries. A sprinkling of toasted coconut tops the whole thing off. What better way to celebrate the arrival of warm weather than with a beautiful, seasonal dessert? That was a rhetorical question. There is obviously no better way.

Ice Cream Sundae


Your favorite vanilla ice cream
Shaved coconut, toasted until golden brown
Fresh strawberries

Raspberry Sauce
Approx. 3 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen), divided
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon

To Make:

Raspberry Sauce:
In a medium microwave safe bowl, mix 2 cups raspberries, brown sugar and lemon juice. Microwave uncovered for 4 minutes, then stop and stir and the mixture and then return the bowl to the microwave for another four minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup raspberries to the mixture and stir to combine. Let cool for 15-20 minutes (optional. Full disclosure: I used the sauce warm and loved how it softened the ice cream).

To Assemble:
Generously scoop ice cream into a bowl. Drizzle with raspberry sauce and garnish away with strawberries. Finish with a sprinkling of toasted coconut. Enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2014

POT Cafe

Freshly opened in the lobby of the Line Hotel in Koreatown is POT Cafe, the latest venture from chef and restaurateur Roy Choi (and my culinary spirit animal) with pastry chef and Momofuku Milk Bar alum Marian Mar. Situated in a space in the lobby across from the newly opened POT Bar (a collaboration with mixologist Matt Biancaniello), the cafe was inspired by Korean bakeries like Paris Baguette and 85 Degrees.

POT Cafe

POT Cafe

POT Cafe's impressive menu covers both sweet and savory bites plus coffee, tea, juice, and booze to drink. For a moment, I thought that I might never want to leave.

POT Cafe

Lining POT Cafe's pastry cases were sweet and savory baked goods inspired by Korean bakeries but, of course, informed by Choi's various culinary influences. Nearly everything on the menu is under $5-- perfect for ordering a few goodies to snack on.

POT Cafe

POT Cafe

The cafe also bakes up "Super Cakes," which are homages to grocery store cakes and are available by the slice or in quarter or half sheets. Of course, these are not the grocery store cakes of your childhood; instead, they've been elevated with housemade fillings and jazzed up flavor combinations.

POT Cafe

On my next visit, I absolutely need a slice of this "Hello Kitty Cake," a raspberry cake with raspberry jam, lemon mascarpone cream and a housemade "Cool Whip" whipped cream.

Army Cake at POT Cafe

This "Army Cake" features a salted caramel buttercream yellow cake, vanilla cream, strawberries and "Cool Whip."

Pineapple Ginger Lemongrass Juice at POT Cafe

We began with a Pineapple Lemongrass Ginger juice ($4.00), which was not only refreshing in the 90 degree heat but also held its own against the much pricier trendy juices of which I'm overly fond.

Hurricane Bread and Butter at POT Cafe

The warm Hurricane Bread and Butter ($2.25) arrived freshly toasted and slathered with butter, garlic and shiso furikake. This captured the flavors of Hawaiian "Hurricane Popcorn"on a wonderfully fluffy roll. 

Black Sesame Butter Mochi at POT Cafe

The Black Sesame Butter Mochi Cake ($3.00) was among the pastries I was most excited to try but was the least successful of our visit. Rather than chewy and pliable, the mochi--topped with black sesame paste and streusel crumbles-- was a dense slab. The mochi cake's flavor was spot on, and the texture may stand up better against the toppings than traditional mochi, but I missed the chew of the soft rice cake.

Strawberries and Cream Bun at POT Cafe

The best bite of the afternoon was the Strawberries and Cream Bun ($2.50), a fluffy Korean-style dessert bun hollowed out and filled with fresh strawberries, topped with a generous swirl of cream and finished with streusel crumbs. I loved everything about this simple, gorgeous sweet. 

With POT Cafe's expansive menu, I'll need to be back very soon to try more of their offerings... especially that Hello Kitty cake.

POT Cafe
The Line Hotel
3515 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 381-3030