Monday, June 29, 2009

Caduceus, Merkin, & Tool - Oh My!

There are lots of famous wealthy people who decide to diversify once they strike it rich. It's about brand building I suppose. Or maintaining a 360-degree media consciousness. Actors open restaurants, singers start clothing lines, strippers become porn stars and then become escorts. It's all about squeezing money out of every possible stream, channel, and orifice.

But in most of these instances, it's not a labor of love. It's just a bunch of big companies figuring out new ways to make money on the same crappy Chinese sunglasses. Jay-Z is no more a fashion designer than Sasha Grey is a legitimate actress.

But when the motivation to use your considerable financial resources to pursue non-autochthonous business ventures is pure--driven by an honest passion--you get some damn good salad dressings. Or, in the case of Caduceus Cellars, some really good wine.

The baby of Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan, Caduceus Cellars represents an effort to bring world-class winemaking back to Arizona. Maynard was at Silverlake Wine last weekend presenting a few releases from Caduceus and its brother, Merkin Vineyards.

Only one of the wines poured was from the Arizona vineyards--they were planted in 2004 so wine from the first harvest was just bottled this past year--but there's nothing wrong with what they've been doing so far using fruit mostly sourced from Paso Robles. Eric Glomski takes the lead on the winemaking, but after a short conversation with Maynard (where we talked about yields, distribution, and temperature, amongst other things), it was eminently clear that he's more than just a money guy. He's out there in the dirt, in the cellars, and has a clear mission for his winery and a very active hand in the winemaking.

First up was a white wine (the Arizona one), Dos Ladrones, roughly equal parts Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca. Girlfriend Charlie and I were both, at first pour, turned off to the wine. It was very tight and tasted underripe. We were thinking "Oh hell, some over-hyped celebrity wine here." But as the wine warmed (reaching about 57 degrees, Maynard said, the wine is at its best) it opened up beautifully. Really beautifully, actually. Very cool stuff and I think clearly expressive of what Arizona white wine can be.

Next up was the flagship "Primer Paso" wine, made up primarily of Syrah with a dose of Malvasia (from Arizona) in there. What would prove to be a trait of all the Caduceus wine was what made it eminently appealing: there was a lot of acid for a red. This was a food wine.

My favorite of the tasting was the Naga, a primarily Sangiovese blend made from Paso Robles fruit. Unlike most Sangioveses I've had from Paso Robles, this wasn't overly extracted and the acidity shown through nicely. Mostly Italian-styled, but with more bright fruit.

As much as I did like the Naga, I'm stoked on the Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra. The one thing about Caduceus Cellars and the cachet attached to its owner is that they can charge quite a bit for their wine. The wines are priced fairly given the quality, production size (tiny tiny) and the serious costs associated with starting up a vineyard from scratch, but I'm not going to lie: there are plenty of wines to be had of comparable quality for considerably less. But the Chupacabra, made from an annually changing blend of varietals (mostly Cab & Syrah), hits a nice ~$20 price point and serves as a solid introduction to the style of the more prohibitively priced Caduceus wines. Big fruit, good tannins, and that brisk acidity--a good barbecue wine for summer.

What was just so cool was to hear a guy who could easily use the novelty of his star power to make some horseshit crap but instead he's made wine a part of his life, all while campaigning hard for what could be a new major wine region in the United States.

So the only negative opinion I really have about the wines is that they're really expensive. But with the Chupacabra and a growing estate vineyard, hopefully Caduceus/Merkin will have more wines across the price spectrum.

Caduceus Cellars Wines are available throughout Los Angeles, including at Silverlake Wine, The Cheese Store of Silverlake, Liquid Wine & Spirits, and select Whole Foods.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Big news! Michelin Man dumps LA, Vegas, citing irreconcilable differences, general malaise

So this is something. Apparently the Michelin Guides won't be publishing either a Los Angeles or a Las Vegas guide for 2010.

I think this is a good thing. In the short time that Michelin's been active in these markets, very little has happened. The fine dining market in these two money-above-all-centric cities has been absolutely stagnant. The list of Michelin-starred LA-restaurants reads like a who's-who of bland and dull. When your biggest openings are fifth or twelfth efforts from non-indigenous chefs like Michael Mina and Gordon Ramsey, you know your city's shit just isn't straight. And from watching the Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel penned classic "Multiplicity," we know what happens by the third or fourth iteration--you end up with a retard who still gets to fuck Andie McDowell.

LA's neighborhood dining has flourished, don't get me wrong--Animal, Street, Palate, Barbrix, Father's Office, all pretty exciting stuff. But LA's $100 a plate restaurants are a list of dreary Cal-Med retreads and fusion endeavors that reak of the late 1980's. Why isn't Los Angeles nurturing its local chef-owners to produce stand-alone restaurants of a destination calibre? Where are the restaurants like SPQR, Range, Redd, and Cyrus in the SF Bay Area? (Meaning restaurants that have opened in the last five years or so that are innovative and appealing and not backed by giant restaurant groups).

Money can't buy honesty and it definitely can't buy class. Thanks Michelin for taking a temporary hike.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kogi - Los Angeles, Ca

There're trends. There're innovations. There's novelty. There's quality. Often, a restaurant achieving two of those four benchmarks will enjoy fabulous success. A novel concept will retain its clientele if the quality is good. A trendy restaurant can endure if it continues to innovate. A restaurant with a quality product can persevere without any of the other three criteria but it can't hurt to throw in a bit of novelty and innovation here and there, at least to please a prick like me (c.f. Chez Panisse Cafe).

So it's kinda surprising that a weird little quirky taco truck mastered all of those benchmarks, did it quickly, and capitalized on it vigorously.

I'm no fan of trends or bandwagons. I'm a skeptic to the very core. You really have to prove to me why you're so freakin' awesome, I'm not just going to accept it. Point is, I never sought out Kogi. It sounded kinda cool but it also sounded like relatively simple street food, albeit kinda unconventional: Korean meat and accompaniments presented in the charming aesthetics of an East LA taco truck.

What we see with Kogi is the perfect confluence of events. It launched in Los Angeles, a city unequaled in the nation in terms of its street food (fuck you New York). It launched during a recession when value dining was at peak demand. And it shrewdly utilized social networking (especially Twitter) to (artifically?) generate a cult demand for its product. The result? What was a quirky experiment in fusion cuisine became a regional sensation with national coverage. A phenomenon that tore up the food blogs for almost a year. Motherfucking Kogi.

I give Kogi massive credit for taking up residence at the Alibi Room in Culver City. Most of us who aren't total trendy douche bags find something weird about waiting two hours for a taco truck, so knowing that we can go to a fixed location and get most of the offerings on a regular basis is a very good thing.

So it was that I met up with Hollywood Legend Kenny at Costco in Venice (he was getting his tires rotated) and we had two hours to kill, so I proposed hitting up the Alibi Room for some Korean BBQ Taco Action which, coincidentally, is the title of my current adult film project.

We showed up early--5:30 when the bar opens--so we knew we'd have to wait for our food. But, showing up as early as possible is key as the Alibi Room quickly filled up and 99% of the patrons were eating Kogi. A good number were eating Kogi and drinking nothing but water, so I wonder how much the Alibi Room is really making in this relationship.

The Alibi Room is a nice space. Lots of room, big bar, comfy lounge areas. Not a bad way to kill a half-hour before our food arrived. Good beer selection and friendly staff too. Kenny and I both ordered taco combos (chicken, pork, short rib) and we shared an order of sliders (short rib) and a kimchi quesadilla.

Did I mention I was a skeptic? I am. I really freaking am. It's easy to get my respect but pretty damn hard to earn my admiration.

So knowing that, I say without qualification: Kogi was fucking good. Really fucking good. Really really fucking good.

I mean, it's the perfect fusion of cuisine. What is Korean bbq? Meat and pickled shit. What's a good street taco? Meat and pickled shit. Throw in some cilantro and they're basically the same cuisine except for skin color and math aptitiude.

I'm sorry I'm a racist.

Tacos: really nice. I actually kinda like how they griddle the tortillas so that they're vaguelyslightlykindacrisp. Short ribs were, as most have reported, the best. Tender, meaty, and vibrantly flavorful. Spicy pork was also very good, though not particularly spicy. Chicken was excellent but, compared to the other two meats, it just didn't shine. It's like being Scarlett Johansson in the same room as Anne Hathaway and Zooey Deschanel: excellent doesn't hold up against spectacular (unless you're showing off your ass at the beginning of Lost in Translation--that's spectacular with a capital T--but Kogi's chicken isn't Scarlett Johansson's ass, it's Megan Fox's ass, nice but not splooge-worthy).

Kimchi quesadilla: Also very very delicious. Good cheese, well made, excellent non-gas-inducing kimchi, and nicely griddled tortilla. A surprising highlight of the meal.

The sliders: the only dud. Mediocre roll. Great meat. Too much cheap cheese. I wouldn't kick it out of bed, but why get the middling sliders when you can get superb tacos for the same price?

Which brings me to the matter of price. Even here, in residence, Kogi tacos were eminently reasonable. Three tacos were $7 and in a town where it's hard to find a delicious diarrhea-inducing street taco for less than $1.75, that ain't bad. $2.333333333 for a taco that you're able to enjoy in a cushy chair? That's an extra $0.5833333333333 well spent.

So I guess that every now and then something comes around that is both worthwhile and trendy. Unlike Goa or Pet Rocks, Kogi provides a real quantitative value and it appears to have launched imitators (Chinese fusion tacos, fine-dining food trucks) which will ensure that Kogi's legacy lives on.

Kogi Korean BBQ
@Alibi Room
12236 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Yelp!ification of Opinion

So I recently wrote about sandwiches. I think I was pretty clear that I was just talking about sandwiches I liked from places I've been. I didn't pretend that I was an expert on sandwiches. I didn't pretend that I'd been to every sandwich place in town or that I was making an unequivocal list of the best and anything not on my list was bad.

Apparently, however, every positive mention of a business means you are, by definition, damning every other similar business you aren't mentioning. My sandwich post garnered the most comments of any post I've done in a while and all were ostensibly from new readers, most of whom were soiling their panties over my failure to mention their favorite sandwich shop.

Come on fuckers, I didn't title my post "the best sandwich in LA" or any other crap like that. I was just writing about good sandwiches. And so sorry I didn't go to your little sandwich shop in Santa Monica, but have any of you been to all the sandwich shops that I listed in my post? I mean, if you have then I'll think a bit more about caring for your opinion. I still won't care for it, but I'll at least consider it.

Now I will respond to each comment:
"56295629 said...

Does Bay City Deli not fit some equation here?"

And what equation would that be? Borderline illiteracy + opinion = dipshit? Because in that case, it does fit into the equation.

What equation it does not fit, however, is the subject of my post which is PLACES I'VE BEEN. I haven't been to Bay City Deli. Sorry.
"tin said...

Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City has superb sandwiches!"

I've heard this. I haven't been, hence not writing about it. But that's the Valley, and the only things in the Valley are porn stars and pumpkins.
"Francisco said...

Seriously, the exclusion of Bay Cities completely invalidates this list."

Now I don't want to go to Bay Cities because apparently its fans are militant retards. Sort of like NOW on a short bus. Nothing invalidates anything. Please check the subject. It's a list of places I've been that I've liked. It makes no pretense to comprehensiveness or objectivity.

"SR said...

I'll second Artisan and third Bay City. And throw in Langer's for good measure."

Cool. Good for you. But I don't recall asking "Give me your recommendations for some other good sandwiches."

Does the internets really have most of us convinced that every little musing is an objective unequivocal assertion of truth and value? Or do we really just love our little parochial sandwich shop that much? Or do most of us not read?

Just to check: "I really like Bacaro."

Now I hope to get a flurry of comments declaring my statement invalid because I don't also like some place I've never been.

Save it for Yelp!

And tell your mom I said whaddup.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Short Cuts

In a perfect world I'd chop all my veggies and slow-cook all my sauces. But last time I checked North Korea had the bomb and Ray Romano's still alive, so it's clearly not a perfect world. Here are a few of my favorite culinary shortcuts:

1. Frozen garlic cubes. You get these little frozen bits of chopped up garlic--like all great things a product of Israel--at Trader Joe's. They're quick, convenient, and actually contain pretty much just garlic (unlike a lot of the other garlic pastes or jars of chopped garlic). A little tricky to use at first--make sure you keep your stove top temperature pretty low and keep stirring the cubes around until they melt into your oil--but when you figure it out you get a flavor and aroma that's pretty damn close to freshly chopped garlic.

2. Pasta sauce. Yes, I know. I use jarred sauce. I'm sorry. But I mean, really, unless I'm making from-scratch sauce from fresh tomatoes, what's the REAL difference between making a sauce from canned tomatoes and from a nice simple ready-made marinara? You can still add your sausage, veggies, and herbs--it's just that initial heavy lifting that's been done for you.

3. Salad dressing. Yeah, I'll even buy vinaigrettes. It's just easier and usually tastes better.

4. Salsa. Actually, this isn't so much a short cut, but I just really like cheap, cooked, room-temperature jarred salsa. It actually tastes like something, as opposed to salsa crudas or salsa fresca which just taste like cold and cilantro.

This wasn't a very interesting post. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Really Good Sandwich

I like sandwiches. I also know how to make sandwiches and inevitably my homemade sandwich that costs me 95 cents is 10 times better than the $5 fast food/deli sandwiches out there and at least as good as the $9-$12 "gourmet" sandwiches that white people like.

But as someone who spends his days on the road and frequently finds himself inside businesses that deal in said expensive sandwiches, here's my quick take on a few of LA's standouts. Note that I'm sticking to take-out "gourmet market" sandwiches and panini and not deli sandwiches (kosher or otherwise).

Larchmont Village Wine, Spirits, & Cheese is perhaps the flagship sandwich counter, located on weird Larchmont Ave which is equal parts quaint and Beverly Center--one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, yet the sandwiches at this neighborhood wine shop are your best bet for gourmet dining. The simple set menu (all around $9) of nicely thought-out sandwiches leaves Larchmont with a line out the door most every lunch hour.

Pros? Top quality meats. Well composed sandwiches. Delicious bread. Lots of produce. Half-size sandwiches are a perfect inexpensive light lunch.
Cons? Menu rarely changes. Sandwiches are tough to eat on the road.

Cheese Store of Silverlake has stellar panini and, believe it or not, friendly helpful staff. The selection changes daily and showcases newly arrived cheeses, charcuterie, and condiments. Virtually every ingredient in a panini is available for sale in the store. Go for any sandwich that has muffaleta or a chutney. While the panini are the draw, their un-paninified baguette sandwiches also rock. A recent baguette with brie, arugula, and fresh strawberries basically made me jizz my pants.

Pros? Hot, tasty, portable sandwiches. Fresh ingredients. Great cheeses and chutneys.
Cons? Often light on the fresh veggies. They run out of sandwiches quickly.

Goudas and Vines, a relatively new addition to Santa Monica, has great simple sandwiches. The designs aren't any different from what you'd get at your local Safeway, but the ingredient quality is several steps up.

Pros? Fairly inexpensive. Quick. Friendly.
Cons? Uninspiring combinations.

Venice Beach Wines, fresh from a recent remodel, has added a great selection of cheese, charcuterie, and the inevitable pressed sandwiches that come with that territory. The lamb and manchego sandwich rocks.

Pros? Inspired combinations. Nice indoor/outdoor space to enjoy your sandwich in.
Cons? Limited selection. The small space can get easily overwhelmed.

So yeah, get your sandwich on. The Earl will appreciate it.

Monday, June 01, 2009