Friday, May 29, 2009

Jalapeno Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburgers

A couple days ago, while buying some meat at Taylor's in Sierra Madre, I noticed jalapeno cheddar burgers. I was told they were great, that all they needed was some salt and pepper and a few minutes on the grill. Always up for a new kind of burger, I bought a couple. I also bought a few slices of thick Amish bacon.

Last night I grilled up the patties. I used my DeLonghi indoor grill so I could watch the Orlando-Cleveland game. After I flipped the patties on the grill I added a few slices of Drunken Goat (a semi-firm Spanish cheese that has been soaked in wine for 72 hours, one of my favorite cheeses in the world) and let them melt.

I did not go crazy with the condiments. Normally when I make a burger I like a few drops of A.1. sauce, or, my newest addiction, Leah & Perrins "Thick" Worcestershire sauce. But with the flavors already in the patty and the thick bacon, the burger didn't need any more overpowering flavors. I put some lettuce on the bun, a couple pickles, and a thin smear of mayonnaise.

I loved the burger. It had just the right amount of spice, which went well with the smoothness of the Drunken Goat. In the middle of eating it I had an urge for a great beer. Not a quickly- downed bottle of Pacifico, but something I could savor with this burger. Perhaps a pint of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale or Deschuttes Black Butte Porter. But I looked in the fridge and all we had was Red Stripe, with a bottle of Sapporo standing in the midst of them. Disappointed, I just drank water with the burger. From now on I will have a couple bottles of something stronger tucked away in the fridge for meals like this.

For dessert we had one of the best things on Earth: freshly made cotton candy I had purchased a couple hours earlier at the South Pas farmers market.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pizza & The Lakers

As is probably self-evident from this blog, I love pizza. I have always loved pizza and I will always love it. There are not many things about which I can say that. Pretty much baseball, road trips, Van Morrison, the '57 Corvette, the 4th of July, The Great Gatsby, and pizza. That's the list. I have sworn I would never drink beer again and called the Lakers "the most disgusting team I have ever seen" (actually, that was just a couple days ago.) But I have never not loved pizza.

From weekend lunches at King Arthur's in Arcadia to high school afternoons eating 15 slices at Shakey's lunch buffet to a trip to New York when I was 28 where I ate pizza at 2 A.M. every night, pizza has been a part of my life more than any food. The first time I realized I love cooking was when I was 14 and I used to make myself a barbecue chicken pizza every Monday night during Monday Night Football.

The best slice I ever ate was at Totonno's, one Friday night in New York. Even if I hadn't just come from my first trip to Yankee Stadium, where the Angels beat the Yankees, it would have been the best. The worst slice I ever had was at the L.A. Farmers market, a sludge-like puddle of grease and hard cheese on top of a crust the consistency of a book. It is the only slice I can every remember throwing away after one bite.

Since the discovery of Fresh & Easy's $1.29 dough, and my purchase of a pizza pan at Macy's, I make pizza at home with great regularity. During the Lakers game last night I came up with a couple ideas. I caramelized onions in my Sicilian chili oil and fig balsamic vinegar. When they had cooked down I added a healthy splash of Central Coast Syrah and cooked those on a pizza with some goat cheese. I thought I had some fresh basil in the fridge, but I was wrong, so I sprinkled some dried basil over it. Obviously dried is nowhere near as good as fresh would have been, but it added a little something.

I roasted some red peppers in the oven for about half an hour. I slathered the second dough with pizza sauce (Fresh & Easy's pizza sauce is less than two dollars; both of these pizzas, which fed me, Elizabeth and our friend Tracie, cost about 5 dollars total) and peppers and baked it. I added some oregano to this second pizza.

Both pizzas were great, although we all liked the onion and goat cheese the best. And the Lakers won.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


There is pretty much nothing in the world better than grilled sausage. Some of my friends hate the Lakers, some hate Dylan, one of my best friends hates condiments of any kind, and some (actually, most) of my friends are USC fans. But one thing we can all agree on is that there is no occasion that isn't made better with a grill sizzling with hot sausages and a cooler full of cold beer. Even my vegetarian friends admit that grilled sausage is pretty damn cool.
So when I heard about Wurstkuche, serving about 20 different kinds of sausage, a couple dozen beers on tap, and Belgian fries, I knew I had to try it. To start off the holiday weekend I picked Elizabeth up from work and we headed down to Third Street for a late lunch.
Wusrstkuche is divided into the front, where you place your order, and, separated by a long hallway, the back room, resembling a beer hall with long, communal tables and a bar. It is definitely a cool idea for a restaurant. Of course, this being L.A., it comes with a price: before ordering you have to deal with a long line, filled with a cringe-inducing amount of hipsters. The kind who wear skin-tight jeans, ties with t shirts, and sunglasses indoors. (My favorite of these characters had on a tie slung around his v-neck t shirt and another tie wrapped around his pants as a belt.) It took us about 15 minutes in line to place our order (although from what I've read this could be considered a short wait at Wurstkuche) and another 20 minutes to get our food.
Since this was Friday afternoon and we planned to go out for a couple happy hour drinks later on, I wasn't in the mood for a beer. Fortunately, they have a great selection of sodas that you can't find at the supermarket. I got a Manhattan Special Black Cherry Soda; Elizabeth got their Vanilla Cream. I don't think I've ever had these before, and they were both great. We also got a couple glasses of water from a nearby dispenser. It turned out to be cucumber water, something I haven't had in a long time but went very well with the food.
When the server first put my food in front of me I laughed: the sausage had shriveled up to about 3 inches. It took up less than one-third of the bun. ("You've got one shriveled wiener," Elizabeth pointed out, somewhat harshly.) I understand sausages shrivel a little when you grill them over an open flame, but this was ridiculous. I paid $6.75 for something that I can eat in two bites?
Still, my sausage, the "Austin Blues" (smoked pork with spicy peppers) was phenomenal. I wish it had been bigger, but what I did get was one of the best sausages I have had in a long time. I ordered it with sauerkraut and spicy peppers, which were indeed spicy. Elizabeth declared her sausage, a smoked turkey sausage with jack cheese and jalapeno, "probably the best sausage I have ever had." She had caramelized onions added to it; I tried a bite and loved them.
And then there were the fries. I have spent a significant amount of my adult life chasing after the fries I loved from the long gone Dive! in Century City. Perhaps those fries weren't really that great, but in my mind there will never been any better: long, crisp pieces of potato, served in cones with two dipping sauces. The rest of their food wasn't anything special and every so often the whole restaurant would jump into a mode resembling a submarine diving, a truly annoying thing, but there really wasn't anything better than those fries.
That being said, if Dive! somehow sprang back to life for one afternoon and I had to choose between eating their fries again or another round of Wurstkuche's... I would choose the latter. These were nothing short of perfect. Over the years I have bent the ear of two Belgian acquaintances of mine, both chefs, on just how to properly make Belgian fries. I would try and try and no matter what new advice they gave me I could never get them to turn out how I wanted. It's irrelevant now, as I know I can come to Wurstkuche and get my idea of perfect fries.
The large fries (of which we each got an order; way more than we needed) are served with two dipping sauces from your choice of a dozen. I chose chipotle aioli and chipotle ketchup (I love chipotles so much I will even try a Wienershnitzel product if it has chipolte in it.) Elizabeth ordered two of the tzatziki sauce. The chipotle ketchup wasn't anything special but the other two sauces were excellent. Next time I will try something else, perhaps the blue cheese walnut and bacon that a friend of mine recommends highly.
I will be back again, most likely to try one of their "exotic" sausages. The alligator & pork or rattlesnake & rabbit sausages sound tempting, but I have my eye on the buffalo, beef & pork with chipotle peppers. And definitely some more fries.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fast Food Review: Quiznos Torpedo

I definitely am a big fan of Quiznos. Despite their annoying idea of coming out with a product called sammies, their food is always good (including the sammies.) Earlier this year they made a point of lowering the prices on most of their menu items. Many people claim they also reduced the quantity of meat they put in each sandwich, but I certainly have not noticed that. Quiznos also has their "Batch 81 three pepper sauce" available at the condiment bar. This is the best pepper sauce I have ever tasted and one of the best condiments I have ever tasted. I once put it and Zankou Chicken garlic sauce on a hot dog; I could not talk for ten minutes it was so good.
A couple days ago I went over to my brother's house. He and his coworkers are putting out a book on canyoneering, and he needed someone with some writing and editing skills to look over and proofread the book. Only he couldn't find anyone, so he asked me to do it. Around lunch time he went out to Quiznos. Having never tried the Torpedo, I asked for the turkey club with no tomato.
I was impressed with the sandwich when it arrived. It is definitely over a foot long, like the commercials claim. The bread was nice and soft. The only annoying thing was how flimsy it was. It was hard to handle and fell apart, even when picked up with two hands, sending lettuce and bacon bits all over the counter. But it wasn't a big deal, especially after the first bite: the sandwich was delicious. I became angry at myself that I waited so long to try one.
And my brother had actually picked up a container of the three pepper sauce for me. I don't know if I'd ever mentioned to him how much I love it, but he still got some for me. The sandwich was so good that I briefly considered not adding anything else to it. But I still slathered the pepper sauce all over it.
My brother had gotten himself the Italian torpedo, getting it with pesto sauce instead of the red wine vinaigrette that usually comes on it. When he stepped out of the room to answer a phone call I did not hesitate to take a bite of his sandwich. It was even better than mine. I will definitely be trying both of these sandwiches again. perhaps as soon as this weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whole Foods Sushi

When I was young I never even thought of trying sushi. With the exception of avocados, I could not think of anything more disgusting.
My freshman year of college I went to a study review the night before a political science exam, simply because I had a crush on a girl in my hall and she asked me to go with her. The next day, after the exam, my buddy, who was sitting right next to me, said "I hope you don't mind but I copied right off of you. I forgot we had an exam today." He was a great guy, a damn good basketball player on the school team, and I didn't really mind. He got a perfect score (and I somehow missed one, which I never understood) so to thank me he took me to a sushi joint where his girlfriend worked.
I was able to tell her everything I disliked about sushi and she was able to get me a few plates of food that were damn good. Of course, without her guidance, I didn't even bother trying sushi again for several years. Then I started going to Ari-Ya in Old Pasadena and ended up loving almost everything on the menu. Now I am always up for sushi.
Having received the movie Taken in the mail, and wanting to see some genuine ass-kicking to get the boring memory of the season finale of 24 out of my mind (seriously, I think Jack Bauer only killed about 4 people this season, and one of the them died from boredom after being forced to watch a DVD of The Sentinel), I decided a good plan would be to get some sushi at a market and watch the movie.
I really like the sushi from Bristol Farms, but Elizabeth wanted to get a few other things from Whole Foods, so we went there. I have had the sushi from the WF in east Pasadena, but never from the massive Arroyo location, although years ago I ate at the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle in New York City, and it was damn good. (That Whole Foods isn't quite as large as the one in Pasadena, but it is much busier. The sushi section had several seats at the counter and an army of chefs making sushi. I will include a picture of it at the end of this post.)
We got a shrimp spring rolls, chicken potstickers, vegetable spring rolls, a spicy tuna roll, and a cucumber roll. After dinner I asked Elizabeth which she liked best and she said the spicy tuna, followed by the spring rolls, which were my exact feelings as well. I accept the fact that when you buy sushi from a market you may well be sacrificing some freshness, but this spicy tuna roll was among the best I have had anywhere, including restaurants. It would not surprise me if it was put out just a couple minutes before we picked it up.
The spring rolls were very good, as always (I have had them many times from WF.) The gyoza were good, although a bit rubbery. I can't really complain about that, though, since I bought them cold and didn't heat them up. The cucumber roll was also good. The only thing that didn't impress me was the shrimp spring roll. The shrimp was pretty small inside, and the flavors of the vegetables just didn't complement each other like I expected. I took out a container of cilantro sauce I had purchased at the South Pasadena farmers market last week and slathered a generous amount on the roll. This helped very much, but I still could not get past how bland the roll was. I wish we hadn't gotten this and instead picked up another spicy tuna roll. Oh well. At least I got to see Liam Neeson kick some serious ass.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Buffalo Popcorn Chicken Pizza

Sunday night I offered to take Elizabeth anywhere she wanted for her birthday dinner. Names thrown about were Parkway Grill, Gale's, Yujean Kang's and the dining room at the Ritz. (Yes, I know it's called the Langham now. Not to me. Just as Costco will always be Price Club, the Langham will always be the Ritz.)

She chose picking up dinner from KFC and watching The Simpsons. It was her birthday, so I couldn't refuse. We got a family size popcorn chicken (great), a couple of buffalo snackers (average), and a tender roast sandwich (completely inedible; the toughest piece of chicken I have ever bittend into, without exaggeration.)

This was only my second time ordering the family size popcorn chicken. The first time was June 2, 2002, the day of the epic Lakers vs. Kings Game 7. My friend Zach and I had convinced ourselves that getting KFC popcorn chicken, drinking large bottles of Miller High Life, and watching Hoosiers before each Lakers game was the key to their victory that spring. I'm not sure if we were correct, but I am sure that we haven't done that since and the Lakers haven't won a title since.

The family size was much bigger than I remembered. We barely ate half of it, and put it in the fridge. The next evening I decided to try something that I had in my mind for a few months: a popcorn chicken pizza with buffalo sauce. In my mind I wanted to make it a complete play on buffalo wings, with celery and carrots. But I didn't have any, so I just used what I had.

I halved a package of Fresh & Easy pizza dough. Ordinarily I use an entire package for each pie, but I wanted to try a thinner crust. After letting it heat for about 5 minutes in the oven I added some buffalo sauce and the popcorn chicken, let that cook for another 5 minutes, then added the mozzarella for another couple minutes.

The pizza was very good, but a little on the dry side. I definitely should have cut the larger pieces of chicken in half, and probably added a little more sauce to the top of the pizza when it came out of the oven. It also would have been nice if I had had carrots and celery to sprinkle over the pizza. It would have been a bit unorthodox, but visually impressive, and most likely tasty. Next time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fast Food Review: Wienerschnitzel Angus Chipotle Chili Dog

I love chipotles. At this point chipotles are so ubiquitous that I'm sure everone knows that they are smoked jalapenos. But there was a time when hardly anyone knew what a chipotle was. I remember being a teenager and making onion rings (the first thing I ever made that was more complex than a grilled cheese sandwich) and wanting to make chipotle mayonnaise. I had to go to three different stores to find a can of chipotles. I would often make food for family and friends using chipotles, and most people did not know what a chipotle was. I would announce with a not-small amount of cockiness: "oh, I use chipotles whenever I can."

Then people started to catch on to how good chipotles are. I don't know what the tipping point was. Every dish Bobby Flay made on Food Network contained chipotles. (I exaggerate... slightly.) Tabasco came out with a chipotle-flavored hot sauce, which I used to douse liberally on pizza, although my friends all preferred the original Tabasco. Jack in the Box came out with a chipotle chicken sandwich. (They took it off the menu for years, and I wrote them an elegant letter asking them to bring it back. It came back about a month later. I'm sure I had nothing to do with it, but I like to pretend that I did. That is certainly what I tell women I meet in bars, although that line has yet to work.)

Today, cans of chipotle peppers can be purchased in 7-11, and chipotle items litter the fast food landscape. Taco Bell came out with a chipotle grilled burrito. Wendy's came out with a southwest chipotle sauce. Carl's Jr. experimented with a chipotle chicken salad. Even McDonald's added a chipotle chicken snack wrap to their menu.

So it wasn't surprising to see Wienerschnitzel come out with an Angus chipotle chili dog. I still had to try it. I have always liked Wienerschnitzel, although I have only eaten there a handful of times. I had their chili once; it was pretty bland. But their mini corn dogs have always been a favorite of mine. So I ordered a chipotle dog and an order of mini corn dogs.

The hot dog was really high quality. I was impressed. The chili was spicy, but... I couldn't taste any chipotle. They could have just thrown chili powder on the dog for all I knew. Very disappointing. The mini corn dogs were good, as if frying a mini hot dog in batter wouldn't be. But I had come to taste some chipotle chili, and this hot dog didn't deliver.

I'm sure another chipotle fast food item will come out soon. And I will try it, too. Hopefully it will have more flavore than this hot dog.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Green Street Tavern

I have been to Green Street Tavern many times for a glass of wine at one of their sidewalk tables, sometimes with a plate of cheese and sometimes followed by another glass of wine or two, but I have only been there twice for meals. Last summer I had one of the best dinners I have had in Old Pasadena in several years, and in September my friend Murph and I stopped by for lunch, which was also very good, and much less expensive than the dinner.
Yesterday was Elizabeth's birthday, and my parents offered to take us out for lunch or dinner, anywhere she wanted to go. She loves brunch, so we looked at several brunch menus around town. Green Street Tavern advertised a pretty straightforward menu: some breakfast items and some lunch items. If every restaurant had a menu like this I probably wouldn't loathe brunch so much. So that's where we decided to go.
I always enjoy entering Green Street. I have had many of the best - and certainly the most fun - meals of my life in this room, back when it was Kuala Lumpur, one of the last restaurants remaining that reminded me of a time when Old Town was cool. (Even Manny's Pizzeria closed last week. At this point we're basically one lake away from being a Caruso Affiliated project.) But the people at Green Street have always been very nice, and this time was no exception. We were given a table next to the window.
My mom ordered the Cobb salad. This sounded like a boring choice to me, but the server - whom I believe is also the owner - said that was his favorite, and my mom loved it. Plus, it came with edible flowers.
My dad had a panini special, with lamb and pickled red onions. He said it was very good, although he wished the lamb had been more substantial than the shredded meat he got. I took a tiny bit and thought it was fantastic. I offered to exchange him half of my burger for half of his panini, but he declined.
Elizabeth had the steak and eggs, with salsa and an avocado mousse. I did not try any, but she really liked it, and I was impressed with the quantity of steak she got. I have seen enough steak and egg dishes served at brunch where the serving of steak was minuscule, not to mention obviously being leftover steak from the week that didn't sell (another of the many reasons I dislike brunch.) This was definitely high quality.
I ordered the Italian burger: served on ciabatta with pancetta, balsamic onions, provolone cheese, and basil aioli. This was fantastic. I had requested it medium rare and it was certainly overcooked, but other than that it was perfect. Green Street is serving my favorite fries in Old Pasadena at the moment - fresh cut Kennebec potatoes fried just long enough to crisp them up, and tossed with garlic and parsley.
I would gladly come back here for any meal, including brunch, which is saying a lot.