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:

Ingredients

*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,

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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!

Bouchon, Beverly Hills

By Krista,

My fingers were cramped up from crossing them the entire month of October. I was hoping for an on-target opening date for Bouchon to sync up with my birthday. And contrary to common restaurant opening delays, Keller’s establishment actually pulled it off, opening it’s doors on November 18 as promised. After some intense stretching, my hands were fork-ready.

I attended the celebrity-studded opening as a sort of pre-party for my birthday meal, and though the various hour d’ ourvres were better than most, what really had me gushing were the pastries, breads and massive tyred dessert station (the macarons put Paulette to shame, for the record). As it turns out, this was a pretty good indicator of how my dinner played out.

We started with freshly baked epi baguettes, baked in the shape of an olive branch, which came with salty herbed butter, giving the bistro a traditional Parisian kiss–and a good reason to ruin your appetite. The foie gras terrine served with little soldiers of toast and a side of sea salt was silky, earthy and unctuous–just the sort of sinful treat one should savor on a special occasion. And the house-cured olives, whose dark, meaty texture was accentuated by preserved lemon and plenty of thyme, were as good as any souk in Morocco.

But the honeymoon was over when my lamb came luke-warm at best, and served on a bed on intensely over-salted chard (mind you, this is coming from someone who adores a smattering of salt and seasoning). My partner’s steak frites–ordered medium rare–was cooked with a nice seer, but again was a bit saline and certainly nothing to write home about.  It wasn’t the worst violation of the palate, but it certainly wasn’t what I’d waited months for.


Dessert, however, was an entirely different story. As luck would have it, we were seated next to George Lynch of Dokken, who we’d been eying throughout night, as the entire menu was whisked out to clutter their tiny bistro table ( compliments of the chef, I’m sure). He and his wife had their fill by dessert, so we got to sample a few of theirs.

Il Flotante, a delicate sugared cloud of a meringue-meets-panna cotta topped with praline brittle shaped like little sails, swam in a shallow soup of salted caramel and cream. Absolute perfection, and at the moment I’m hard pressed to recall a better dessert.

Then, of course, there were the dense, brownie-like bouchons to cork off the meal, as well as a zingy lemon tart with a perfect, flaky crust, and a creme caramel that put all it’s predecessors to shame.

So, would I go back to Bouchon? For dinner, if you’re buying.  Now if there was an outpost of Bouchon Bakery attached, you certainly wouldn’t have to ask twice. What can I say? I love carbs.

For more photos visit my Flickr pool >>>

Comida Bandidas visit Mo Chica

By Krista,

All too often, I hear women complaining that they don’t have enough girl friends. We all move along after college, get too busy with work, life and boyfriends and seem to lose touch with our close girls. So, I thought it would be fun to get a group of ladies together every month or so to sample some new worldly cuisine, sharing each other’s friendship and a love of exploring the unknown. It’s an open supper club called the Comida Bandidas (Food Bandits), and we are going through the alphabet A-Z (hopefully a few times over).
We started with food from the Andes, and what better place than the already-popular Mo Chica. The Peruvian fare was not at all what I expected. Initially I thought it would just be an extension of the majority of Latin American food, spiked with citrus, cilantro and tomato.
 Pork belly over plantains–made a great carnitas-style taco lunch a few days later!
La Causa: Confit garlic, sun dried tomatoes, avocado mouse and olive aoli (sounds more Italian than Peruvian, no?)

What stuck out to me was the use of really creamy sauces, and subtle heat that’s more similar to Indian curries than Mexican serranos. I was also taken aback by the use LOTS of corn, sun dried tomatoes and nori, an element taken from the strong Japanese and Chinese influence in Peru.

Carapulcra, traditionally made with camel meat but here done with fish/pork
A really hearty wintertime dish; As Melissa said, “That’s substantial!”

Ricardo’s  tasting menu was really unique, and I’d definitely return for a lunch. Dinner, however was a bit odd–El Mercado La Paloma was pretty barren when we were there. And considering it’s ladies’ night, we’ll have to go somewhere with some cocktails.

Corn nuts, which would have been great with a pisco sour 🙂
Maracuya Susprio: Passion fruit mouse with Chantilly creme

Comida Bandidas (and a few strapping bandidos!)

–Krista Simmons

Let’s hear it for New York…

By Krista,


I’ve got a giddy-little-school-girl-crush on New York City.  Last week, we had a three day bi-coastal love affair, and now that I’m back to sucking up smog in LA, I’m craving just one…more…night…

Sure the trash-lined streets and stinky subways were irksome at times, but the late-night last calls (4 a.m. what!) and amazing eateries sure made up for lost ground.

Being my first trip to NYC, I wanted to keep it classic, so we stayed at the stunning New York Palace. Thanks to a hookup from a concierge friend of mine, we were able to stay at a really reasonable rate.  The customer service was impeccable, and the location was ideally central for my partner and I, who were first time visitors. The only minor complaint I had was that one of the concierges improperly informed us of the dress code at wd~50, which was much more casual than they advised us. Dress shirt and jeans would work for a guy, so Aaron’s suit and my stilettos were a bit much.

That was for the best though: I was dressed to impress for my chance meeting with one of my chef-idols, Wylie Dufrense. I  nearly had a heart attack when I saw him running wd~50’s kitchen (Aren’t celeb chefs supposed to be off jet setting, recording TV series or something?). Naturally, I coaxed the manager to let me sneak a peek into the kitchen and take a pic with him. I had too–the tasting menu at wd~50 deserved a handshake.

The man is nothing short of genius: Two of my favorite molecular creations of the night–and of my life for that matter–were the cold fried chicken with tabasco reduction, ricotta mashed potatoes and caviar and the panna cotta, whose dehydrated crushed cranberry casing reminded me of Captain Crunchberries, a cereal I had to sneak at friend’s sleepovers due to my mom’s obsession with sugar-free cerail.

Each course of the tasting menu was a little guilty pleasure that tapped into childhood memories and sensory reflections of meals past. It was an experience that will be kept in the vault of my memory bank for years to come

Wylie’s wacky cuisine was the furthest away from classic we veered though. Some of the other ridiculously delicious NY goodies I sampled included Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin (phenomenal seafood), McSorley’s Old Ale House, Katz’s famous combo pastrami/corned beef reuben, Esse Bagel, Carnegie’s pastrami, and of course the ubiquitous dirty water dog.

Here are some shots of my favorite dishes. If you’re still hungry, check out my Flickr gallery of NY.

Fluke sashimi from Le Bernardin with crispy kimchee and citrus soy
Classic NYC pretzel from street vendor
2 for 1 ale at McSorley’s Old Ale House, established 1854

View from the New York Palace
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which we could see form our hotel window
Two amazing artists’ work at the Met

Wading my way into the blogosphere

By Krista,

I’m shocked it took me this long. Really, for a girl who grew up writing herself to sleep, finding nothing more enticing than a clean sheet of paper and a jelly pen, I should have jumped on the blogging bandwagon a long time ago. That’s not to say I haven’t danced around with the idea. I’ll admit, there’s a certain “come hither” about the blogger culture: the underground community, the up-to-the-minute updates, the thrill of a new reader, the ability to actually track just what people like to read and what they absolutely despise.

So what’s been stopping me? Well, first off I’m a control freak. I’m a journalist by trade, and what I write and shoot is precious to me. The idea of sitting down, pouring out my thoughts and– without having so much as an editor to taking a pass–pressing publish, opening myself up to a flurry of commentary is frightening. There are other reasons too: time, stressing over templates not being perfect, fear that I’d become one of  those pesky kids bringing the newspaper business to it’s grave (By the way, that’s malarky. It’s not bloggers, it’s old white men in leather chairs being too stubborn to change that will cause this ship to sink).

So instead of stressing out about what this all means, I’ve decided to JUST RELISH. To savor, write, shoot and share the things that I love–traveling, eating and exploring–hopefully making the world a brighter place somewhere in between.  If no one reads it, so what? It will be like what I’ve kept since I was 5 years old: a diary. Except this time, there’s no lock and key. This is me. Uncensored, unedited and evolving. Thanks for sharing in the experience.