Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Long Weekends In California Rock

Hello, nice to see you again :)

So let's see, at this point I've lived in California for over a year and a half. And in this native east-coaster’s humble opinion, the beauty of long weekends in California (besides...all that sun) is there are always fun and myriad options of where to go and what to do just a short road trip away. Here are some basic examples of what I'm talking about:

1) If you’re in the north, go south to LA or north to Oregon

2) If you’re in the south,
a) go south to San Diego & Mexico or b) go north to San Fran & wine country

That’s what I did this past President’s Day weekend (#2b). What a great trip! I was graciously introduced to the bounty of the California breadbasket, where much of our country’s produce is grown. Here are some special things I was able to experience just over a week ago:
  • A drive through Castroville, home of artichokes, the giant artichoke (a globular statue) and restaurants that serve artichoke fries and fried artichoke hearts galore
  • Gilroy, home of garlic and the first place I ever tried garlic-stuffed olives
  • Olallieberry Pie (yes, this is a berry!) in Watsonville, along with the juiciest, tastiest strawberries, and the birthplace of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider
  • Yummy Marini’s salt water taffy and the Giant Dipper (a fantabulous rollercoaster, not an ice cream cone like I first thought) at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
  • Humble wild salmon (for the menu did not list this as wild) and the freshest steamed artichoke at the Jay Leno-touted The Whole Enchilada restaurant in Moss Landing
Truly a foodie’s dream, this part of the world. Thanks, host Neil!

On another day we (Neil, Nick & Rachael) drove up to San Francisco and stopped in at… don’t be surprised when I tell you… The Ferry Building!... after which back in the car we sampled Recchiuti rose caramels, fleur de sel caramels, sesame nougat and the new, seasonal Champagne truffle made with 2001 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. SO GOOD.

If that wasn't enough to blow my foodie mind, we then drove north to beautiful Sonoma in search of a great meal, and it was certainly found!

But first...en route to Sonoma we stopped at Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace. Wow. Not only are the grounds exceptionally regal in the “oh yeah we’re in wine country now” way (see photo above); inside there are endless jars of pestos, jams, marinades, etc. and each is open for tasting (and imminent purchasing, you know because it isn’t every day you come across cilantro pumpkin seed pesto). This was a good thing.

So, we arrived in lovely downtown Sonoma. It reminded me of Santa Fe a little, with the big town square. And off of the town square and down a quaint little pedestrian lane was LaSalette, our dinner destination. This is a family-owned and operated restaurant specializing in Cozinha Nova Portuguesa, a.k.a. “contemporary, inventive Portuguese cuisine.” It was my first official foray into this cuisine, and I will tell you I can’t wait to get back to Sonoma and LaSalette. The restaurant is warm and charming, with great service and authentic, exciting food preparations that were all over-the-top delicious.

Here is what we ordered:

Portuguese White Wine Flight - (3 oz. pour of each) Muralhas Vinho Verde, Quinta Do Casal Branco, & Campolargo (the Campolargo was our fave so we ordered a bottle with dinner)

As a starter we shared:

Fresh Portuguese rolls and butter (so soft, so good!!)
Portuguese Cheese and Charcuterie Plates, 5 items
1) Queijo do Topo, cows-milk, semi-hard, sharp with house-made quince paste!
2) Queijo Fresco, house-made farmers cheese with house-made tomato jam!
3) Sardine Pate, house-made with onion, garlic and Piri-Piri
4) Linquica, traditional Portuguese home style sausage
5) Chourico, dry Portuguese pork and garlic sausage

For four of us, three entrees were enough:

1) Bacalhau, traditional baked casserole of salt cod, potatoes, onions and olives
2) Cataplana de Marisco, our signature seafood and white bean stew served in a copper bowl
3) Feijoada Completa, Brazilian national dish of stewed beef, pork, smoked sausage and black beans, accompanied by herbed rice, collard greens and traditional condiments

Then for dessert:

Arroz Doce, Lasalette Azevedos special recipe for Portuguese rice pudding garnished with a light caramel sauce with dried figs

Mmm mmm. While it is true that all the dishes were outstanding, the Feijoada was my favorite. It’s also important to note the items (rice, greens, salsa) that came with this dish were not mere sidekicks but bold co-stars with the Feijoada itself.

Saveur magazine did an article in issue #66, April/May 2003 about Feijoada from Brazil, however if I ever attempt this at home I’ll be more likely to try the recipe from Time/Life Foods of the World Cookbook: The Cooking of Spain and Portugal. And when I do that, there should be enough for sharing so I’ll let you know ;)

Until we eat again,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Food Markets in LA: Ethnic and...Trader Joe's?

Happy Valentine's Day!
So, what do ethnic markets and Trader Joe's have in common you may ask? A lot! Both offer unique food items that taste great and are also affordable. It's that simple.

You should know that before coming to LA, an excursion to Trader Joe's was like a trip to Disneyland for me. I had to travel far to find one, and when I finally got there the lines were very long! It only got worse when Manhattan's 1st Trader Joe's opened in Union Square a few years ago. The line ran down 1.5 city blocks, you know, those long vertical blocks, outside, in the cold and snow?! Damn city living. And the line inside was so long it snaked around the entire circumference of the store. I bought my food in 10 minutes and waited 45 minutes to pay -- add another 45 minutes on 2 subways home and my frozen items were no longer frozen. I stopped shopping at TJ's at that time, and then I moved here (ok so the impetus to move is not entirely related).

These days, in the land of Trader Joe's freedom, I not only have many TJ's to choose from, BUT once you find one there are pretty short lines. And because this is LA--the land of fantastic, authentic ethnic food--there are also a handful of ethnic markets that have so far beguilingly tempted me to visit. Therefore, a handful of ethnic markets I like, and one farmer's market too, are listed below. Below that, my favorite items from Trader Joe's in case you didn't know...

1. SOME ETHNIC MARKETS IN LA (and what I like about them)
a) Grand Central Market - dried chiles, best selection of fresh made moles I've ever seen + many Latin American food stalls
b) Liberio Markets (best location Pico & Alvarado) - fresh Mexican cheeses, fresh & dried peppers, beans, corn meals, sodas
c) Papa Cristos - all things Greek + a restaurant next door
d) Simpang Asia - Indonesian & Malaysian sauce mixes (ie. to make green curry chicken or beef rendang), candies, snacks, spices + a café next door
e) Koreatown Galleria Supermarket (in the basement) - great produce dept with exotic fruits & veg, Korean sauces & spices, seafood, hot prepared foods, cookies, enough kimchi to feed a small city + Koreatown fried chicken café
f) Mitsuwa Marketplace (Centinela & Venice) - great selection of Japanese food items, candies, large Pocky assortment + food stalls
g) Santa Monica Farmer's Market - a great outdoor farmer's market with a view of the Pacific, it runs several days a week

  • Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Vinaigrette*
  • Spicy Thai Style Peanut Salad with Chicken*
    (*please note, before TJ's I was eating Lean Cuisines daily for lunch and for the discovery of TJ entrée salads at $3.50 a pop I am forever grateful)
  • Unique Beer Selection - ie. Full Sail LTD batch 01 limited edition lager... in fact this listing is a bit of a tease, 'cause they already ran out
  • Charles Shaw Wine - you know, "2 Buck Chuck," not to be confused with lame Dane Cook/Jessica Alba film "Good Luck Chuck"
  • Wisconsin Cheese Curds - including instructions on how to get them to squeak (I'm not kidding)
  • Applewood Bacon - the fancy stuff served in restaurants!
  • Tarte d'Alsace Pizza (in the green box) - I'm telling you it's as good as I had in Alsace
  • Double Creme Brie Cheese - there are about 3 kinds they sell, and one of them is perfection, it's a blue/red label I think? Sorry, I wish they sold only one kind
  • Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips - addictive!!
  • Cilantro Roasted Pecan Dip - great paired with the above
  • The new-to-me-and-haunting Artichoke and Parmesan Dip - also fab when paired with the above
  • Salsa Kit - sold in the produce section
  • The new "Tortilla Chips with an Identity Crisis" - made with corn, brown rice and potatoes, odd at first taste but now loving it
  • Spanokopita Triangles
  • Blister Peanuts (salted)
  • Peanut Butter Zbar - a Clif Bar for kids, yes I already wrote to Clif to say they should be made a tad larger and sold for adults because it's not as sweet as other bars and has a nice, soft texture
  • and much much more that I don't know about yet!
Of course there are gripes for Mr. T. Joe's too, like they don't carry good tonic, have limited toiletry items, no maple-flavored yogurt for sale or baking ingredients or roasted chickens in a bag for $5 like at Ralph's, plus their Chinese Chicken Salad that is sold in two varieties (the noodles are different in each?) leaves a lot to be desired. BUT, isn't the Gripe List not what this blog entry is about? Isn't today's entry about food loving? You know, because it's Valentine's Day, and food is love and all that? Yes, it is, so please forget you ever read this paragraph, or just read it tomorrow :)

So, if you know of any other great LA ethnic markets or feel I've lost out on more Trader Joe's food love because I don't know about one particular item or another, please let me know via comment!

Until we eat again,