Tiki throwbacks at 1886 Bar in Pasadena

By Krista,

For my last issue at the Times Community Newspapers, I wrote up a piece about the new tiki cocktails that are featured on the summer menu at 1886 in Pasadena.

Consultant Marcos Tello believes that you’ll be seeing a lot more of these throwbacks on bar menus around town, so keep an eye out.

“I think it’s coming back primarily because it was our last mixological endeavor before the ’60s and ’70s hit and cocktails went dead. If you look at the cycling pattern of throwbacks [being used in modern bars], you’ll see it. First you see pre-Prohibition cocktails, then the post-Prohibition cocktails, and now here we are starting to look at tiki,” he says. “Everything old is new again.”

Considering how fabulous their un-blended piña colada is, that’s a very good thing.

For the full story, read on. >>>

Beef seven ways? How about pork, EIGHT ways!

By Krista,

On a muggy summer evening, five pork-crazed foodies went searching for a challenge. On the prowl for some serious eats, they met at Palsaik Samgyupsal in KTown. Not to be outdone by the Vietnamese tradition of bo 7 mon, this BBQ joint touted pork eight ways.

Sam was the translator and Krista was the pork-cutter. Natassia was tipsy from a prior engagement and Lindsay was nursing a wicked cold. And Esther, well, she had always claimed that she wasn’t the biggest eater. This is a lie. She can hang.

There was Hite Beer, some super-flavorful seafood soup, and an array of banchan. But mostly there was pork. Lots of pork.

After making their way through 8 different flavors of belly, Sam thought it a good idea to order more. “More” being two giant platters piled high with piggy, which, when it arrived, prompted the table to unanimously grumble, “Uh oh…”

The waitress assured them it would be fabulous. She also brought the restaurant’s new smoked pork speciality that they were about to put on the menu. “On the house,” she said.

She asked if they were Yelpers.

They laughed. Fucking Yelpers.

Occasionally said waitress would stop by to scrape caramelized bits of belly off the grill, which was propped up like a Foreman. As the group talked media gossip, slicks of fat slid down into a vat below the table, like Splash Mountain for swine.

The waitress used a square-cut radish skewered by a lollipop stick to clean off the crackly bits that had stuck to the searing hot surface (quite effective!). Periodically she’d remind Krista not to cut the pork herself. (Silly white girl, don’t play with scissors!)

Instruction was big here. In fact, the menus had explicit instructions in fabulously broken English about how to enjoy your pork. And how each flavor of pork was good for something, like digestion or stress. The digestion part was obviously falsified, as the group found about 3/4 of the way through the meal. They were stuffed.

Everyone but Sam and Krista tapped out. Sam is hardcore, so he needed no encouragement. Krista, on the other hand, only stayed afloat due to the waitress introducing her to a technique she hadn’t been employing: using the round slivers of pickled radish as a sort of taco shell.

With a few slices with the diakon as the vessel, she was back in the game. The acid cut the fat perfectly. Her extra life kicked in. Then she discovered the shiso leaf and the raw garlic; paired with the curry pork it was a perfect trifecta.

They rolled out, and agreed to meet again. Soon.

863 S Western Ave., Koreatown; (213) 365-1750

Behind the Scenes: Emmy Awards Governors Ball preview

By Krista,

Emmys, dinner, what celebs eat

Confession: Ever since I was about 7 years-old, I’ve had a dream of having a culinary TV show. It all started with PBS. In between wrapping up my social studies homework and heading to swim practice I’d flip on “Great Chefs, Great Cities,” and “Yan Can Cook.” I was hooked. It was inspiring and utterly fascinating that I could get an intimate glimpse of cultures that I was so far removed from living in San Fernando Valley suburbia.

Fast forward  a few decades, and culinary television has exploded. Now there are multiple channels dedicated to the craft and a multimillion dollar industry to back it.  In fact, last year Top Chef took home their first Emmy.

In years gone by, there wouldn’t have been a reason to invite a food writer to something like an Emmy’s preview party, or even have one for that matter. Yet there I was — along with hordes of other broadcast, digital and print journos — reporting on what the lucky primetime stars would be eating at this year’s Governors Ball. With all the hooplah and cameras, it seemed like what the celebs would be eating was almost as important as what they’d be wearing. (Almost.)

Given the magnitude of the primetime Emmys, it would be nearly unfathomable to sick any catering company aside from Patina on the gig. Joachim Splichal and his talented bunch of professionals have it down to a science, having catered the event on 15 previous occasions.

Patina took the seemingly mundane and added a modern twist to step in line with the “mod illusions” theme. Diners will start out with an heirloom tomato salad from Windrose Farms, then move on to a filet mignon paired with Vermont white cheddar mac and cheese gratin and some rainbow baby carrots.  The plating of each course was whimsical and elegant, utlizing height and negative space quite beautifully. The  variety of color on each plate popped off the backdrop of the black and white tablecloths. Those visual elements paired with the floating floral arrangements really gave the space a Tim Burton-esque feel.

I was, however, taken aback by the fact that they didn’t showcase a vegetarian option for all the vegans/vegos in Hollywood, but I was told by one of the flack that there will indeed be some meatless items. Considring how many stars have posed for PETA lately, they’d better get to work.

But if they are stuck eating just salad and dessert, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Playfully plated dessert medleys or farandole — with all sorts of sweet nibbles like macarons (which were somewhat misshapen for the preview, but I’m sure they’ll work that out), gold flaked brownies and blackberry cream — will be passed around for the third course.  If that isn’t enough sugar to keep everyone up through the daylong event, there will also be cake pops. I know, snore. But honeslty, Patina did something magical with that Duncan Hines mix that made the triple chocolate orange liqueur pop so ooey gooey, it was almost like a molten cake or fudge on a stick.

The pops (and the rest of the preview for that matter) would have gone great with a cup of joe. I have to say it was a massive oversight to not have some sort of espresso, cappuccino, or even some truck stop-style coffee on hand for the swaths of reporters present at the 8:30 a.m. event.

No matter, I’m sure the waiters will take care of me when I get my Emmy. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

[UPDATE, 8/23 at 2: 03 p.m.: PR just informed me that the veg option has been announced: Brentwood corn agnolotti with chanterelles, hazelnuts, scallions and lime brown butter.]

Six Taste reunion at Bun Bun Tea House

By Krista,

Pork burger at Bun Bun Tea House
On a recent Sunday, EstarLA and I met with Jeff and Celeste of Six Taste food tours for an Arcadia reunion, this time to test out the brand new Bun Bun Tea House. A few compadres from our last visit to the SGV weren’t able to make it, but even with a few troops missing, our four top managed to sample some unique eats — and have some great conversation.

Our gang was tipped off to Bun Bun’s opening by the omniscient Sinosoul. We couldn’t resist the idea of authentic Taiwanese-style burgers, sandwhiched not by bread buns, but crispy rice patties. At this small Arcadia cafe, various marinated meats are stuffed between thick, crackly rice cakes that are akin to what you’d find at the bottom of your bibimbap bowl. Sounds brilliant, right?

Unfortunately, having two giant rice patties paired with pork and a fried egg and all the accoutrement proved to be just too much. I could only handle half of my burger. I wish that the buns were more like pancakes — thinner, crispier, and more of a compliment to the meat than something weighing it down. I didn’t even eat breakfast that morning, but still had trouble managing the dish. Also, I found the almond milk tea to be far too sweet and a bit watered down for my tastes.

Now, EstarLA can tell you about my recent obsession with almond milk tea. It’s actually less an of obsession as it is an addiction. I swear on the holy boba gods that there is crack cocaine in that pulverized almond powder that they have at Da Juice Bar. Thankfully, I’m no longer working in Glendale, as my multiple trips per week were becoming borderline embarrassing.
I had high hopes that Estar would deliver me a giant Tony Montana-style mountain of almond milk powder from her recent trip to Taiwan, but she apparently is keeping it to herself. (Like I said: Addiction.)

In the interim I’d created a substitute  that is thankfully quite healthy, blending vanilla protein powder, frozen ripe bananas and almond milk. But I hadn’t yet attempted to make my own tea, in fear of not living up to Da Juice Bar standards.

Jeff said he’d hook it up with some local know-how, so after lunch at Bun Bun we headed over to the Arcadia Market in search of some authentic almond powder. Man, what a mission that was! There was “almond powder,” “almond dessert powder,” “almond drink,” “almond drink powder,” and then a handful of items that resembled what we wanted but contained agar agar or gelatin. I took my chances and finally settled on almond drink powder, even though it had a picture of some gelatin dessert on it.

I’ll report back with results once I muster up the courage to test it out. Hopefully the boba gods will smile upon my endeavors.

Bun Bun Tea House, 651 W Duarte Rd ., Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 446-4168

Spirits of the Times mescal and tequila panel

By Krista,

LA Times Spirits of the Times

From left: Eric Hiss, Krista Simmons and Bricia Lopez

Back in July, the LA Times launched a new series of events dedicated to the art of drinking. (That’s right, my ultimate vice is now considered “creative!”)

For the first installation of Spirits of the Times, the focus was on tequila and mescal, which are certainly having their moment in the local cocktail culture these days. I couldn’t think of anyone better to join me on panel than Oaxacan goddess Bricia Lopez of the Guelaguetza restaurant chain, and Eric Hiss, one of my favorite fine beverage/travel writers in town.

The crowd was buzzing, perhaps due to the profuse amount of Mexican-made spirits in-house at Mas Malo. Eight different exhibitors showed up to pour and preach from the church of agave. Each had their own little booth, where they showcased the spirits in their pure form, as well as in a cocktail. At the end of the day guests were given ballots to vote on their fav. (The recipe for the winning cocktail is listed below.)

Though the acoustics in the historic art deco bank building weren’t quite conducive to an educational panel, the quests who could hear seemed to have fun. Some, including Michael Kirkpatrick of MEK Photo, were even daring enough to try the crispy crickets that Bricia brought to pair with her bootlegged mescal.

Check back later, as I’ll be posting a video of the panel where you can actually hear what we had to say. And remember: Para todo mal, mescal. Para todo bien, tambien. Salud!

The Winning Italian Margarita
1 ¼ oz. Karma Tequila
¾ oz. triple sec
½ oz. pineapple puree
½ oz. homemade sweet and sour
1 squeeze of lemon
handful of diced cucumbers
6 sage leaves

Place the diced cucumbers in the mixing glass, add sweet and sour and muddle. Pour the rest of the ingredients into the mixing glass, shake and serve in a chilled, green sugar-rimmed glass.

Created by Jacopo Falleni of Firenze Osteria, Toluca Lake

Holiday decorating: Using your balls

By Krista,

Sure, jokes about balls might be a bit played out– so much so that our famed local food critic even called for a moratorium on the word– but I just couldn’t keep this easy holiday decoration to myself. It truly is a great way to use your leftover shiny Christmas balls!

On Saturday, I went to a “non-denominational holiday brunch” at Magnolia and was inspired by their creative use these simple ornaments. When I was was left with some remaining ornaments after decorating my tree, I figured I’d take a tip from the Hollywood restaurant and make use of my balls.

Take a clear vase, and stack different colored glass ornaments inside. For traditional vases like this one, it’s best to have balls of different sizes so that the spaces can be filled. (I purchased the smaller purple and silver ones from Target last year for $5/20.) If you have larger balls (Ha! Now you see why Gold is over it.), work with a tall, cylindrical vase, as the gaps won’t be as noticeable.

It’s a simple, affordable centerpiece for the holiday table, and thoughtful way to be sure that your straggler balls don’t feel neglected.

Holiday cocktails: Seriously spiked cider

By Krista,

I’ve always been the kind of cook that works with whimsy, unloading ingredients from my shelves and fridge and tossing them into a pot, allowing alchemy to create something delicious. My current tenure at culinary school is teaching me to veer from my impulsive ways, but on Friday I got back to my roots.

Last week, I sent Aaron off to the grocery store, and he decided to purchase some random booze that I swore off in college: Southern Comfort, Goldschlager and Jägermeister. I poked fun at his frat boy ways, swearing to never let him shop alone again, but it turns out that two out of the three made it into this stellar spiked cider recipe. (Sorry Jäger, you’re still blacklisted.)

By building on basic holiday flavors, I freestyled, adding in a little of this and a little of that.  Turns out Aaron’s shopping misadventure wasn’t so bad after all. And if you really want to warm up in this rainy weather, you can go frat boy style and add an extra shot of SoCo. Here’s how it’s done:


*serves 3

3 cups unfiltered apple juice

2 oz Appleton Rum

1 oz Goldschlager cinnamon liqueur

1 oz Southern Comfort

2 tablespoons Prometheus Springs elixer (This is a mix of lemon and ginger that you can find at Whole Foods. You can also use a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of grated ginger.)

Mulling spices (1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, grated nutmeg, 1 star anise)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Chuck all the ingredients into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. (Don’t let it boil or you’ll start burning off the precious booze!) Turn down the heat and warm for 2 minutes. Serve in colorful holiday mugs, and use a cinnamon stick to garnish if you’d really like to be fancy. Enjoy!

Basic Training: Marrow shooters and awesome osso buco

By Krista,

Over at Brand X, I’m documenting my culinary school experience in a column called Basic Training. This week, I shared a stellar recipe for osso buco. It’s incredibly simple, but the best part is the savory marrow shooter at the end of the meal. Check it out!

Photo credit: Rick Meyer for the Times

Michael Voltaggio exits the Langham’s Dining Room with a "double rainbow, all the way"

By Krista,


Bloggers, critics, fans and “foodies” have tried to wrap words around Michael Voltaggio‘s cuisine. But the only way to truly illustrate his last dinner service at the Dining Room at the Langham is as the culinary iteration of Yosemite Bear’s Double Rainbow.

Throughout the night, I watched my boyfriend melt into his oversize chair, slinking down as he made sounds I’ve never been able to coax out of him. At points I was almost jealous of the taste-gasm that chef Voltaggio was inducing on my man. He just kept whispering, “Oh my god, oh my god!”

The beginning of the end was an amuse bouche of a gougère–which exploded with caviar cream under the weight of my incisors–paired with a tomato lolly that complimented the salinity perfectly. Then there was the futuristic twist on a French classic –- a strawberry yuzu foie gras terrine with arugula sponge cake and minus-8 degree balsamic spheres. “It’s too much!’ Aaron and I both exclaimed, attempting to remain collected as we gushed in the middle of the staid dining room. Then came the Thai-style halibut cheeks with coconut rice, leeks and red curry sauce that took me straight back to Southeast Asia. The fish was so delicate, but the flavor…“It’s so intense!” And then there was the complex, fatty Kurobuta pork belly with bok choi kim chi, sweet potato preserves and peanut butter powder paired with a Japanese ginger beer, which served as Scrubbing Bubbles for the palate.

The Dining Room sang harmonious “oohs” and “aahs” as black-clad servers shuffled dishes to a packed house. Josh Goldman, sommelier and general manager, rocked out unconventional wine, beer and cocktail pairings, taking Voltaggio’s dishes to another level. The pastrami pigeon, for example, worked perfectly with the Duchesse De Bourgogne, a sour cherry-tasting red ale from Belgium.

Just when Aaron was about to start weeping,  it was time for dessert. A clever and colorful potted carrot cake sorbet; an island-style deconstructed baba au rhum; and an array of handmade candies that boasted elements like crackling Pop Rocks and edible wrappers sent us into orbit. Voltaggio pulled out the entire spectrum of sensations, compositions and colors from start to finish.

The meal was a cerebral copulation that left me feeling stimulated and satisfied. I don’t smoke, but I could’ve sucked on a cigarette. YosemiteBear would call it a “double rainbow, all the way!”.  I call it genius.

During their stint at the Dining Room, Goldman and Voltaggio worked as a dynamic duo, feeding off of each others’ creative energy and seemingly innate knowledge of taste. The two will team up on Voltaggio’s upcoming venture which he hopes to open by the end of this year. But “what does it mean?” Voltaggio has been pretty tight-lipped about his plans, but I can’t wait to hear more about what’s next. Something tells me it could “almost be a TRI PLE RAINBOW!”

For my Flickr gallery of the meal, click here>> For a few shots of the afteparty and send off, check out KevinEats.

Peppermint Bark

By Krista,

One of my favorite things to make for holiday parties and gifts is peppermint bark. It’s super easy–only takes about 20 minutes to prepare–and is absolutely gorgeous to put into little cellophane bags with festive ribbons or into a gift basket.

Here’s the recipe I use:
1 large block of Trader Joe’s chocolate (22 oz)
2 bags white chocolate chips
20 drops of Peppermint Extract, available at Whole Foods
6 crushed candycanes
Boil water in a large pasta pot. Sit an aluminum bowl on top, and place the milk chocolate bar, broken into pieces, inside. Melt the chocolate, stirring frequently. Add in 10 drops of peppermint oil. Once all the chocolate is melted, spread onto a rimmed baking sheet using a spatula. The sheet should be lined with either wax paper or aluminum foil creating an even layer.
Clean the bowl and proceed to do the same with the white chocolate chips, this time adding in 2/3 of the crushed candycanes. Once melted, carefully spread on top of the milk chocolate layer using a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining candy canes on top.
To create a marbled look, take a toothpick and drag it through the chocolate, pulling upwards to make the tail of the swirl. Let harden in the fridge for a few hours, then break into large pieces. Don’t stress; Peppermint bark is meant to be in uneven pieces. Voila!