Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Whiskies to Wish For

It's a cold hard fact among American whiskey connoisseurs that some of the best stuff never reaches our shores. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a great review of a new malt only to find that it will never touch American soil. To taste these treasures we have to rely on our own travels or those of friends and relatives willing to save room in their suitcases for a few bottles.

Here then is a list (in no particular order) of some bottles I wish were available stateside. I've been able to try most of these, but some I've only heard tell of.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey. This moderately priced pure pot still whiskey (a whiskey made from a blend of malted and unmalted barley) is bottled by Mitchell & Son from whiskey made at the Midleton Distillery. It has a pure, malty taste, and I prefer it to Redbreast 12, the only pure pot still currently available in the US. It has a bit of a cult following and would make a great everyday Irish.

Nikka Yoichi. The category of Japanese Whisky is the most lacking of all whisky categories in the US. There are only four Japanese Whiskies available here, all from one company (Suntory) and three from one distillery (Yamazaki); the fourth is a blend. I could put nearly every Japanese single malt on this list, but I've tried to limit myself to just a few. Nikka Yoichi is a workhorse whisky from the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido; slightly sherried, sometimes slightly smoky and delicious. I think of it as Highland Parkish, and like Highland Park in Scotland, Yoichi is the northern most whisky distillery in Japan. Given my limited exposure, I would probably pick the regular Nikka line over the two other most prominent unavailable Japanese lines: Karuizawa and Suntory Hakushu (elderly Karuizawas are legendary, but I can't afford them anyway).

Ardbeg's Peat Path to Maturity. The Ardbeg peat path to maturity is over now, but it was an interesting experiment that allowed consumers to monitor the aging of a single vintage of whisky over a ten year period. Ardbeg released four different ages of a whisky distilled in 1998 (shortly after the distillery was reopened following a brief closure) on its way to ten years old. The Ardbeg Very Young was released in 2004, followed by Still Young in 2006, the Almost There in 2007, and at ten years old, the Ardbeg Renaissance in 2008. Each bottling was at cask strength. I had a chance to sample all of these versions except Renaissance and it was fascinating to observe the changes in this very popular peated malt. I only wish more Americans would have had the opportunity to try it.

Ichiro's Malt. Ichiro's Malt whiskies come from the closed Hanyu distillery in Japan. They are the Japanese equivalent of Brora or Port Ellen, fantastic and increasingly rare whiskies. I've been lucky enough to try a number of Ichiro's expressions and the best of them are among the best malts I've had from anywhere. These are increasingly expensive, but I sure wish we had the opportunity to treasure them before they're gone for good.

Kilchoman. I'm hoping that the newest distillery on Islay has plans for market expansion. Kilchoman just released its first expression, a three year old (the minimum age allowed for Scotch), which is allegedly a lighter peated whisky.

Cougar Bourbon and Rye. Believe it or not, there are even American whiskeys that we can't get in our own country. Cougar Bourbon and rye whiskeys are made by the Foster's group (Australian for beer, yeah them) for export only. They are distilled at Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana, a somewhat mysterious distillery which doesn't release any whiskey under its own label. I've never tried Cougar but it's received very good reviews.

Alberta Premium. Discussions of the new wave of Canadian Whiskies tend to begin with Forty Creek, make brief reference to Glen Breton, and ultimately end with Alberta Premium. One of the most consistently highest rated Canadians, Alberta Premium comes in 5 and 25 year old expressions and is made entirely from rye by Alberta Distillers. Is it so much to ask that they send a few bottles south?

The good news is that we are getting much more whiskey than we used to, particularly Scotch. Diageo is sending us special bottlings from previously unavailable distilleries (albeit at high prices) such as Mortlach and Linkwood. As I recently reported, Inver House is sending us Balblair and anCnoc. And Ardbeg is finally sending us their much sought after committee bottlings. Hopefully, some of these others distilleries will follow suit.

What currently unavailable whiskey would you like to see in the US?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Koreatown Gets Burgers: Kalbi Burger

My home neighborhood of Koreatown is a food mecca for many different genres of cuisine, including Oaxacan, Central American and a million varieties of Korean. What we lack are good burger joints. Ancient Cassell's keeps on truckin' with their big, meaty patties and excellent patty melts, but they close at 4:00. When the burger craving strikes at dinner or later, we have to haul ourselves up to Umami or Fatburger in Hollywood. The recently opened Kalbi Burger just might change all of that.

Nestled into a busy strip mall at Wilshire and Wilton (valet parking is free so don't sweat it), Kalbi Burger opened a few weeks ago. Undoubtedly inspired by Kogi, their house specialty is the Kalbi Burger, a burger made 50/50 from ground chuck and kalbi in a barbecued kalbi sauce. The Seoul Burger is a regular ground chuck burger that includes sauteed kimchee. All of the burgers had good flavor, good use of condiments and a homemade-style bun that stood up nicely. I especially liked the rich flavor of the kalbi burger; I could definitely taste kalbi with every bite, but that could have been the influence of the sauce as well. The burgers are cooked medium well, which is a bit too much for me. I didn't notice until after I ordered that you could request a different doneness.

The menu includes other theme burgers, a build-your-own burger option and hot dogs. Sides include a number of different french fry options and onion rings. We tried the salt and vinegar fries. The fries were very nicely fried to a crisp, golden brown, just the way I like 'em. They had a subtle malt vinegar flavor and specks of sea salt that gave them the perfect amount of salt.

The place is new and they are still smoothing out some rough spots in the ordering process, but the service is very friendly, and the owner is out front talking to customers with a contagious enthusiasm for his recipes.

Kalbi isn't going to compete for one of the best burgers in the City, but it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and I'm sure I'll be headed back when the burger craving strikes.

Kalbi Burger
4001 Wilshire Blvd., Unit E
Los Angeles, CA 90010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One Hot Tamale: Susan Fenniger's Street

Susan Fenniger is as much an LA institution as any chef. Teamed with Mary Sue Milliken, she opened City Cafe on Melrose nearly 30 years ago. They followed up with the casual-Mexican Border Grill in Santa Monica a few years later. In the '90s, the duo became early Food Network celebrities with Too Hot Tamales and added Ciudad Restaurant downtown, a pan-Latin spot. No Art Garfunkle she, Fenniger has lately been defining herself in the absence of her longtime culinary partner. She appeared on this season's Top Chef Masters and opened Susan Fenniger's Street, a Highland Avenue restaurant dedicated to international Street food.

I'm a fan of Border Grill (though I wish they would change the menu more) but lukewarm to Ciudad, so it's fair to say I'm Fenniger neutral. While I didn't rush to try Street, I was interested to check out the new digs, just a block north of the Mozza Metroplex.

I have to admit I was alarmed when I first perused the menu. Could anyone pull off this variety of food? There were Argentinian gnocchi, Ukrainian dumplings, down home southern, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian and of course, Latin American. It just seemed like too much. I also thought the concept was a bit stretched. Sure, some of the dishes could qualify as street food, but most of them seemed to simply be international dishes that perhaps appealed to Fenniger.

We started with Street's signature app, the Kaya Toast. You may also recall this dish as the one that got Fenniger kicked off of Top Chef Masters after a strong run. It's a Singaporean snack consisting of a coconut jam sandwich with a "soft fried egg" in soy sauce. The concept is to dip the sandwich in the egg and soy and get a sweet and salty mix. I put the quotes on soft fried egg because ours was beyond soft. A perfect fried egg should have a soft but firm white and runny yolk, but this one had slimy whites. The sandwich itself was nice enough and the flavor contrast of egg, soy and jam did work nicely with those parts of the egg that were cooked. I assume, since Fenniger herself was cooking on Top Chef, that the egg she used was cooked correctly, but I have some empathy with the critics who make her pack her knives; I mean, it's a jam sandwich and a fried egg, hardly the stuff of culinary masters.

Spinach Varenyky were Ukrainian fried dumplings with sour cream and fried onions. I thought the tastes were a bit subtle for Ukrainian and would have liked a bolder use of the sour cream and onions.

The Blueridge Chicken and Spoonbread Dumplings was a southern-style chicken and dumpling soup (now come on, where is that served as street food?). The broth had a nice chicken flavor but was too heavily salted. The dumpling, though, was a delightful, yellow, matzoh ball sized thing with lots of fresh, sweet corn flavor. It reminded me more of the sweet corn tamales at Border Grill than any southern dumpling I'd had, but it was tasty.

The best dish of the night was the Beef Tenderloin Schnitzel. The order included two pieces of pounded, breaded beef steak, covered in gravy with a stewed red cabbage slaw, parsnip puree and deep fried cornichon. By this time, I'd stopped wondering on what street you could purchase this and just enjoyed it. The schnitzel was well fried and tender; the brown gravy, with it's deep, rich flavor, gave the dish some heft, and all of the sides were spot on. The parsnip puree had the texture of mashed potatoes, but with that nice, more interesting rooty flavor of parsnips. The slaw added some acid, and I could eat a dozen of the deep fried pickles (why those aren't their own appetizer, I don't know).

While Street had some definite high moments, the food was uneven. It's not bad, but I won't be rushing back.

Susan Fenniger's Street
742 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 203-0500

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cure Me With Ham: La Quercia

La Quercia is a small, family-run Iowa prosciutto maker. (Angelenos will be tempted to pronounce it in Spanish, but it's [la Kwair-cha], Italian for oak tree). Their prosciuttos have developed a cult-like popularity.

La Quercia makes a wide variety of prosciutto, including an acorn fed variety; they also make guanciale, pancetta, copa and lardo. Many of these are only available wholesale to restaurants, but there is a limited variety that can be ordered directly from the La Quercia website. I was lucky enough to receive the "prosciutto tris" as a gift with three distinct varieties.

The Prosciutto Americano was amazingly rich, meaty and even a bit nutty. It had a much deeper flavor than some milder prosciuttos. It had a melt-in-the-mouth quality that reminded me of jamon iberico. Definitely some of the best prosciutto I've had.

Speck Americano is a very different ham, but still wonderful. It has a more traditional American ham taste and is saltier than the Prosciutto Americano.

Prosciutto Piccante is a hunk of cured ham in a spicy rub. It had great flavor, but I would have preferred the type of paper-thin slices that were used for the other two prosciuttos. It's hard to get that level of thinness if you don't have your own meat slicer, an item which I regrettably lack.

If you're a fan of cured meats, you definitely need to check out La Quercia.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Tut Tut Tut Tuthilltown

The biggest whiskey news of the past month was that the esteemed Scotch company William Grant & Sons had purchased the Hudson whiskey line from Tuthilltown Distilleries. Tuthilltown is an upstate New York microdistillery that started up in the early 2000s. Like most micros, they started with white sprits such as vodka and eau de vie. They were also one of the first microdistilleries to make a corn whiskey, and I reviewed their first whiskey product: Old Gristmill Corn Whiskey. Eventually, they started ageing spirit and now have a line up that includes two ryes, their very young "Baby Bourbon," a four grain Bourbon, and a single malt, as well as an aged rum and the corn whiskey (now called Hudson New York Corn Whiskey).

William Grant & Sons is a major Scotch company. They own two of the world's most popular distilleries, Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, and produce Grant's Blended Scotch. They also own Hendrick's Gin and are the US distributor for Stolichnaya Vodka.

There has been increasing publicity around American craft distilleries, but this is the first time that a major spirits company has purchased a craft brand which is, to (almost) quote the Vice-President, "a big friggin' deal." It is important to note that Grant purchased the brand, not the distillery. Tuthilltown will still make the whiskey and will continue to own the products that are not part of the Hudson line.

It's possible that this single purchase will change the economic landscape for craft distilleries, and this could be for better or for worse. On the one hand, this opens the possibility of some real financial backing for a microdistillery. Small start-up distilleries are sorely in need of funds and having some financial security could free up the distillers by decreasing the pressure to put out immature products and, instead, let barrel ageing run its course. On the other hand, the possibility of a corporate buy out could inspire people to start entering the market not as artisans but as speculators, trying to do just well enough to land a deal with a corporate sugar-daddy. Only time will tell how this shakes out, but it certainly is big news.

Since I haven't tasted any Tuthilltowns since my initial corn whiskey tasting, I thought I would sit down to a trio of their Hudson whiskeys. All of Tuthilltown's whiskeys are sold in 375 ml bottles (half bottles) and those I'm tasting today all cost in the $50 range.


Hudson Baby Bourbon, distilled 2010, 46% abv

The aroma I get has a distinct rye spice to it, which is odd given that Hudson's Baby Bourbon is made from a 100% corn mashbill (the only 100% corn Bourbon I know of). On the palate, this is definitely a very young whiskey. You can tell by the rawness. It's got some fruit as well, very much akin to the fruit in Wasmund's Single Malt. Adding water makes it unpleasantly soapy. Tasting blind, I'm pretty sure I would guess rye or maybe American malt, but not Bourbon. It's interesting but has some rough edges.

Hudson Manhattan Rye, distilled 2008, 46% abv

The Manhattan Rye has a very nice nose. It's a very tempered rye spice, very subtle and sophisticated, particularly for another very young whiskey. The flavor has a lot of spice, but it's different than traditional rye spice. I taste a lot of South Asian flavors, like a big curry whiskey. Rye, with its strong flavors, works better with a very young age, much as very young peated Scotches work better than young Scotches with other flavor profiles; the strong flavors make up for some of the rawness that comes from youth. This does very well with a few drops of water which takes off the edge and highlights the rye.

Hudson Single Malt, distilled 2009, 46% abv

The aroma is fruity with some spice (spice seems to be a Hudson characteristic). Very nice flavor with lots of pine/fir type flavors and some licorice, very herbal stuff. This one should be taken straight as water dilutes the flavor and adds some bitterness.

Interestingly, these three whiskeys taste more like each other than they do other whiskeys in their respective categories. Perhaps that has to do with the type of wood Tuthilltown is using to age them. While I thought the Baby Bourbon was just too young (maybe they should rename it Fetal Bourbon), I enjoyed both the single malt and the rye and would recommend them as unique expressions, though it would be hard for me to say they were worth the price of $50 per half bottle (maybe the Grants can take the price down a notch).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eat Hodori and Donate to Computers for Kids

I always like to see a restaurant giving back to the community, and Hodori Restaurant, the popular 24 hour Korean spot on Vermont just south of Olympic, has been raising money to buy computers for the local public schools. They did a number of events for the schools and have a donation box up on the counter where customers can donate to the cause.

The cuisine at Hodori is pretty standard Korean comfort food: donkatsu, bi bim bap, assorted barbecue dishes, etc. Most of the food is on the just okay level, but I'm a sucker for the chicken soup with hand cut noodles. It's got a great, rich chicken flavor and the noodles are nicely chewy. Check it out and help out some local kids.

1001 S Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 383-3554

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pies but no Camel Milk: Julian, California

Julian is a tiny town in the hills of central San Diego County. With a population of just over 1,500, Julian may have more pies than people. In the heart of San Diego fruit tree country, the town has at least three pie shops in its tiny commercial area and is famous, at least locally, for its apple pies.

I recently happened through Julian and was eager to try the pie. I would have liked to sample all of the shops and do a real smackdown, but I was just passing through, so I had to pick. The shop I picked was Mom's Pie House, or as the sign says, "Moms Pies Etc." on Highway 78.

Now, while Julian is known for apples, it isn't exactly the height of apple season so I went with something more seasonally appropriate and had a strawberry rhubarb pie with a crumble crust (the other option was a flaky crust).

Maybe it's just my big city bias, but I wasn't expecting much. Fruit pie is nice but seldom wows me. This pie, though, was one of the best strawberry rhubarbs I've had.

The major problem with strawberry rhubarb pie is that most people who make it are afraid of rhubarb, a sour, celery looking vegetable that is notoriously difficult to cook. As a result, most pies have a paltry amount of rhubarb and taste pretty much like strawberry pie. Mom does not fear the rhubarb. She included plenty of the stuff, giving the pie a wonderful sour/citric note. The acid was a great contrast to the strawberries as well as the sweet, cobble-type crust. Great stuff!

Mom's has chocolates as well so I tried some toffee and fudge, but neither was very good. This place is for fruit pies.

Mom's Pie House
2119 Main St/Hwy 78
Julian, CA 92036
(760) 765-2472

Driving further east down Highway 78, past the little town of Julian, I came across the Oasis Camel Dairy. Now that sounded intriguing! As I drove through the gate, I could see actual camels grazing in the fields. A woman came to greet me carrying a mason jar of what I can only assume was camel milk.

"Where can I buy some camel milk?" I asked.
"We don't sell camel milk, just soap." She replied.
"You don't sell milk?"
"Just soap, but you can take a tour."

Now I may be hopelessly naive, but when an establishment advertises itself as a dairy, I assume that is has milk. You don't go to the dairy to buy soap, you go to the drug store to buy soap. I considered asking her for a pull on the jar, but figured that would be futile and drove away (I don't need soap or a tour of animal milk that I can't drink).

The Dairy's website, while touting the nutritional benefits of camel milk, confirms that the dairy does not "sell camel milk for you to drink." Oh well, I guess I will just have to have some good old-fashioned goat milk with my pie.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: A Great Read - Chasing the White Dog

A few weeks back, in my post about Buffalo Trace's White Dog and accompanying discussion of the white whiskey phenomenon, I made reference to Max Watman’s new book Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine. Having now actually read the book, I can’t recommend it enough. Watman has a knack for storytelling that lends itself well to his take on the modern world of moonshine. The book is a volume of diverse essays covering everything from modern moonshine, (both artisanal and industrial), law enforcement, the NASCAR-bootlegging connection and the craft distilling movement. He does his best to dispel the old stereotype of the country-bumpkin moonshiner and reveal a substantial illegal trade in nasty, cheaply made, sugar-based liquor with high lead content sold in low income neighborhoods. Even as witness to these realities though, Watman can’t help but indulge in some romanticization of the outlaw moonshiner and ends up rooting for the outlaws in a climactic trial scene.

Some of the most interesting chapters for whiskey lovers are about the author’s own adventures in home distilling, as he experiments with the different mashes and still models in an effort to produce a palatable liquor. (I hope for Watman’s sake that the statute of limitations has run on his crimes against the state).

Chasing the White Dog is a quick reading, page turner of a book that I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the world of distilled spirits, their production and the characters who make them.

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, by Max Watman. ($16.50 on Amazon).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mandarin House

Mandarin House (aka Jin) is a Koreatown Chinese restaurant. While it is aimed at a Korean clientele, with a few exceptions, the menu will be familiar to anyone who grew up eating Americanized Chinese food. I must admit that sometimes I yearn for the American style Chinese of my youth, and Mandarin House does it well. Fried shrimp were plump, only lightly battered and not at all greasy - a near perfect specimen served with the obligatory fluorescent red sweet and sour sauce, though a less viscous, less sweet and all around better version than in your typical American Chinese spot. One of the dishes I most enjoyed was the "Sauteed Shredded Pork w/ Vegetable" which was served with cellophane noodles and a very satisfying garlic sauce. The specialty of the house is the less Americanized "Black Bean Sauce Noodle" (cha chiang mein), a dish of satisfyingly chewy homemade noodles in a thick, somewhat alarming brown sauce with onions. I enjoyed the noodles but the sauce was a bit heavy for me and reminded me vaguely of Vegemite with its thick mouthfeel and salty, protein flavor.

Not every dish at Mandarin House was a hit. The won ton soup was bland, as I suppose won ton soup is wont to be. The dumplings were dreadful things, deep fried to death with skins resembling leather in texture. All in all, though, Mandarin House satisfies with its noodles and fried shrimp and the taste of Chinese-American food from the days of yore. If only they had mushu pork.

Mandarin House (Jin)
3074 W. 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 386-8976

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rent it Now: Take Out - The Anti-Foodie Flick

In this age of Julie and Julia, magical foodie realism and animated rat chefs, it can be refreshing to see a movie that treats food as, well, just food. Take Out, the story of a Chinese immigrant restaurant deliveryman, may be centered on food, but it doesn't have any decadent, food porn shots. In fact, this film is the opposite of food porn. The food often looks unappetizing. Great blocks of frozen shrimp are chipped away at, everything from chicken wings to tostones are thrown in the single deep fat frier, and the same wok used for cooking is used to rinse the mop after the walls are washed down. The restaurant work is gritty and real, but not in that sexy Kitchen Confidential sort of way. Food is but a means to an end, a way for Ming, the undocumented delivery worker, to make enough money to pay back his loan shark for the money it took to smuggle him into the country, or at least to pay enough of it to avoid serious bodily harm. Yet by dropping the artistic device of food as metaphor, Take Out may be a more realistic portrayal of restaurant work than I've seen in any film. There's drudgery, monotony and exhaustion, but also some amount of camaraderie that comes from people working together, just trying to get by, and in the end, there is a glimmer of hope that even under these conditions, people can and do get by and make lives for themselves.

Take Out was a 2004 independent film that met success on the festival circuit (it debuted at Slamdance) but had only a limited release in theaters. It was written, directed and produced by Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou. Charles Jang gives an impressively understated performance as bicycle deliveryman Ming Ding. Another wonderful role is that of Big Sister, the no nonsense restaurant owner and counter woman played by Wang-Thye Lee. Remarkably, Lee is not a professional actor. She was cast while working at a take-out Chinese restaurant not unlike the one portrayed in the film (which was shot in an actual restaurant), and the writers met her when they were scouting locations for the film.

Take Out is available on Netflix. Check it out and take a break from the food porn.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: The Canadian Glen - Glen Breton Rare

Glen Breton Rare is a Canadian single malt whisky made by the Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia. It is the only Canadian single malt whisky.

Unfortunately, to the extent people have heard of Glen Breton or the Glenora Distillery, it is usually not because of the whisky itself, but because of a dispute they had with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the trade organization representing Scotland's distillers. Alleging that the distillery's use of the prefix "Glen" could lead consumers to confuse it with Scotch, the SWA objected to Glenora's attempt to trademark the name Glen Breton for its single malt. Litigation ensued and lasted for years. In the end, the Canadian courts ruled for Glenora; the SWA, meanwhile, became somewhat of a laughing stock among whisky fans, most of whom viewed their claims with skepticism. After all, there are Glens in Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia, which is, of course, Latin for New Scotland (the distillery is located in Glenville on Cape Breton Island, which is where the name Glen Breton comes from). In addition, the possibility of confusion with Scotch seemed rather remote when the Glen Breton bottle and box are prominently labeled as "Canada's Only Single Malt Whisky" and both feature large pictures of a maple leaf.

Now that it's been nearly a year since the final court ruling, we should close the book on this troubled chapter in whisky history and hope that Glenora can be known for its whisky and not simply as the subject of a legal dispute. To that end, let's taste some.


Glen Breton Rare Canadian Single Malt, 10 years old, 43% alcohol ($85)

The nose is sweet and floral, light and perfumed. The flavor is medicinal, soapy, a bit of a chemical taste. If I really concentrate, I get some fruit, maybe apple cider, and some herbal notes, but I keep coming back to soap.

I feel about this whisky the way I do about so many American single malts; I want to root for the distillery and encourage the experimentation, but the flavors just aren't there yet. Hopefully, now that they are free of legal entanglement, they will keep trying.

UPDATE: Demonstrating a good sense of humor, this week Glenora will release Battle of the Glen, a 15 year old single malt to commemorate their legal battle with (and victory over) the SWA.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pumping the Pork at Wok and Noodle

I've always been a huge fan of Shanghainese cuisine with its subtle, refined flavors and ample use of pork. I consider having a reliable local Shanghainese place a necessity akin to having a reliable pizza place. For a long while, I relied on Shanghai Restaurant in San Gabriel Square until it headed downhill, and I've never been a huge fan of Mei Long Village, so I was thrilled to finally discover a worthy Shanghainese on my first trip to Wok and Noodle. Located on Valley Boulevard, east of Atlantic in Alhambra, Wok and Noodle is one block west of The Boiling Crab; there is no English on the outside of the restaurant, but they do have an English menu.

Wok and Noodle has a pretty typical Shaghainese menu so we managed a nice sampling of the classics, including the the classic Shanghainese dish known locally as "pork pump." At Wok and Noodle, pork pump is listed on the menu as "degreased and braised boneless pork leg shank" (mmmm, degreased). If you've never had pork pump, it can be intimidating. You're served a lump of pork slightly larger than a softball, glistening with fat and juice, sitting in a pool of sauce and maybe a few veggies (bok choy at Wok and Noodle). The trick is to cut into the pump like a Scotsman cuts into the haggis on Burns Night. If well cooked (meaning braised for hours and hours), the thick and viscous fat layer will yield to a mound of tender pork which easily pulls away with the slightest pressure from a fork. Serve it with the sauce spooned over it. I love a good pork pump, but it isn't an everyday event.

The meat in Wok and Noodle's version is deeply satisfying; it's lean, tender and juicy, but significantly less greasy than some other versions (hey, that degreasing must do the trick). The sauce has a nice meaty flavor, but it's lighter on the spice (anise in particular) than other versions I've had. Next time I get a low cholesterol reading I'll have to do a head to head with Lake Spring.

One of my favorite dishes was the cooked noodle with chicken. A chicken soup with a wonderfully viscous broth with wondrous medicinal flavors from shitake mushrooms and mostly likely ginseng. The noodles were nicely chewy. Also very good was the vegetable with bean curd sheet, a familiar mix of greens, edamame and tofu sheets.

Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were also excellent, full of great pork flavor and succulent, slightly oily soup. Tony C. reports that they are sourced from Tastio/Dean Sin World, which would make sense, since Tastio's are some of my favorite XLB. Shen Jian Bao were tasty but over boiled, giving the dough a gluey consistency; I'm guessing these are also sourced from Tastio but perhaps not cooked with as much skill as the XLB.

In general, the quality of everything we ordered was very high. This is a place that fires on all cylinders and I will look forward to heading back to it as my new Shanghainese mainstay.

Wok and Noodle
828 West Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91803-3233
(626) 588-2284

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Vegas Journal: Bouchon Bakery

As a last post on my Las Vegas trip, I must pay tribute to our regular breakfast stop: Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in the Venetian. The Bouchon Bakery is a small stand near the Phantom of the Opera theater. Since I enjoyed Bouchon in LA, I figured I would try the bakery. Sweets are done well here, including large macarons of various flavors (I liked the chocolate, mint and coffee versions the best, but all were good), eclairs and assorted cookies. Croissants were a bit dry, and I would have expected more from someone known for his French cuisine. The trademark beignet had a wonderful raspberry jam in it, but the doughnut itself could have been fresher; beignets really need to be cooked a la minute. Coffee was so-so, but pretty good for the strip. One of my favorite items was a simple ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette with a dab of dijon, simple, straightforward and tasty. Oh, and everything was very expensive.

I hope you enjoyed my romp through Las Vegas. Now it's back home for a spell.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Booyah Bourye

What, you may ask, is Bourye? Bourye is a unique concoction from the good folks at the High West Distillery in Utah. It's a blend of a ten year old Bourbon and two ryes -- a 12 year old with a whopping 95% rye mashbill (5% malted barley) and a 16 year old with a more traditional rye mashbill (53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley). High West is one of the few bottlers I've seen that spells out the mashbills of each of its component whiskeys right on the bottle (High West doesn't distill any of this itself but buys whiskey from distillers). Their Rendezvous Rye is one of my favorite rye whiskeys, so I was eager to try Bourye.


Bourye, a Blend of Straight Whiskies (Batch 1), 46% alcohol ($60)

The nose is very Bourbon heavy up front, with rye spice kicking in later (keep in mind that while we know the component whiskeys in this vatting, we don't know the proportions of each that are used in the final product). Not surprisingly, the taste is similar to a high rye-content Bourbon. The first thing you get is a sweet burst of corn, followed by rye spice and some chewy, oak notes. The rye takes over in the finish, which goes on and on. This is really good stuff. Sipping blind, I would guess this was a very good high-rye content Bourbon with some age on it, which is probably more or less what it is when you add up all the components.