Friday, March 25, 2016

Baking Crusty Bread

I have finally figured out how to make a thick, rich crust on a loaf of bread. The devil, as usual, is in the details. Many recipes talk about putting a few ice cubes into the oven at the start of baking. I find that isn't enough.

Instead, I put a pan of water into the oven when I turn it on. This pan, which is made of cast iron, was close to full when I started and ended up about half full. The greater amount of water allows the steam to maintain itself.

I cook my rustic breads in my cast iron dutch oven. The shape of the pan helps to maintain the shape of the bread. The sides also radiate some heat back.

The result is this thick, tasty crust. The combination of the thick crust and spongy crumb makes for great French toast, by the way.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Los Angeles: Nick's Cafe

An article in from Los Angeles magazine led me to an outstanding breakfast at Nick's Cafe. It is in an unironically industrial neighborhood of Los Angeles, in the shadow of Dodger Stadium but very much in a different world. Nick's has a small parking lot but I ended up parking on the street. I had to hunt to find a spot not occupied by a semi. Inside, the room is all counter, no tables. The decor clearly shows that the restaurant has been here since the '40s and that the owners clearly feel a sense of pride and community.

I arrived a little after 7 AM and the place was in full swing. A few women came through but this is very much a guy's place. Some were in ties, others in t-shirts. All were girding themselves for a day on the job through both food and friendship. Most of the people there were engaged in conversations that started before I arrived and continued after I was gone.

Every part of my breakfast was outstanding. My omelette was cooked perfectly---very fluffy. The salsa had just a bit of kick; its juiciness was also a nice complement. The potatoes were excellent. The small cup held homemade apple sauce. It was on the sweet side, which worked perfectly as a contrast to the salsa. The result was an effect similar to potato pancakes. My whole wheat toast was very good and rounded out the meal. The coffee kept coming, as it should be in a place like this. I left refreshed and invigorated, ready to take on my own day.

Nick's Cafe

Los Angeles: House of Meatballs

I chatted with a group of UCLA students building a concrete canoe. They directed me to House of Meatballs, a good lead.

I started with a caesar salad (not very creative, I know). This was a pretty good example of the genre. The anchovies were a noticeable taste in the dressing, which isn't often the case. The croutons were very crispy.

I was in a dieting mood so I ordered meatballs with a piece of focaccia; pasta is a potential add-on. These are the Just Like Mama meatballs with beef. I also ordered the Just Like Mama with a kick sauce, a meat sauce with a kick of pepper. Everything was very well executed: moist meatballs, tomatoy sauce.

House of Meatballs

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Los Angeles: The Pie Hole

The Pie Hole is in the arts district east of Japantown. This neighborhood is changing by the minute. Apartments and parking buildings are being built all around but aging industrial structures still dot the landscape. Fashion photographers and can collectors share the sidewalk as they practice their respective trades.

The Pie Hole is a modest storefront. I almost passed it by as I walked on the opposite side of the street. The interior is similarly low-key although nicely decorated with pie recipes. The staff was very happy to talk pie baking with me.

I started with a savory pie, the curry vegetable. I could smell the curry even before I cut into the pie and did it smell good. Once I got into the pie, I found that the curry was just right, strong but not too strong. The vegetables were very soft and tender. The crust was perfect in color, texture, and taste.

I finished my lunch with their signature pie, the Earl Grey. The top layer is a white chocolate that has been infused with tea. That's a great and natural combination. The tea taste is definitely present but not overbearing in any way---not a hint of tannin. Most cream pies have a fairly firm texture but not this one. The top layer barely stood up on its own, giving a sense of excitement to eating it. Would it stand long enough for me to make my next bite? The bottom of the pie was covered with a thin layer of dark chocolate and a scattering of pistachios. This pie is truly magnificent.

The Pie Hole

Los Angeles: Original Pantry Cafe

My first visit to the Original Pantry Cafe was a real treat. It's been open continuously since the 1920s with one change in location. It's a wonderful piece of old Los Angeles.

The interior is little changed from the old days. The tables are huge by modern standards, with plenty of room to settle in. They seem to attract a steady stream of regulars. That sense of community is part of the attraction of an establishment such as this.

The service is exactly what you want from this sort of place. My waitress crisp and efficient and she kept the coffee flowing. I could barely set down my cup without her appearing with the pot in hand. That's the sort of quiet care that one appreciates in the morning.

This is my #4 breakfast, which was excellent. The eggs were perfect: fluffy and no hint of grease. The potatoes had a superb crust. I ordered the buckwheat pancakes, a special treat. I love the nutty, offbeat flavor of buckwheat.

Original Pantry Cafe

Los Angeles: Drago Centro

As part of my USC visit, Paul and I enjoyed a working dinner at Drago Central. The space is large and modern; the service outstanding.

We started with two types of bread, white and olive.

I greatly enjoyed my risotto. Its texture was perfect; balancing creaminess and toothiness of the rice is key to a good risotto.

We greatly enjoyed the selection of chartuterie. The chorizo was my personal favorite. The meats came with mini-zeppoli, non-sweet, in which we were encouraged to insert the slices of meat to form a mini-sandwich.

I enjoyed my scallops. They were very moist and tender. A flavored mayonnaise was underneath. They also came with a small block of fried potatoes.

Paul ordered the bass, which he reported was excellent.

The panna cotta was excellent and wonderfully creamy.

Drago Centro

Los Angeles: Moretonfig

As part of my visit to USC, Paul introduced me to Moretonfig, one of the restaurants on the campus. It's an alternative to the faculty club with the ambience of a fine restaurant.

We started with wonderful fresh bread.

My tomato soup was outstanding. Both the acid brightness and sweetness of the tomatoes came through perfectly. The soup had little or perhaps no cream, which was a good choice given the quality of the soup.

Paul and I both ordered the blackened salmon. The fish was very fresh and moist.

I also enjoyed my roasted brussel sprouts. They weren't overly doctored with sugar. They came with bits of outstanding bacon.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Los Angeles: Oomasa

I hit the ground in Los Angeles ready for a light, convenient meal. I headed to the Japantown mall and Oomasa, a sushi restaurant at the entrance of the mall. This is a touristy restaurant in a touristy neighborhood but my meal was satisfying in a simple way.

This is my sasimi assortment. The fish was fresh and refreshing.

I also enjoyed a bowl of noodles. The soft, chewy noodles are a nice change of pace. The broth was salty in a good way and went down easily.

Oomasa

Campbell CA: Orchard City Kitchen

Andy and Roni introduced me to Orchard City Kitchen. We enjoyed a hearty meal and a chance to catch up. It's located in the Pruneyard, tucked in the back near the movie theater.

A refreshing beverage...

The communal bacon. This is great stuff. It's sliced thickly to give plenty of the combined flavor of smoke and pork.

The triple B: biscuits, bacon, and butter. Roni tells me that this is a big favorite at OCK.

A salad as a nod to health...

And the pancakes that Roni and I each ordered. These are thick, hearty pancakes. I wasn't able to finish my stack. The topping is a combination of blueberry and some other crazy berry. It's very tasty and not overpowering. That's a huge dollop of butter on the side that I mostly set aside. The syrup is very tasty.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

El Taco de Oro

I needed a quick, light lunch, so I headed to El Taco de Oro. It's a food truck that I found on El Camino just north of Wolfe Road. They seem to keep extensive hours. The menu covers the basics: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, soft drinks and water.

Here are my beef and pork super tacos. They came double-wrapped in small tortillas, meat covered in a layer of cheese. The carrots and green pepper were lightly pickled, a very nice touch. This was exactly the comfort food I had hoped for.

Orchard City Kitchen

Santa Clara CA: Stan's Donut Shop

The Internet sings the praises of Stan's and now I know why. The people who stand in line for these donuts love these outstanding donuts.

Here is the donut maker practicing his craft in the front window of the shop.

This is not Stan's first location. But Stan's dates back to the 1950's, as evidenced by the signs. The shop also features a comfortable counter well-worh with use.

When trying a donut shop, I like to try both the raised and baked. My raised glazed donut had caught my eye as it sat on the cooling rack behind the register. As it turns out, it was hot, not just warm. Wow! Wonderful soft texture, glaze just barely hanging onto the side of the donut. What a treat. Truly spectacular.

I saved the chocolate almond for later in the car. It was also wonderful with a soft, tender crumb and very fresh and tasty almond slices.

Stan's Donut Shop

Sunnyvale CA: Tarragon

Tim introduced me to Tarragon on the Murphy Street restaurant row next to Sunnyvale Town Center. It's a large, pleasant space. Service was very courteous. The menu is varied: steak, seafood, pizzas from a wood-fired oven, and a pretty good selection of vegetarian items.

Our bread was fresh out of the oven.

I greatly enjoyed my seafood paella. It was filled with shrimp, clams, salmon, cod, and various other tidbits. I don't think it had any sausage, which was fine with me. The creaminess of the rice makes this a very comforting dish.

Tim ordered the salmon.

We ordered this apple turnover to give us more time to catch up. The thing was huge---practically a meal by itself. The pastry was rich and went very well with the ice cream.

Tarragon Restaurant