Monday, February 28, 2011

A Horny for Food Farewell

The time has come, a little more than five years to the day of my first post, to retire Horny for Food.

It has served its purpose as a proving ground for my experiments in ways to intimately, passionately and aggressively express my opinions, observations and research in the world of food, wine, dining--always with an undercurrent of sex.

The good news is, the proving ground worked and I'm able to happily retire this blog knowing that I have other outlets for my writing.

You can continue following me every Thursday at The Satellite Show pop culture blog, where I write a weekly column on (usually) food and wine.

And in even bigger news, you can follow me as a regular featured wine blogger at The Huffington Post in the Food Section. Right now I'm posting once a week and intend to do at least 2-3 posts a month into the future.

To my very few loyal readers, thank you for all of your support. Please continue reading through these archives. I may periodically repost some older entries and definitely look for past topics to be reexamined and expanded upon in my new outlets. And maybe Horny for Food will return in the future.

To any food and wine enthusiast or professional I may have offended by my writings here, know that it's not personal and that my only objective is to elevate discourse and stimulate discussion. Too much food and wine writing is equivocating, unadventurous and dull. I attempted to be provocative and humorous. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed, but hopefully each time I failed, I failed better.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Eagle Rock Brewery - Los Angles, CA

Slowly, Los Angeles is integrating itself into the California craft brew scene. I wrote a few months back about Craftsman Brewery in Pasadena and now it's time for Eagle Rock Brewery (and soon the relocated Angel City Brewery!). Eagle Rock Brewery's been in business for a few years in LA and finally opened up a taproom about a year ago.

Located not quite in Eagle Rock but in the decidedly less gentrified Glassell Park neighborhood, the modern brewery and taproom is located in a nondescript warehouse that can only be identified by the food truck parked in the driveway and the string of hipsters coming and going, lending the whole building the mystique of a speakeasy or secret indie brothel.

The taproom typically serves 5-6 Eagle Rock brews, including their staple Revolution XPA, Manifesto Witbier, Populist IPA and Solidarity English Ale plus 1-2 limited seasonal releases. They also have three guest-taps featuring beers from other tiny California craft breweries. Beers are available on-site by the taste or pint and available to-go in refillable growlers.

What I love about Eagle Rock Brewery (and about Craftsman) is that in a California microbrew scene that has become dominated by aggressive high-gravity high-bitterness beers, Eagle Rock produces a pair of excellent sub-5% abv beers including the Solidarity, one of the best true "session beers" I've had from California. The Revolution XPA is full-bodied with a nice dose of hops that should please the Arrogant Bastard drinker even though it clocks in at only 4.8% abv.

Even the higher gravity beers are well-balanced, with the Populist a fine example of a medium bodied moderately-hopped IPA that's more in the English style then in the bitter quintuple-hopped style that has become prevalent in California.

(Oh, and the beers are served in proper pint glasses for a mere $5--guest drafts are usually a buck or two more--bonus!)

There's no food for sale in the brewery, but there are complimentary peanuts and pretzels. A rotating cast of food trucks can be found in the parking lot almost every night Eagle Rock Brewery's open (Thursday-Saturday, 4-10PM, Sunday 12-8PM) and unique beer pairings are suggested for every truck's offerings. It's a laid-back and inexpensive way to enjoy great beer and great food in a friendly, convivial space.

Eagle Rock Brewery
3056 Roswell St.
Los Angeles, Ca 90065

Friday, January 14, 2011

HFF Quickie: Pelayo's Burgers - Long Beach, CA

Because of its mix of density and sprawl and its position as the birthplace (or at least homeland) of modern American fast food, not even the biggest fast food chains can penetrate every corner of Los Angeles. As a result, there are many unusual local mini fast-food chains and one-off restaurants. Often they're idiosyncratic (Cowboys & Turbans, anyone?) and often they're quite excellent for the price.

I visited such an establishment down in Long Beach this week, Pelayo's Burgers. It's an archetypal LA burger joint/taqueria hybrid located on PCH right where Signal Hill meets the LBC. Was it great? No. Was it good? Yes. Was it fresh? Yes. Was it cheap? Absolutely.

I had the Huevos Rancheros and it was a delightfully trashy mashup of refried beans, rice, respectably good eggs, a crisp-fried tortilla and a very good spicy homemade ranchero sauce. A few dashes of Tapatio and some additional tortillas and it was hangover-curing heaven. It was also less than six bucks and rivaled any bourgie brunch version I've had for twice the price.

The Boss Man had a half roast chicken with beans, rice AND french fries for not much more than $6 and by all reports it was delicious. Did the fries come pre-cut from the freezer? They did. But that's not always a bad thing in the world of cheap eats.

So it was nice to support a local business and get a fresh, filling meal for two for well under $20. And we were in, out and on our way in about twenty minutes.

So here's to ethnic dives, neighborhood one-offs and taco trucks. They're the best thing about LA dining.

Pelayo's Burgers
2300 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Long Beach, CA 90804

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Points of Reference; or James Suckling Doesn't Get It

I watched the documentary Blood Into Wine recently. It's a very good and funny film about the efforts of Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski to produce serious wine out of Arizona. One of the featured parts of the film is when then-Wine Spectator writer James Suckling comes out to Jerome and tastes through Keenan's Caduceus Cellars line-up.

Now I have not tasted nearly as many wines as James Suckling has, particularly the wines of Northern Italy which some of the initial Caduceus wines drew from for inspiration, so I'll defer to his palate on flavors and nuance. Or for the sake of this article I will.

What pissed me off about Suckling's commentary is that virtually every comment he made was referencing the Arizona wines against wines from France and Italy--wines which are made thousands of miles away in very different places by very different people.

So I ask, what's the value in that?

Let me frame this argument with one basic conceit: the reason that certain wine regions of the world command a premium is largely a product of historical accident. In the United States, the eastern half of the country couldn't grow vitis vinifera grapes meaning that the established and entrenched wine making tradition had to begin in the West and Southwest. And even then, prior to Prohibition it was New Mexico that had the most land under vine, not California. California benefited from shrewd businessmen and a wealth of immigrants from wine-friendly regions of the world like Italy and Eastern Europe.

Globally, both the Middle East (probably the birthplace of the wine grape) and Eastern Europe (the home of some of its earliest and most significant varietal mutations) suffered under very wine-unfriendly regimes. In the Middle East, Islam's alcohol-prohibitions severely stifled growth of the industry, while under Communist rule in Eastern Europe, ancient vineyards and distinctive varietals were torn up and replanted with high-yielding vines to maximize production.

Or sometimes something as simple as a particular Champagne being acclaimed by a particular ruler, as was the case with Veuve Clicquot in the court of Tsar Alexander I, can catapult a wine's reputation. Alternately, flooding the market with a cheap little wine like Blue Nun can damage a wine's reputation for decades.

But these aren't products of deliberate effort or inherent quality--they're historical accidents. The English like wine. They can't (or at least couldn't) make wine in England so they purchased wine from abroad. Both historical ties and proximity meant that most of that wine was coming from France. This esteem for French wines transferred to the New World and as global demand increased, prices went up.

Are there some wineries which produce better wine than other wineries in the same region? Sure there are. Are there some countries which produce better wines, on aggregate, than others? Probably. But I would argue that there is no inherent reason that any region of the world within the grape-growing latitudes produces better wine than any other region. All it takes is finding the right combination of land, grapes and talent. The countries of Western and Southern Europe are the most esteemed and established wine producers largely because their wine industries have been allowed to develop relatively unfettered for a couple thousand years and have spent most of the modern era without either prohibition or centralization. We haven't even had 100 years of unfettered wine production in the United States.

Which is a long way of saying that it's pointless to refer to a wine produced in Arizona against a wine produced in the Northern Rhone or Tuscany. It's indicative, I think, of the out-of-date mindset of major wine writers. They still write from the reference point that wines, regardless of where they are produced, should be striving toward a perfection that is defined against a standard that is largely shaped by the big red wines of France, Italy and the Napa Valley.

And that's plainly absurd. These are wines that are produced in these places for specific reasons. Northern Arizona has about as much in common with Tuscany in terms of terroir as James Suckling has in common in terms of physique with LL Cool J and to continue to privilege these old-guard wines is foolish, counterproductive, and out-of-touch.

We live in a global wine world where great wines from every corner are readily available. The wine drinker who grew up without privilege and without reading Wine Spectator doesn't believe in the cult of the Esteemed Taster. Instead this drinker wants the raw data which, when coupled with personal recommendations, facilitates his or her individual decision making.

So we need to look at every wine region as aspiring to something unique to its location--not aspiring to Bordeaux. Tell me about the land, the grapes, the climate. Tell me how the wine tastes--is it balanced? Fruit-forward? Earthy? Don't give me some bullshit about how this wine isn't achieving something it never set out to achieve. What does that accomplish besides showing off how many fancy northern Italian wines you've tasted?

Continuing to privilege these specific wines and specific styles as if they're an aspirational goal for all wine regions is ridiculous. Anyone who continues to do so should, kindly, stop.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Some very good wine writing!

There's a very interesting article from the UK-magazine The World of Fine Wine that's circulating on Twitter. It's the first insightful article I've read in a glossy magazine that takes on the current relevance of pioneering wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr that is not from a position of "is he under attack?" or "is he still influential?" but rather "he is under attack" and "he is influential but his influence is decreasing rapidly every year."

This is something I've been writing about a lot recently, so I won't bore you with rehashes of my arguments. It was simply refreshing to hear this from not only a Legitimate Wine Critic but a writer who has written one of the definitive Parker biographies.

Ms. McCoy writes about the self-evidence of Parker's decline in influence as inevitable and then outlines why: the proliferation of other critics using the 100-point scale, the rise of a younger wine consumer not concerned with the "imprimatur [of] an aging guru," the dilution of his own brand through score inflation and hiring additional tasters, and the expansion of the global wine market beyond something that is comprehensible by even the most thorough reviewer.

I also appreciated the reference to perennial wine douche bag W. Blake Gray acknowledging that he "admitted in an interview that he uses it (the 100 point scale) instead of awarding stars as a way of marketing himself." That's like buying a first-class ticket for the Titanic while it's sinking, isn't it?

Most telling is her analysis of Parker's "circling the wagons," first by deleting critical comments from his forums, then by putting all of his message boards behind a pay wall. It would appear that Parker recognizes the viability of the assault on his role as critical monolith and is shielding those who still drink his Kool-Aid (Flavor Aid, actually) by walling in his garden. He doesn't want those lawyers and ibankers who've been going to him for their holiday gifts every year to start questioning the value of his ratings.

So cheers to Ms. McCoy for a thoughtful and informative piece of writing. It's not just about Parker, it's a very astute and succinct analysis of the current power relationship in the world of wine media.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Umami Burger Redux

So I went to Umami Burger again recently. That burger is still really damn good. It's so good, that I don't even object to it winning "Burger of the Year" accolades from GQ--even if such an assertion is dubious on premise.

I also think Umami Burger is unfairly maligned. Typically there are two inevitable responses by a gourmet burger-hater. Either: 1. it's just a burger or; 2. In-N-Out is better.

First, to the "It's just a burger" assertion--you're right. It is just a burger. It's ground meat on a bun with toppings. And lobster's just a bug on the bottom of the sea and caviar is just cured sturgeon eggs. To assign the burger any higher or lower state in the culinary world because of its nature is absurd. You can make a bad burger, you can make a good burger. Is it perhaps a bit easier to make a serviceable-to-good burger than it is a steak? Probably. But it's just as hard to make a great burger as a great steak, and the burger as to be less expensive and made at higher volume (typically).

Second: No, In-N-Out is not better. Not even for the price. In-N-Out makes a good burger, for the price it's a great burger. But Umami Burger is better. It's 3-4 times better. It's 10x better. The meat is better quality. Every patty is handmade on site, the meat is hand ground and hand seasoned. The flavor combinations are thoughtful and interesting. It is, in my estimation, a step better than all other premium ($8+) burgers on the market that I've had.

Why is the burger lesser privileged? There's no inherent reason why we happily pay $20+ for an 8oz steak but balk at paying more than $6 for a burger other than that we are used to burgers being cheap. And a frozen, grey patty that's made from random cuts of meat and is 20% oatmeal should be cheap. But good meat is good meat and should, theoretically, command the same price.

I like Umami Burger a lot. It's one of my go-to's if I need a good, filling lunch for less than $20. And by always coming up with new combinations and patty variations, they give customers a reason to come back. Get Umami Burger and leave your presumptions aside, at least until you take a bite.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Crappy Service

I recently dined at a local favorite of mine here in Los Angeles. I won't name names because I do like the restaurant and plan to return. It's a restaurant, in fact, whose service I've defended to others in the past. It's a restaurant that has been lauded for its food and maligned for the quality of its waitstaff, which I'd never found wanting. Until, well....

Unfortunately, I had very shitty service there last night.

I'm lenient when it comes to service. As long as I feel modestly taken care of, I let a lot of things slide. Casualness. Harriedness. I don't really care as long as I feel that I'm being maintained--I'm being checked on, well recommended and not hurried.

Our server made zero appearances at our table except to 1. take our order and 2. refill our wine. That's it. Only things that could directly earn him revenue.

Sure, food can be dropped by a runner. I don't mind. I've worked at restaurants where that was the case. I did, however, always go by the table shortly after they'd taken a few bites and checked on everything. Not the case. And he wasn't particularly busy. We had a late reservation and, although still full when we arrived, by the time our food arrived there were only a half dozen tables and at least two waiters still working.

The problems went deeper than an inattentive waiter, too. The bussers--who admittedly did a good job keeping our water glasses filled--were very eager to clear our plates. On one occasion we were practically forced to take food off of the platter and move it to our share plates so that they could, inexplicably, clear the platter for no end other than to clear the plate or slightly accelerate our departure.

For dessert, we also had a very bad creme brulee. I blame this on the service because it was bad due it obviously lacking brulee-ness. This was plainly visible as soon as it was dropped. We would've said something but, again, the server was gone. The top was barely cooked and the dessert, although full of excellent flavor, was annoyingly bad because of it. The custard was cold in parts and, again, the bruleed top was barely browned. That's the type of thing that a server or food runner needs to notice and rectify before it's served. I've done it numerous times as a waiter and, sure I've been yelled at by chefs and cooks, but in the end I've never served an inferior product to a customer. I get it. It was late. Maybe they'd put the blowtorch away. But that's never an excuse to offer a poorly-executed dish. If you can't adequately serve the creme brulee, then 86 it after 9PM.

The last egregious error on the restaurant's part was that, despite there being 3 or 4 tables still left in the restaurant, the back waiter staff began rolling out the brooms and dustpans and sweeping up. That's completely unacceptable--it hurries your paying customers and makes them feel uncomfortable. It's not worth it. In another 30 minutes everybody would've been out of there. Every restaurant I've worked at have contracted with an overnight cleaning crew who takes care of the heavy-duty cleaning well after closing.

(Yes, we had a late reservation but it was for 9:15 and the restaurant closed at 10PM. The place was packed when we arrived and we were not the last table to leave. If you want to have everyone out the door at 10PM, you need to close at 9PM.)

Will I be back? Probably. But if this happens again I might not be.