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Thread: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas

  1. #151
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    Francy Mixed Drinks, Alsatian Conviviality & Raw Meatballs

    From the Chicago Reader:

    Fancy Mixed Drinks, Alsatian Conviviality, and Raw Meatballs

    Journalists are like rats, not only because we like to eat but also because powerful forces are trying to eradicate us. Ratatouille, an animated film about a cheffy rat and probably the most meaningful movie of all time for food nerds, resonated especially for me because the Reader, my home for more than a decade, underwent some heartbreaking downsizing this year. Sure, I identified with the movie’s food critic, Anton Ego—in fact, I dressed as him for Halloween—but I felt more for Remy the rodent, who was under constant threat yet comforted and sustained by his passion for cooking. For my part, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take solace in eating well and writing about it. And I’m encouraged that 2008 is the Year of the Rat. Here, in no particular order, are some people, places, and dishes that made me feel better during the long Year of the Pig. You can read about all of them at greater length online by clicking the links in this piece at chicagoreader.com.
    Link to the rest of this piece
    Last edited by Juan C Ayllon; 01-08-2008 at 02:28 PM.

  2. #152
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    Are California wines over the top?


    Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times

    ENOUGH: “We have to do the right thing,” Tolmach says. “I’d stopped drinking my own wines.”

    Ojai Vineyards' Adam Tolmach says yes. In a move that could alienate big critics, he's trying to tame his own monsters.
    By Corie Brown, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    OJAI -- ONE after another, the bunches of soft or raisiny grapes in the rejection bin pile up. Adam Tolmach and his Ojai Vineyard crew are sorting the last grapes of the 2007 harvest, and 1 in 10 purple clusters aren't making the cut. It's the third week in October, an early finish -- or early for Tolmach, who produces opulent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines. Next year's harvest, he says, could be even earlier, and the following year may be earlier still. Tolmach is pushing up his harvest dates to pick less-ripe grapes and rejecting bunches that might have made the grade in previous vintages to bring his wines back in balance -- a balance he says he lost in the years spent trying to serve two masters: himself and wine critic Robert Parker.

    After 25 years, Santa Barbara's original cult winemaker has had a crisis of conscience. "We got the scores we wanted, but we went away from what I personally like," Tolmach says. "We lost our rudder when we went for ever bolder, riper flavors." Specifically, he says, the alcohol levels of his wines, at 15% and higher, are too high.

    Graying corkscrew curls poke out from under his floppy hat as Tolmach stands in the doorway of one of the small, wood-frame buildings around the edge of the open-air cement pad where he makes 6,000 cases of wine a year, including his Melville Syrah and Clos Pepe Pinot Noir. The makeshift winery, a rustic hideaway near Ojai, sits on land left to him by his grandfather. As he steps out into the sun, signaling to his crew to follow him up the stone steps to his house, where he'll make them a lunch of grilled cheese and onion sandwiches, he says, "We have to do the right thing. I'd stopped drinking my own wines."

    It's an unprecedented statement. In the ongoing debate about how big is too big for California wines, it's unusual for such a well-respected vintner to even weigh in, much less declare he's made a mistake by making wines that receive critical acclaim. And then to say he's changing course and expects his future wines might be less popular with those same critics? Well, that just never happens. The market for premium wines is enormously influenced by ratings such as those in Parker's Wine Advocate newsletter. At this point, most consumers who are willing to spend the $40 to $60 Tolmach charges for a bottle are disappointed if a California wine doesn't deliver the kind of fireworks Parker praises.

    Ripe for a change

    BUT Tolmach thinks American consumers will respond, as their European counterparts do, to balanced, lower-alcohol wines -- if they're offered the option. "Low-alcohol" is no longer synonymous with thin and acidic, he says. With careful vineyard management, it is possible to retain rich flavors without sending alcohols soaring. And he will do it, he says, without adding water or physically removing alcohol -- two controversial winemaking tricks common in California.

    The goal is to produce 14%-alcohol wines with nuance, Tolmach says. He wants to avoid overripe prune and jam flavors and preserve acidity to allow the more delicate floral and herbal qualities to emerge. "I want to take the Eurocentric sense of balance and apply it in California. We add no acid. No water. It's about picking at the right time and from cooler climate vineyards," he says.

    "By farming better, I can have full ripeness earlier," he says. It's a matter of spending more time in the vineyard to reduce grape yields in stages while increasing the leaf canopy to shade the grapes from too much sun. Naturally balanced wines produced naturally, he says.

    Tolmach isn't interested in going back to the early 1980s when his Ojai Vineyard wines contained 12% and 13% alcohol. With many California wines now weighing in at 16% alcohol and higher, he considers 14% restrained.

    Looking for balance

    TOLMACH isn't the only vintner to come to this conclusion. "Take any 20 winemakers, and they are all thinking about alcohol levels," says Joe Davis, owner of Arcadian Winery, a Pinot Noir vintner in Solvang and an outspoken advocate of lower-alcohol wines. His wines have rarely surpassed 14% alcohol.

    Winemaker Ray Coursen decided to dial back the alcohol levels in his Napa Valley Elyse wines because sales were slipping. "We found ourselves making wines that were 16.2% and 16.4% alcohol, which is very easy to do in California," Coursen says.

    "There is a lot to be said for these bigger wines. But one thing is certain, two people can't share a bottle with dinner." The wines overwhelm the meal, Coursen says. "We have to adapt. You are going to see more vintners change."

    Like Tolmach, he's following a slow process of small changes in the vineyard and avoiding adding water during fermentation and other winemaking tricks. He's harvesting extremely small vineyard sections as they ripen, rather than waiting for all of the grapes in a vineyard to reach a minimum level of ripeness.

    Top restaurants want wines with lower alcohol levels, says James Hall, winemaker and partner in Patz & Hall in Sonoma.

    "The new generation of sommeliers is more internationally oriented. They like wines with finesse."

    Hall is picking his grapes earlier, if only by a few days. "We've been doing it since 2002," he says, but because of high temperatures the following two years, the shift wasn't notable in the bottle. In 2005, he says, he moved closer to his goal with wines under 15% alcohol. "I'm not that obsessive about alcohol levels, but I do want balance."

    Still, "Adam is courageous," says Davis. "To have a winning combination and then stand up and say you are changing, it's not easy." In fact, it's foolhardy. Anyone spending what it takes to make high-quality wine in California absolutely has to sell that wine for at least $35 a bottle, Davis says. "Those wines sell on critical scores. And if you don't have the scores, you don't sell your wines."

    Critical support

    TOLMACH thinks that other wine critics are beginning to get the attention of wine lovers. For example, Allen Meadows, an L.A.-based authority on the wines of Burgundy and Champagne, has, for the last two years also been critiquing American Pinot Noir in his influential Burghound newsletter. There's now an alternative to the bigger-is-better point of view on wines, at least for Pinot Noir.

    "It's taken a while for American Pinot to get up to world-class standards," Meadows says. "They went from thin and reedy to Pinot-on-steroids."

    Now the wines are starting to swing back toward more balance, he says. "There are glimpses that great Pinot is possible here."

    In his latest newsletter, Meadows calls the 2005 vintage the best yet for Patz & Hall wines. "The relative toastiness that their Pinots have exhibited in the past is almost invisible." Arcadian wines rank among his favorites. And Tolmach's earliest success in scaling back alcohol levels -- the 2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir -- is applauded for its "solid tannic spine and good acid/fruit/structure balance."

    "I flatly disagree that a 15% alcohol wine can be balanced," Meadows says. He skewers some of the California Pinot Noir wines that Parker routinely celebrates.

    After Parker awarded the 2004 Pinot Noir Cuvée Elizabeth Bodega Headlands Vineyardfrom Kistler Vineyards in Napa Valley a 94/95 on his 100-point scale, Meadows gave the wine an 86 out of 100 points. "While the size and weight and concentration are impressive, the texture is anything but elegant," Meadows wrote.

    California's ever-present sunshine produces ripe fruit as a matter of course. Ripe wines, with their generous fruit flavors and lush, round opulence, can be appealing stand-outs when compared with more understated wines. Ready to drink when they are released by the winery, they offer instant gratification rather than requiring time in a cellar to mature.

    But in recent years, there has been a growing sense among sommeliers, wine retailers and some wine lovers that a line has been crossed, and California wines are too ripe.

    "For some time," Meadows writes in the latest issue of Burghound, "there has been a heavy emphasis on ultra ripe fruit . . . and opulent texture. Happily, these extreme wines are becoming less prevalent."

    In California, grapes can hang on the vine until they are raisins without rotting, Tolmach says. "The flavors lose freshness and liveliness but they do get more amplified." As these overripe wines gained popularity, he found he was drinking more and more European wines and fewer California wines, including his own.

    European blueprint

    IN his kitchen, Tolmach opens the door to the closet he's turned into his personal wine cellar. The floor-to-ceiling racks are filled with Burgundy wines from Nicolas Potel, Domaine Dujac and Domaine Leroy. There are Rhône wines from Alain Graillot and Chapoutier, German wines from Heymann Löwenstein and Emrich Schönleber, and some Pessac-Leognan from Bordeaux. If there are any California wines, including his own, they're tucked out of sight.

    Tolmach's goal is to find the balance between California ripeness and European elegance.

    "The wines from modern French producers who are capturing rich, ripe fruit flavors remind me of California wines but with a sense of balance that California doesn't usually have," he says. "These are the wines I'm trying to emulate. Henri Jayer is a perfect example. Potel makes a perfect Burgundy."

    It's risky to shift his winemaking style -- and to criticize the dominant American wine critic. In his latest newsletter, Parker praises Tolmach's wines while accusing the winemaker of hypocrisy for saying he wants to avoid making "monster" wines. According to Parker, Ojai Vineyard's 2004 White Hawk Syrah and 2005 Melville Syrah are, in fact, just such "rich, full-bodied and powerful wines."

    Toning down the alcohol levels while preserving that richness is the fine line Tolmach wants to walk. He hopes and expects his change of direction -- and vineyard practices -- to be more evident in the 2006 vintage and beyond.

    corie.brown@latimes.com
    Last edited by kikibalt; 01-09-2008 at 09:59 AM.

  3. #153
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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas

    I bought myself a juicer for christmas. Actually, I got a slushie maker and returned it because it was such a piece of crap. bought the juicer instead. Today I'm going to use it to make pancakes. Instead of water, I'll be using blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry juice to make blue, black, and red pancakes. Tomorrow I'm going to use the juice from orange, red, and green bell peppers to make tri colored pasta. Or attempt to anyway. something tells me my family is going to take one look at it and head out the door to mcdonalds. Anyone have any more juicing ideas i can drive my family nuts with?

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    Comme Ça: Just 'like that,' it's a hit


    Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
    The luscious interior of the roasted beef marrow is of ready to be scooped out with a small spoon. On the side is an oxtail jam, the shredded meat cooked and reduced until it’s butter tender.

    Chef David Myers' West Hollywood brasserie is fashionably French and bursting with life. Reservations are a must.

    By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    COMME ÇA, the sparkling new brasserie from David Myers of Sona, is a runaway success, a crossover that's both a seriously good restaurant and a trendy one. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, the excitement lights up the restaurant scene, which has generally been in the doldrums since the economic downturn and now the writers strike. This is the place everyone wants to be, and that pretty much guarantees a crazy mix of people angling for a table and some grand cru people-watching.

    Comme Ça, French for "like that," is effervescent and fun. As you arrive, you have to make your way through the crowd out front, pacing, murmuring into iPhones, waiting for friends to arrive, or cadging a smoke between courses. Just inside the door, would-be eaters are pressed close against the maitre d's lectern, where a severely chic hostess in black studies the reservations. Those who arrive without one can hope for one of the small tables in the bar, but unless it's late, they're usually all taken.

    Heads turn as each new group enters the Melrose Avenue restaurant and either sidles up to the bar -- where consulting bartender Sam Ross, from the celebrated Manhattan cocktail bar Milk & Honey, mixes up wee, twee cocktails with a nostalgic bent -- or spots a table of friends and insinuates itself into what feels like the ultimate dinner party.

    And like a good party, it can also get loud. In this case, deafeningly so. But it's a little better in the front dining room, which is also the best spot for people watching.

    I've lucked into a white tufted leather banquette that runs along the front dining room's dark wainscoting, where I have a prime view of the scene. A giant plateau de fruits de mer is delivered to a tiny table across the room. Loaded with oysters, clams, mussels, crab and what not, the two-tiered affair is so tall, the two diners can hardly see each other across it. Meanwhile, the fromager, wrapped up in a big apron and wearing a low black hat raffishly askew, comes out to advise a table on a cheese selection, then dashes over to the cheese bar to put it together. Next to me, a server delivers an East Side cocktail (gin, mint, lime and cucumber) and a Rumble (rum, lemon, blackberries and crushed ice) to a pair of women in spangled black cocktail dresses. They must have been expecting more of a club scene than a serious French brasserie, but as soon as a warm baguette arrives wrapped in brown paper, they drop all pretense and start wolfing down the thick-crusted bread baked at Boule, the bakery Myers operates around the corner on La Cienega.

    A richer classic

    HERE'S our tarte flambée, a misshapen oval flatbread slathered with fromage blanc, skeins of sweet, caramelized onions and a surfeit of smoky lardons. Now we're the ones wolfing. I love the sweet onions against the smoky bacon. Though much richer than the classic you'd get in Alsace, where it's the local answer to pizza, Comme Ça's is quite delicious, so much so that I end up ordering it as a starter for the table every time I go.

    Every French brasserie, of course, has soupe à l'oignon -- onion soup. Usually it's a sorry affair, but here it's a revelation. Instead of the usual murky broth that tastes like reconstituted bouillon cubes, Comme Ça's version is made with a rich, clear stock and ribbons of soft, caramelized onions capped with a melted layer of good Gruyère. First-class ingredients make all the difference.

    Myers' food at Sona is precious, iconoclastic and sometimes difficult to love, but here, surprisingly, he zeros in on French bistro and brasserie classics. He's also been very smart, tapping Manhattan for not only mixologist Ross, but also executive chef Michael David, two of the best at the serious restaurant-trendy scene thing. David cooked at both Café Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne, two of the best casual French restaurants in New York. David is a thorough professional who not only can cook, he also knows how to get the food out in a timely fashion. When you order moules frites, the fries that come with the steamed mussels are fresh out of the fryer, heaped into a metal cone-shaped vase, dark gold and irresistible with a proper aioli. The mussel broth is dosed with cream and a dash of Pernod to delicious effect. For $16, this could be dinner.

    Brandade de morue gratinée is the real thing, an oval cast iron casserole filled with a gutsy mix of dried salt cod and potatoes, delicious spread on toast. I love the roasted beef marrow, two tall bones standing upright, the luscious marrow ready to be scooped out with a small spoon. On the side is an oxtail jam, the shredded meat cooked and reduced until it's butter tender.

    For something lighter, consider the salade aux légumes of crisp, chilled baby romaine jumbled up with fresh artichoke hearts, green beans, and other vegetables in a light, subtle dressing. It beats any salade you're likely to get at a brasserie in France.

    Of course, nobody's forcing you to order so many hors d'oeuvres -- the menu's term for appetizers. But how can you resist when escargots persillade are on offer, and sepia Provençale? That's squid sautéed with tomatoes and a thread of basil oil.

    One page is enough

    THOUGH the one-page menu covers a lot of ground, it's fixed in the sense that it doesn't change. Oysters will always be waiting for you -- and that plateau, which is just what you may want after hitting a film. It's not the best I've ever had (the shrimp don't have much taste, the crab is a little watery), but it's very generous. If two of you polish off the $48 medium plateau, all you'll need after is a plate of cheese.

    And the cheeses are worth every calorie. The selection from fromager Todd Jasmin, who performs the same duties at Sona, isn't huge, but it's well-chosen. Every cheese I've had has been perfectly ripe, and often unusual, either raw milk versions of familiar types such as Époisses or Langres, or from very specific locales. He'll try to match cheeses with the wines, coming up with a blue made just miles from a Rhone vineyard or a chevre produced not far from the village where Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon was made.

    Installing a cheese bar at the front of the restaurant works better than the ceremonious presentation of the cheese cart in this setting. It's less pretentious -- and most importantly, the better to squeeze in more tables.

    I can imagine certain avid foodies pontificating on the plats du jour at Comme Ça, collecting them as notches on their belt.

    Choucroute garnie is a bit unconventional, but a fine enough version, garnished with house-made sausages, including a blood sausage, and a thick slice of country ham with potatoes (underdone) and sauerkraut (overly vinegary). Côte de boeuf for two is perfect for a simple dinner on the town and a great bottle of rouge. I like the way they bring it out whole and show it to you and then take it back into the kitchen to slice it.

    But there are plenty of inviting entrees from the regular menu too, including what has to be the best bouillabaisse in town. The broth carries the flavor of all the watery creatures that went into it, more than the mussels, clams, shrimp and piece or two of fish that garnish it. And, of course, the vibrant rouille gives everything a lift. The duck confit too brings back the taste of France. This one is crisped on the outside, meaty on the inside and served with braised red cabbage and squiggly spaetzle noodles.

    The steak (the cut isn't named on the menu) has a jellied texture, and a tendency to arrive overcooked. But those frites, I want to hoard them, they're so good. The kitchen also turns out a respectable coq au vin and a lovely skate wing with grenobloise sauce.

    Overall there are just a few persistent flaws. Much of the food is salty. It's still delicious, but often just over that edge. Desserts could use a makeover. They all come from Boule, but they're average at best -- a cloying crème brûlée; terrible profiteroles; a multi-layered, dry, little cake slathered in chocolate. But who needs dessert when there's that beautiful cheese?

    Service is earnest but uneven. Some waiters don't know much about the food; others want to tell the table all about their favorite dishes. And though the wine list is full of interesting bottles, there aren't many at the $50 level.

    The noise problem isn't so easily solved. In the two back dining rooms, it's so loud, it's like sticking knives in your ears. Waiters look like hunchbacks, continually bending over to hear what diners are saying. The handsome coffered ceilings may be the culprit and are also probably why Myers is shy to do something about the din.

    French, and full of life

    BUT look around. I can't think of another French restaurant in L.A. where people are eating with such gusto. Unlike Sona, Myers' first restaurant, this is anything but cutting edge. He's surprised us all by going for something utterly traditional and deeply satisfying.

    The lesson has to be: If you make food people want to eat, they will come. In droves. How hard is that? Obviously, quite hard, or the French chefs would be outperforming the Italians all over the city. Myers is not French. Neither is executive chef David. And yet they're turning out some of the most authentic -- and delicious -- French food in the city. What will happen when Alain Giraud fires up his stoves this spring at Anisette, the brasserie he's opening in Santa Monica, remains to be seen.

    But for now, we have a restaurant that is fun and full of life, with gutsy French food and relatively reasonable prices. And we can make a few allowances, because basically, we like Comme Ça just "like that."

    virbila@latimes.com

    Comme Ça Brasserie

    Rating: ** 1/2

    Location: Comme Ça, 8479 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 782-1178; www.commecarestaurant.com

    Ambience: Vibrant, incredibly noisy French-inspired brasserie from Sona chef David Myers with cheese bar, raw bar and handcrafted cocktails. The menu is classic French with set plats du jour. The crowd come for the food -- and the scene.

    Service: Earnest and harried.

    Price: Dinner hors d'oeuvres (appetizers), $9 to $16; main courses, $22 to $30; sides, $7 to $10; cheese plates, $15 to $25; desserts, $8.

    Best dishes: Chilled seafood platter, soup à l'oignon, salade des legumes, roasted beef marrow and oxtail jam, sepia Provençal, moules frites, bouillabaisse, duck confit, côte de boeuf for two, choucroute garni, crème brûlée.

    Wine list: Mostly French and interesting selections, but not enough at the $50 level. Corkage fee, $25.

    Best table: The one in the front corner.

    Special features: Unlimited water service, $5 per person.

    Details: Open for dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday,5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; for breakfast 8 to 11:30 a.m, lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and early dinner (salad, cheese and raw bar) 3 to 5 p.m. daily. Brunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Full bar. Valet parking, $5.50 at lunch, $8 at dinner.

    To see a photo gallery, go to latimes.com/food.

    Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory

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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas


    It’s quite a scene at the newly opened Comme Ça, a French bistro helmed by chef David Myers. From left, Tro Gharibian, Isabella Grimalti, Charles Stern and Angelique Varich enjoy drinks at the bar.
    (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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    This farmer has a zest for experimentation

    EXTREME CITRUS

    Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
    NICHE: Bob Polito grows the less common, more flavorful fruits farmers market shoppers want.
    Satsumas and Oroblancos haven't always been easy to come by -- and citrus pioneer Bob Polito still brings unusual varieties to market.

    By Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    MEYER LEMONS are so readily available now you can even find them in grocery stores. But back in the day (say, 20 years ago) they were as scarce -- and as sought after -- as Persian mulberries. If you wanted some, you practically had to either have a tree in your backyard or visit Bob Polito at the farmers market.

    Polito was one of the adventurous pioneers who, in the 1980s, launched a revolution by helping Southern California cooks discover that there was more to citrus fruit than oranges and grapefruits. Besides Meyer lemons, Polito was one of the first to grow those wonderfully sweet-tart Oroblanco grapefruits, raspberry-tinged blood oranges and candy-flavored Satsuma and Clementine tangerines.

    Campanile chef Mark Peel remembers finding the occasional Meyer when he was working at Chez Panisse up in Berkeley and then at early-days Spago, but they were rare. "I don't know where we were getting them, probably somebody's backyard," he says.

    "When we opened Campanile and found Polito, that was the first time we could get them on a regular basis. He's still one of the best guys out there."

    And Polito is still pioneering unusual varieties at the eight Southland farmers markets he works every week. Here is a sampling of what you could buy at his Santa Monica farmers market stand one recent Wednesday morning: Persian, Eureka and Meyer lemons; Oroblancos; Bearss limes; Algerian Clementines, Satsumas, and another mandarin variety he calls "Perfection." Soon to come are a couple more mandarins and blood oranges.

    Oh, yes, there are regular oranges too -- both Valencias and navels.

    That's a lot of variety to pack into the limited amount of land Polito farms among the rolling hills of San Diego County. But making a living at the farmers market -- especially in these trying times -- means offering a healthy mix of delicious discoveries as well as those favorites people already know they want.

    Rugged landscape

    TO get to the Polito family farm, you wind up into the hills above the town of Valley Center, roughly halfway between Escondido and Mt. Palomar. The landscape is rugged, especially for farm country -- the aptly named Hellhole Canyon park is nearby.

    But despite the seeming harshness and aridity, the orchards pressed up against the foothills have been home for decades to some of Southern California's finest citrus and avocados. Still, today there are probably more new home developments and Indian gaming casinos than orchards -- stark reminders of what awaits farmers who can't pull their weight financially.

    Bob's father, also named Bob, a retired doctor, and his wife, Rose, bought the home ranch property in the 1960s and still live in the rambling Mission-style house that anchors it, surrounded by succulents and citrus. Bob and his wife, Mary, run the farm and live just up the hill.

    The orchards around the house are mature, the trees 15 to 20 feet high and almost outrageously fecund. They are so loaded down with their bright yellow and deep-orange fruit that they look like overburdened Christmas trees.

    The real farming began in 1981 when the younger Polito brought his family south and started working the 70-acre home ranch. At the time, it was planted mostly with oranges, Marsh ruby grapefruits and avocados.

    It was not an auspicious assortment. "The first thing I realized was that no one wanted the Marsh ruby grapefruit," he laughs. "They don't get any color unless they get super hot weather. And we couldn't sell them. We were always losing money on them."

    Polito is a broad-shouldered, laconic guy who always seems to be wearing a flannel work shirt and baseball cap. He doesn't seem to get excited by much; one acquaintance describes his style as "farmer phlegmatic." That's probably a good thing, given the challenges he's faced.

    Among the original orchards, there were also apple trees, planted in a deep hollow where the cold air collects in the winter. California has never been overly lucky with apples, and particularly not in the southern part of the state. Because they were having such a hard time selling their apples, Rose Polito looked into the then-new phenomenon of farmers markets.

    "Mom got in touch with [Santa Monica market manager] Laura Avery, and I went down there to sell some apples," Polito says. "I just loaded them up in the back of my Chevy LUV pickup truck and drove to Santa Monica. It was pretty funny."

    Though the farmers market wasn't enough to keep the Politos in the apple business, it was the turning point for the rest of the farm.

    At the market, Polito got prices that were much better than what he'd been offered at the commercial packing houses. Even better, he learned a new way to farm.

    "There was a farmer at the Santa Monica market that I started talking to from a place called Teepee Ranch out by Lake Elsinore, and she had all sorts of different kinds of fruit," Polito says. "It looked a lot more interesting than what I had, so I decided I could do that too."

    Teepee Ranch didn't last long, but another mentor did. In searching for new varieties, Polito found Thermal orchardist Albert Newcomb, a major figure in the California citrus industry in the 1950s and '60s. (Newcomb died in 2003 at age 95, but the Willits & Newcomb nursery he founded with his cousin is still going strong.)

    "My philosophy was to listen to Albert Newcomb, and if he told me it was good, I put it in," Polito says. "He knew everything about citrus.

    "The first thing I did was graft over 10 acres of those Marsh ruby grapefruit into new varieties -- Star Ruby grapefruit, Oroblanco, Satsumas and Moro blood oranges. That was the start. After that, I started talking to other farmers, and then I got involved with [UC Riverside's experimental citrus breeding program]. I thought this would be a good place to try some different things," Polito says.

    In went Lane late navels, which stay sweet and juicy clear into July; Meyers; more blood oranges; Lisbon lemons and fragrant sweet lemons; and several kinds of mandarins -- Satsuma and Clementine as well as new University of California varieties Shasta (which he sells as "Primavera") and Tahoe (which he calls "Tom's Terrific"), which expand the range of flavors you might expect from the fruit.

    There is also another experimental mandarin variety that never got officially released. Polito likes it so much he continues to grow it, calling it "Perfection."

    Long-term commitment

    TRYING out new varieties of citrus is not like dabbling in other fruits and vegetables. It takes a tree three to five years to begin bearing salable fruit and five to eight years to reach full production. Then you can usually count on it for at least 30 more years.

    "Once you put something in, you're committed to it," Polito says. "You can't just decide to switch over. By the time it's up and running, that's 10 years of your life that's in it. That's tough to just give up on."

    Besides, it's enough of a challenge just keeping the farm going these days. These are trying times, particularly in San Diego County. In the last few years, Polito and his neighbors have been visited by a series of disasters that are almost biblical in severity.

    First came pestilence: In December 2002, an infestation of the Mexican fruit fly resulted in a quarantine of all citrus grown in the area. For almost 10 months, he couldn't bring any of his citrus to market. Polito estimates his income took about a 40% hit that year.

    "Any reserves we might have had, we lost to the fruit fly," he says.

    Just as the pain from that began to ease, last January's freeze took many of his avocado trees. Then last summer, the area was scorched by wildfires. Polito lost some citrus -- including a couple rows of sour Seville oranges he was experimenting with.

    Most seriously, earlier this month, Polito and other growers in the area had to cut back on their water use by almost one-third. For years they had benefited from a program that gave them reduced water bills in exchange for the promise that they'd be the first to cut back in hard times.

    Coping with that might be hardest of all. Avocado growers in the area are "stumping" their groves -- cutting down the trees to shoulder height and withholding water, hoping that by the time the new growth is finally ready to bear fruit, the water crisis will be over.

    Citrus growers are in a more difficult position, Polito says. "Citrus prices typically are so bad that there's no room for games. Avocado growers can afford to stump and wait the situation out, but citrus growers can't."

    As a result, Polito is planning on cutting down 1,000 of his Valencia orange trees. That's the summer orange that is used mainly for juicing.

    All of which just makes him even more glad he found farmers markets. "If you're a small grower and don't use farmers markets, you just can't make it," he says.

    "Growing oranges just does not work financially otherwise. It's super expensive to turn California water into orange juice."

    russ.parsons@latimes.com

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    Juan, try my wine--I wish, LOL!!

    WINE OF THE WEEK
    2005 Franck Balthazar Cornas

    The aroma will captivate you even before you take a sip.
    January 16, 2008


    This terrific wine, from a tiny estate in Cornas planted exclusively with Syrah (and old vines at that), is everything you'd want from a Cornas and as traditional as they come. Scented with cassis and wild berries (the aroma will captivate you even before you take a sip), the 2005 is generous and opulent, loaded with ripe fruit, with a firm structure and enough tannin to ensure that it will age, and age well. To go with this brilliant Syrah, you want bold flavors. Look to the cooking of Provence or elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

    --S. Irene Virbila

    Region: Northern Rhône Valley

    Price: $42 to $50

    Style: Traditional

    Food it goes with: Roast pork, tagines, braised lamb shank with beans, cassoulet.

    Where you find it: The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, (310) 278-2855 and (800) 547-1515, www.cheesestorebh.com; Mel & Rose Wine & Spirits in West Hollywood, (323) 655-5557, www.melandrose.com; Venice Beach Wines in Venice, (310) 392-3539, www.venicebeachwines.com; and Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 76WINEX, www.winex.com.

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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas

    Hey Frank,

    How are you?

    Cool articles! Guess I picked a bad time to join Weight Watchers!

    Keep your cool articles coming, buddy! You have a knack for finding great reading.

    Have a great weekend!

    Cheers,


    Juan

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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas

    Hundreds of choices, tastings geared to the connoiseur -- in L.A., vino is making room for añejo.
    By Betty Hallock, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    WALK into an L.A. tequila bar and your head starts spinning even before you see the bottom of your first caballito (Mexican shot glass). Just the numbers are astounding -- 96 blanco tequilas, 130 reposados, 121 añejos, a pour of a tequila named 1800 for $10 or of one called Tres-Cuatro-Cinco for $175.

    On the heels of the tequila boom, tequila bars are multiplying, especially here in Los Angeles. And ever since Corzo tequila hit the bottle-service scene, it seems you can't go to the mall without bumping into a temple of agave spirits. It's a tequila lover's paradise, but who's helping the not-yet-aficionados distinguish 4 Copas from 7 Leguas or a Hacienda de Oro from a Hacienda de la Flor?

    Some bars, such as Pink Taco in Century City with its panuchos (pink tacos) and rowdy Guadalajara-goes-Vegas atmosphere, are capitalizing on tequila's good-times reputation. Others such as Amaranta Cocina Mexicana in Canoga Park are more ambitious Mexican restaurants for whom the wide selection of fine tequilas is as much a requirement as an impressive wine list is at an upscale Italian place.

    But before you jump off the margarita wagon and start sampling those sippable tequilas, plenty of which are priced in the $25- to $35-per-shot range, take note -- you're often on your own when it comes to picking your three-year añejos or limited-production reposados.

    Amaranta opened in a Westfield shopping center in Canoga Park in June with a selection of more than 350 tequilas. Six-month-old Pink Taco (also in a Westfield mall) has more than 100 tequilas. "We just bumped up the tequila list with another 12 last week," says Pink Taco chief executive Harry Morton.

    There's the new Mucho Ultima Mexicana in Manhattan Beach, where the Bermuda shorts-in-winter crowd can choose from 150 tequilas. Owner Michael Zislis says he plans to have 250 ("that's all the bar can hold").

    Come spring, Jimmy Shaw, owner of Loteria Grill in the Original Farmers Market, is opening a second Loteria -- this one with a full bar featuring tequila.

    "I don't want a selection of more than 100," Shaw says. "I think that's overwhelming. I want a staff that really knows what we're presenting."

    What's hip to sip

    EVEN choosing from among 100 tequilas can be daunting. It's not enough anymore to know your silvers or blancos (not aged) from your reposados (aged from two months to a year) from your añejos (aged for a year or more) from your golds (which can contain additives). There's extra añejo (aged for three years or more), gran reposado, blanco suave, platinum, even flavored tequilas.

    The classification extra añejo, or extra aged, was approved by Mexico's National Committee on Standardization only about two years ago (along with flavored tequilas), so there are more añejos aged five years or even longer that are arriving on the market.

    High-end mixologists are adding añejos to their cocktails, whereas bartenders once were loath to pour the aged stuff for anything other than sipping. Meanwhile, it's ever more hip to sip your blancos and reposados, so every category in the market is trendy.

    "It's still an evolving market, but you have to watch out because there's a lot of marketing that doesn't necessarily have to do with the product," says Ian Chadwick, who runs a tequila forum on his "In Search of the Blue Agave" website. "Gran reposado doesn't mean anything. Blanco suave doesn't mean anything."

    Then there's lowland style, highland style, double- or triple-distilled tequila, tequila aged in wine barrels, private labels, limited production runs and more showcase bottles than you can shake a lime at.

    Help?

    "I try to do personalized tastings with myself or my staff so that people can better understand -- and get what they want," says manager Matthew Dickson at Malo in Silver Lake, where the tequila list runs upward of 170 tequilas (plus 22 mezcals).

    "People should feel comfortable getting tequilas. It's an extensive menu -- no two tequilas are the same -- and it can be intimidating."

    There are no set flights on the bar menu at Malo; you have to ask for a tasting. "If somebody's new to tequila, I'll do all silvers or reposados," Dickson says. "A lot of people are caught up in the añejos, but the agave flavor of a good silver is fantastic. . . . I don't serve it in a shot glass. Ever. It comes neat, in a whiskey glass, at room temperature. No lime or orange or salt on the rim."

    That 'special one'

    NOT everyone at every tequila bar is helpful. It's not uncommon to walk into a tequila bar, ask for a recommendation and have the bartender tell you, "I don't really drink tequila," or look back at the wall of tequilas behind him with an expression as befuddled as yours might be.

    "It's in the best interest of the tequila bar owner to make sure that their staff is knowledgeable," says Darin Jones (a.k.a. Mr. Agave) whose website, tequila.net, reviews tequilas and tequila bars. "It would be difficult to pick that 'special one' when entertaining hundreds of selections. . . . A professional trained in the history, production and tasting profiles of tequila is a must for a tequila bar offering 375 selections, wouldn't you think?"

    At Amaranta, pours of tequila come served in Riedel flutes, without lime (but you could ask for the house-made sangrita, or "little blood," a popular "chaser" made with tomato juice).

    A shot of Partida Elegante, for $110, is served on a silver plate with cinnamon-dusted orange segments and fresh cucumber as a palate cleanser between sips. "And dinner's on us," says general manager Frank Tognotti.

    As for the other hundreds of tequilas on the menu, "we try to engineer our menu to help both the servers and customers in the process," Tognotti says. "We have the menu broken up into categories [blanco, reposado, añejo] and subcategories [gentil, moderado, agresivo]."

    Within those subcategories, tequilas are organized within flavor profiles, such as "slight oak, fruit nose." Forty-two reposados fall under the heading "vanilla, honey, caramel, butter" -- still, it's something to work with.

    In the red glow of the atmospheric lighting at L.A. tequila-bar standard-bearer El Carmen on 3rd Street in Los Angeles, reading the list of tequilas -- for the uninitiated -- might be like being blindfolded, handed a stick and asked to swing at a piñata. It can lead some down the path of blended margaritas.

    "I didn't know what else to order," shouted an attractive blond over the din bouncing off the lucha libre-mask-covered walls.

    Some efforts have been started to help guide consumers through the tequila morass.

    Mexico's Tequila Regulatory Council, or CRT, awards its "distinctivo 'T' " certification to establishments worldwide dedicated to promoting the culture and quality of tequila.

    The program establishes standards to uphold quality; part of the program includes an examination of a staff's understanding of tequila. It's a good idea, but the application process and costs can be prohibitive, says Julio Bermejo, beverage manager of the renowned tequila bar at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, who has been designated "ambassador of tequila to the U.S." (not a paid position) by the state of Jalisco.

    "The intention of the program is excellent," he says, "but it costs to get certification, and some of it is nitpicking. The CRT wants you to destroy all your bottles so that people don't refill them, which is good. But some of them are works of art and I just don't want to throw them away. The customer who has the last drink from a bottle gets that bottle."

    The Academia Mexicana del Tequila, or AMT, plans to open a U.S. chapter in San Diego this year. Its "AMT 100% tequila" certification for restaurants is part of its educational program. "One of the requirements is that the staff speak intelligently about the product," says Phillip Soto Mares, AMT USA president and owner of a tequila company.

    Tequila sommelier

    BUT even the effort to clarify quality standards has inspired some affectations and confusion. The term tequilier (tequila sommelier) has been thrown around lately, but it has nothing to do with formal training.

    "The wine world has the master of wine program," Bermejo says, "but in terms of tequila, there's nothing like that. Some people call themselves that, but there's no way of knowing what their experience is."

    The website of L'Scorpion in Hollywood says that its tequiliers offer food pairings and tequila flights.

    But on a recent evening, the bartender there chuckled and shook his head when asked if there were any flights (so I didn't bother asking what he thought might go with the nachos libre). But he picked out several of his favorites to try, including snifters of Don Julio 1942 añejo, Don Eduardo reposado and a Casa Noble blanco -- all half price for happy hour.

    "You try a tequila, tell the bartender what you think and he will work with you from there," says James Sinclair, a partner at PaJa Group, which operates L'Scorpion.

    At Mucho, flights of tequila are on the menu, most of them flights of usual-suspect brands: Don Eduardo, Herradura, Corzo. The ultima flight includes 3/4 -ounce pours of El Tesoro Paradiso, Herradura Selección Suprema and Don Julio Real for $75.

    "To get a staff to know hundreds of tequilas -- it's hard," Mucho's Zislis says. "We've been open seven weeks. The bartenders are probably familiar with about half of them right now. It takes time. . . . There are always three or four bartenders on; if one doesn't know a particular tequila, another one has had it."

    And there's always tequila school. Bermejo's Blue Agave Club, a tequila tasting club at Tommy's in San Francisco, has more than 6,000 members. Others have followed suit: The Spanish Kitchen in West Hollywood started a "Tequila School" tasting club last year.

    And at Tommy's, to become a "Tequila Master," members must sample 35 different tequilas (tracked by card punches at the bar; maximum three per visit).

    To qualify for a "Tequila Ph.D." or become a "Tequila Ninja Master," members must try another 35 tequilas (the tequila can be in margaritas for a Ph.D., but you have to drink it neat for the Ninja Master title) and receive an 80% or higher on a 70-question exam that covers fermentation, distillation, tequila regions, brands and personalities.

    "Now when somebody is looking for a tequila," Bermejo says, "my customers help each other out."

    betty.hallock@latimes.com

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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas


    Margaritas are the choice of a trio at Pink Taco in Century City.
    (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

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    Koreatown's queen of tofu stew


    Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times
    "It's not important whether there are 10 or 100 branches," Hee-sook Lee says, speaking in Korean. "I consider myself a diplomat of sorts, making Korean food known to the world."

    Hee-sook Lee took a common dish from her native country and turned it into an empire that spans the ocean.

    By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    When Hee-sook Lee opened a restaurant at the edge of Los Angeles' Koreatown more than a decade ago, there seemed to be nothing remarkable about the tofu stew she served.

    But with a "secret recipe" for the common Korean dish and an entrepreneurial side that family and friends had never seen in her, Lee within a few short years was exporting her brand of tofu stew to South Korea, building a small empire that has spawned numerous imitators.

    Today, tourists from South Korea arrive by the busload at BCD Tofu House and snap photos. Visiting dignitaries, sports stars and actors frequently dine at the restaurant. Even though the restaurant is open around the clock, there is almost always a wait.

    Since the Vermont Avenue restaurant opened in 1996, Lee has expanded it into a transpacific chain with more than a dozen branches in Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo and Seoul. And she is far from being done.

    "It's not important whether there are 10 or 100 branches," Lee said, speaking in Korean. "I consider myself a diplomat of sorts, making Korean food known to the world."

    The success of Lee's restaurants has catapulted the immaculately dressed 48-year-old chief executive into minor celebrity status in South Korea. People recognize her from numerous media reports and approach her on the streets of Seoul. The South Korean government invited her to speak at a convention for overseas Korean business owners. In 2006, the tale of her success was reenacted in a 12-part radio mini-series broadcast in South Korea.

    Fellow immigrants look to Lee for a clue as to how she built up a business that brings in $19 million annually and employs more than 300 people. Many wonder how a common dish brimming with very Korean flavors -- spicy, salty and served scalding hot -- succeeded in Los Angeles.

    To those asking for the secret to her success, Lee smiles sheepishly and says there really isn't much to it.

    "To succeed in anything, you just have to be fanatically devoted to it," Lee told a hall full of dark-suited businesspeople at the government-sponsored convention in 2006. "No matter what other people tell you, you shouldn't look back."

    When she first arrived in Los Angeles with two of her three sons in 1989, Lee barely spoke English. She left behind her husband and 18-month-old son so that she and the other sons, 5 and 7 at the time, could get an education.

    Initially, the plan was to return to South Korea after a few years. She studied design at Santa Monica College and then moved on to the Gemology Institute of America. But when Lee finished her studies, the children had grown attached to life in the U.S. and didn't want to move back.

    Lee toyed with the idea of permanently settling here and wondered what she could do to earn a living. Having married young, her experiences were limited -- a brief stint as an accountant and helping operate a restaurant owned by her husband, Tae Lee. But Lee was convinced that she could thrive as a businesswoman, she said.

    She decided to take a gamble and open a restaurant. And entering the restaurant business was no small gamble. A quarter of all new restaurants close by the first year, and by the third year nearly half shut down, according to the California Restaurant Assn.

    To differentiate her eatery from the seemingly endless restaurants lining the streets of Koreatown, Lee decided she would serve just one simple tofu dish, soon-dubu -- a common, cheap lunch dish with chunks of white tofu submerged in a bubbling bright red soup saturated with spices.

    Lee took to the kitchen, spending long nights experimenting with different spices and condiments. From the commonplace stew, she conjured up 12 varieties with different types of meat and flavors. She brainstormed ways to customize the dish like a cup of coffee, offering four degrees of spiciness, with or without monosodium glutamate. Her final recipe is a secret that she won't share with anyone, not even her husband, she said.

    After about a year of preparation and some advertising, Lee opened her first BCD Tofu House on Vermont Avenue in April 1996. The name is short for Buk Chang Dong, a neighborhood in Seoul where her in-laws once ran a small restaurant.

    Lee spent much of her time tending to the restaurant's operation. Each day at 2 a.m. she went to the downtown wholesale market to handpick produce. Three months after her restaurant opened, Lee and her family, who were reunited, moved to Las Vegas, where her husband owned property and the residency application process was shorter. She commuted to Los Angeles by plane each day to oversee her restaurant's operations.

    "I wanted to be home by the time the children got home from school and cook them dinner, so I would take the 6:30, 7:30 flight back. . . . The children would get tired of waiting and fall asleep, and that was painful for me to see," Lee recalled.

    Ten months after the first restaurant opened, Lee opened a second BCD Tofu House in Koreatown. Ten months after that, she opened a third in Garden Grove.

    "I could have just operated one restaurant to perfection, but anyone could do that," Lee said.

    Just two years into the business, Lee began to export her soon-dubu to South Korea. Now she operates 13 tofu houses on either side of the Pacific and plans to open two more in Irvine and Fullerton in the coming months. Lee, who became a naturalized citizen in 2000, says she wants to eventually open branches on the East Coast and in China and to franchise the chain in the U.S.

    Even at this rate, Lee hasn't been able to open branches fast enough to keep up with the demand, and numerous imitators are taking advantage of the opportunity. One chain calls itself BSD and has nearly 50 franchises throughout South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China.

    Last July, Lee faced a restaurateur's worst fear -- a food poisoning report to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. When the restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard was closed for nine days as a result of an inspection, the Korean media in Los Angeles reported on the story daily, treating it as front-page news because of the restaurant's popularity. Rumors that the restaurant was unsanitary circulated in the Korean community, and the flow of customers ebbed for a while, Lee said.

    The experience was especially painful for Lee because she tries to keep a tight rein on the restaurants' operations. Each day she makes about 40 gallons of her secret seasoning herself, which is shipped out to all her U.S. restaurants. When she visits one of her restaurants, she listens for the clatter dishes make when carelessly placed on the table and looks for the one customer in the corner who has been waiting a minute too long to be served. For first-time diners who look a little lost, she will even show them how her food is to be eaten.

    "She stops by every day to look around. Mostly she'll encourage people, but she'll criticize sharply when something's wrong, especially when she finds things aren't clean," said Eun Jae Kim, 43, a head waitress who has worked for Lee for eight years.

    Lee's 70-year-old husband complains that she doesn't know how to take a break. When they chat over coffee every morning in their Malibu home, he mentions going on cruises or other vacations; instead, Lee took him to Shanghai this month to scout potential restaurant sites.

    "She works a little too hard," he said.

    But relaxing isn't on the menu. Lee recently purchased a 15,000-square-foot factory in Gardena that produces a milder version of the signature Korean cabbage dish kimchi for non-Korean palates. In December, she opened a restaurant on Alvarado Street near MacArthur Park that serves Korean chicken stew to a largely Latino clientele. The restaurant is called BCD Pollo Pillo.

    "Your heart flutters when you start up something new like this," Lee said, watching her newly hired staff test the deep-frying equipment at the chicken restaurant. "It's like when a mother bears a child. Giving birth is so painful, but she soon forgets and bears a child yet again."

    victoria.kim@latimes.com

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    Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas


    Hee-sook Lee in the kitchen of BCD Tofu House on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown. Each day she makes about 40 gallons of her secret seasoning herself, shipping it out to her U.S. restaurants.
    (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas


    At Alice Cooperstown, on Jackson Street in Phoenix, Janelle Weisenberger serves mini-burgers to hungry Arizona State University students. The happening spot is operated by rocker Alice Cooper.
    (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)

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    Reza's Restaurant



    I don't know about you, but I love middle eastern fare. One of my favorite places, Reza's Restaurant, has great hummus, as well as reasonably good steaks, chicken, lamb chops, felafel, and other tasty dishes at a reasonable price for the city of Chicago.

    I used to wait tables at the Ontario Avenue restaurant while I was student teaching at Whitney Young Magnet High School back in 1994. I loved the ambiance, with two giant brass beer brewing machines enclosed in a glass room near the entrance (shut down since the days it used to be Berghoff's Brewery), a baby grand piano on the main floor of brick (hard on your feet if you're waiting tables), high ceilings, and tall windows looking out onto Ontario Avenue.

    It was also a wonderful place for people watching.

    Link to Reza's Restaurant



    Welcome to Reza's Restaurant!

    Reza's Restaurant offers you Persian, Middle-Eastern,
    and Mediterranean Cuisine. Reza's Restaurant pleases
    everyone's taste. Vegetarian or Meat lovers, you'll
    definitely find something delicious for you. Most of our
    dishes are prepared on open fire.

    In addition to our dining areas at our restaurant, we also have Private Party Rooms. Make sure to reserve your next office party or gathering at Reza's. Our Party Rooms are available from 25 to 500 people.

    For more information, please call any of our locations and speak with a manager.
    Last edited by Juan C Ayllon; 01-31-2008 at 01:23 PM.

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    Chef to the Rescue!

    Hey, this recipe for Italian sundaes looks pretty good, and the chef is pretty easy on the eyes, too!

    Chef to the Rescue Link

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    Cooking in the Slow Lane--Turkish Style!

    Yum! In light of the cold weather, this caught my attention--

    Cooking in the Slow Lane
    Warm up winter with these easy one-pot meals from your slow cooker.

    By Patsy Jamieson, EatingWell.com

    Some years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the idyllic Turkish village of Sirince, in the orchard-lined hills above the ancient city of Ephesus. My husband and I had checked into the beautifully restored Erdem Pansiyon. When our host, Mahmut, learned of my interest in Turkish food, he invited me to spend the day cooking with him. The following morning, Mahmut laid out the ingredients—many of them freshly harvested from his garden—for the güveç (casserole) we would prepare for dinner that evening. After layering lamb, onions, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes and green beans in a ceramic pot, we scattered bay leaves over the top, sealed the pot and carried it along the cobblestone streets of the village to the bakery. We left the casserole to bake slowly at the side of the baker’s oven for the rest of the day and retreated to the comfortable pension to wait out the intense heat of an Anatolian summer day.

    In the welcome cool of the evening, we sat down to a leisurely meal in the garden surrounded by fruit trees and grapevines. After an assortment of traditional Turkish meze (small dishes), which included stuffed grape leaves made from leaves we had plucked from the garden vines, Mahmut lifted the lid of the güveç. The mingling of the vegetables and lamb produced the most enticing aroma. Although we had prepared all the ingredients for the dish, I had the feeling that the casserole had miraculously cooked itself. To finish the meal, Mahmut picked fresh apricots and cherries from nearby trees. Perfection!

    I learned an important lesson from that memorable day. Mahmut’s relaxed pace in the kitchen reminded me to slow down, appreciate the ingredients and treasure the process of cooking. I realized that although it is not as romantic as the wood-burning oven in the village bakery, my slow cooker is ideal for making this type of hearty stew. Since that trip to Turkey, I have adapted more recipes, often inspired by dishes I have discovered in my travels, to this convenient appliance.

    Even though my passion for this type of cooking was ignited on a searing summer day, I value my slow cooker most in winter. The hearty, brothy dishes it creates so well have warmed many a chilly evening in my Vermont kitchen. What a luxury to load the slow cooker, leave the house to glide across local cross-country ski trails or simply run errands around town, and return to the aroma of a satisfying dinner that is ready to serve. Saucy slow-cooked dishes are also ideal candidates for making ahead and reheating, so I often enjoy the leftovers for several days. And, a slow cooker provides advantages for healthy cooking. It allows you to stretch small amounts of meat with flavorful sauce and a generous portion of vegetables—the essence of a healthy diet.

    Patsy Jamieson is an EatingWell contributing editor and frequently returns to the Test Kitchen to style the food for many of our photos.

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    Kendall-Jackson Grilled Beef Tri-Tips Recipe!

    I found this tasty-sounding recipe on the Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates site:


    Grilled Beef Tri-Tip with Meritage Barbecue Sauce

    The smoky dry rub and barbecue sauce gives the grilled tri-tip an intense richness that complements the complex flavors and firm tannins in our Kendall-Jackson Meritage.

    Recipe by Chef Andrei Litvinenko

    8 Servings

    Beef Ingredients:
    4 lbs. beef tri-tip

    Rub Ingredients:
    1/4 C. Spanish smoked paprika
    1/3 C. kosher salt
    2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
    2 Tbsp. brown sugar
    2 Tbsp. chili powder
    2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
    1 Tbsp. cayenne
    1 Tbsp. onion powder
    1 Tbsp. garlic powder

    Meritage Barbecue Sauce Ingredients:
    1 each yellow onion, diced
    2 each garlic cloves, minced
    2 C. ketchup
    1 C. Kendall-Jackson Meritage
    1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
    1/2 C. brown sugar
    1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
    1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
    1/4 tsp. celery seeds
    1/4 cinnamon stick
    salt and pepper to taste

    Meritage Barbecue Sauce Preparation:


    Sauté onion on low heat until translucent.
    Add garlic and continue sautéing on low heat for 2 min.
    Add ketchup and simmer for 8 min.
    Add remaining ingredients and simmer until reduced by half.
    Remove from heat and purée in blender.
    Add water if necessary to adjust to desired consistency and season with salt and pepper.
    Pass through a strainer and cool.
    Final Preparation:

    Trim meat of any excess silver skin or unwanted fat and set aside.
    Blend spice mixture for rub, and spread evenly over meat.
    Place rubbed meat in large plastic bag or in a covered container and refrigerate at least overnight or up to two days.
    Remove from refrigerator 1/2 hour prior to cooking and allow to come to room temperature.
    Place meat on preheated grill, continually basting with sauce while cooking.
    When finished, allow to rest 5 minutes per pound prior to serving.
    When ready to serve, slice meat against the grain, taking care to turn meat while you slice to stay in line with the grain.
    Add more barbecue sauce if desired.
    Season with salt and serve.
    Kendall-Jackson Estates Vineyard Link

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    For you Oysters lovers!!

    THE CALIFORNIA COOK
    Oysters, beyond raw

    Peter DaSilva / For The Times

    GRILLED AND SPICED: Half a dozen barbecued oysters from the Marshall Store on its deck along Tomales Bay in Northern California.
    Why would anyone cook a perfectly good oyster? It's simple -- there's no arguing with delicious.

    By Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    WE were wandering south along Tomales Bay a couple of months ago and stopped in for oysters at a little place called Marshall Store. I ordered up a dozen raw, and an icy Sierra Nevada. And then, just on a whim, I asked them to toss in another dozen oysters barbecued -- they're a local specialty and I thought I at least ought to try them.

    Barbecued oysters are not the kind of thing I usually order. I've always thought of cooked oysters as something you settle for -- what you eat only when the oysters are no longer of the first quality or when you have had so many raw ones you're tired of them (and despite repeated attempts at reaching that limit, I have never even come close).

    Related Stories
    - Recipe: Oysters roasted with fennel and cream
    - Recipe: Oyster stew with leeks and prosciutto
    - Recipe: Roasted oysters with chipotle butter
    - Fruits of the sea, by mail

    At Marshall Store, the raw oysters were magnificent, as expected; after all, we were eating them no more than five yards from the icy Northern California waters where they were grown. But what really amazed me was how great the barbecued oysters were. Freshly shucked, they were lightly brushed with garlic butter, quickly grilled and then finished with a squirt of house-made chipotle sauce.

    The preparation was simple, but the result was beguilingly complex. All of the flavors were in balance: the garlic butter smoothing out the oysters' sharp brininess and the chipotle sauce offering a hint of sweet smoke and fire.

    Old prejudices die hard, but there is no arguing with delicious.

    Curious, I started re-examining old oyster recipes. That's where, as if to rub (sea) salt in my wounds, I came across this quote from James Beard: "Many gourmets, or so-called gourmets, tell you that to eat an oyster in any fashion except directly from the shell is to show ignorance of gastronomic tradition and the rules of good taste. This is nonsense."

    Back to the kitchen

    THOROUGHLY chastened, I retired to my kitchen to explore. A couple of weeks and scores of cooked oysters later, I've learned that he's right. Cooked oysters aren't better than raw, but they are different -- and in a delicious way.

    Cooking oysters changes their flavor and their texture. What was once aggressively briny, tasting like cold, clean seawater, is calmed, allowing the mollusks' natural sweetness to shine through. The seductively slippery texture is firmed, turning from wet and wild to soothingly custardy.

    The transformation is magical, whether you're gently poaching the oysters in a rich tarragon-scented stew, or roasting them to be served with melting braised fennel or a sprightly chipotle butter.

    But let's be clear right from the start that when we talk about "cooking" oysters, we're really talking about something closer to "warming" them. It takes only three or four minutes' poaching and less than 10 minutes in the oven.

    It's really easy to tell when an oyster is done: You can see it plump and firm, and the small ring of muscle around the outside will gently curl. Perhaps it's just my imagination, but it looks as if the oyster is smiling.

    You should be smiling too. Though raw oysters are among nature's most inconvenient foods -- even well-practiced oyster shuckers can run into problems opening them -- it's pretty amazing what a little cooking can do.

    The edible part of an oyster is basically one big muscle that is devoted to keeping the two halves of the shell closed. Warm an oyster in the shell, though, if only for five minutes or so, and the muscle relaxes. This makes opening it, if not quite a breeze, at least much easier. At this point it's certainly not suited for the raw bar, but it's still well short of fully cooked.

    You can even do this in the microwave: 20 to 30 seconds on medium heat or "defrost" will do the trick. Don't go any longer, though, or the shell will begin to give off a somewhat unpleasant smell.

    Once the oysters are warmed, shuck them as you normally would: Wrap the oyster cup- side down in a dish towel to protect your hand. Probe the narrow hinge end with an oyster knife. When you find a spot where the knife can slip in a couple of inches, just give the blade a twist. It will pop the hinge, opening the oyster.

    Use the sharp edge of the knife to separate the muscle from the shell, top and bottom, and you're ready to go. It's a good idea to work over a bowl, so you can catch any of the delicious liquid that leaks. Before you add it back to the dish, pour it through a strainer to remove any shell fragments.

    Using jarred oysters

    JARRED oysters, available at most good fish counters, can be handy, but in my experience they should be used with discretion. In the first place, I've found widely varying quality with different brands. The ones I've been happiest with have been from high-quality oyster growers such as Hama Hama (available at Mitsuwa markets) and Taylor Shellfish Farms (at Marukai stores or www.taylorshellfishfarms.com).

    Be aware that the liquid in the jar is not oyster juice, but rather the clean water the oysters were rinsed with. It won't add much to the dish.

    Sizes vary and should be labeled on the jar. But even small jarred oysters may be bigger than you'd think. The Hama Hama "extra-smalls" I bought averaged 2 to 3 inches in length; the Taylor "mediums" were 4 to 5 -- practically knife-and-fork size. I figure a 10-ounce jar will yield the equivalent of about 24 of my hand-shucked oysters.

    I found jarred oysters work best in stews and dishes like that. If you want to roast them, arrange the oysters and their accompaniments in small ramekins and cook them that way.

    If you're cooking oysters in liquid, you'll probably want it to be cream or at least half-and-half. Oysters take to cream like ducks to water. There's something about their flavor that seems to want a little richness to round it out. I've noticed the same thing with crab -- make a Dungeness crab salad with vinaigrette and it can seem a little mingy; bind it with mayonnaise and it's practically guaranteed to be amazing.

    Perhaps the easiest and most common cooked-oyster recipe is for stew. Small wonder there are about a million variations. At its most basic, an oyster stew can be nothing more than oysters warmed in light cream. If the oysters are good, this two-ingredient dish can be surprisingly delicious.

    But why stop there? My favorite oyster stew is not all that much more complicated to make, but it adds more layers of flavor. Start by stewing prosciutto, leeks and shallots in butter. Add wine and reduce it, then bring half-and-half to a bare simmer. When bubbles begin to appear around the rim of the pan, add the oysters and cook just until they're done. What brings all of the flavors into focus is a last-minute garnish of chopped tarragon (oysters love licorice flavors almost as much as they love cream).

    If you're cooking the oysters in the oven, prop them on a bed of rock salt to ensure that the notoriously tippy shells stay upright, retaining all of the liquid. You can play with adding different ingredients to the salt. This doesn't actually add flavor to the oysters (any more than the salt does), but scattering spices and dried herbs among the salt crystals before roasting can add an amazing aroma that lingers well after the pan is brought to the table.

    Use that perfume to reinforce the flavors of the dish. Oysters roasted on a bed of braised fennel, finished with a little Pernod cream were really good (there's that licorice thing again). But when I added fennel seed, chopped fennel stalks and black peppercorns to the rock salt, they seemed to take on another dimension.

    Notice that when you're roasting oysters, you'll want to add a bit of fat to them too. All it takes is a very small amount of butter or cream to add a luscious sheen; any more and they'll be swimming, and that's not an improvement.

    That, I think, is part of the magic of the Marshall Store barbecued oysters. That little brush with butter is enough to round out the flavor. The only problem with that preparation is that you have to be a pretty slick shucker to get enough oysters ready for grilling in time.

    Trying to duplicate the dish at home, I came up with what I think is an elegant compromise. Make chipotle butter by pureeing canned chipotles and garlic in a blender, then streaming in melted butter. Then, instead of shucking the oysters, brushing them with butter, grilling them, then saucing them, I just give them a brief roast first to loosen the shell, and then spoon on just a dab of the chipotle butter before returning them to the oven to glaze.

    This is different than the original, both in process and in finished result. The flavors are brighter and more assertive, and there is a distinct prickle of chile heat that isn't as obvious in the Marshall Store version.

    The most obvious difference, of course, is that you won't have the icy waters of Tomales Bay at your feet. Still, this dish is so delicious that it is more than enough to keep you -- and your oysters -- smiling until the next time you do.

    russ.parsons@latimes.com

    Marshall Store, 19225 State Route 1, Marshall (about 20 minutes north of Point Reyes); (415) 663-1339. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

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    Getting juiced at wine tastings


    Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
    TRY THIS: Mindy Ramsay-Phillips, a tasting-room pourer and saleswoman at Leonesse Cellars in Temecula, tells customers about one of that day’s featured wines.

    California vintners aim to cork the problem of limos and tour buses bringing partyers to their venues.

    By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    LOS OLIVOS, CALIF. -- -- The man did not seem to be a serious student of wine. Disheveled, unshaven and reeking of booze, he demanded a glass, rested his head on the tasting-room counter and loudly moaned. Knocking over a "wet floor" sign and lurching into displays, he stumbled into eight wineries in one afternoon last week, and six refused him service.

    It was a decent outcome for the undercover deputy from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, who had gone to the lengths of gargling with Jack Daniels and spritzing it on his clothes. He didn't issue any citations, but his sting operation was part of a broad effort to address a growing concern in the wine industry.

    While buses and stretch limos cruising through wine country keep tipsy tourists from driving, wineries in California and across the nation blame them for bringing boisterous, inebriated crowds to venues that would sooner draw quiet sippers and lavish spenders.

    "It's a pervasive problem," said Craig Root, a tasting-room consultant based in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena. "The limo crowd appears to have great demographics on the surface, but some of them tend to -- and there's no polite way to put this -- they tend to just get juiced."

    The latest buzz in the industry comes from the Temecula Valley, where 21 winery owners have imposed stiff new rules requiring that transportation companies police the hordes of customers they bring to the valley on a typical weekend.

    Before the rules took effect in November, the scene was becoming increasingly raucous, officials said. Bachelorette parties and birthday celebrations would devolve into loud, obnoxious group binges.

    "People would show up in costumes," said Tomi Arbogast, director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Assn. "It was a telltale sign their mission was a little different."

    Throwing up in the shrubbery, shouting, singing, flinging off garments -- these are not signs of exuberance over the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau.

    "Things like that happen in Vegas," Arbogast said. "We don't want them happening here."

    The Temecula growers were not the first to aim the grapes of wrath at companies driving drunks to their doorsteps.

    In Napa County, a number of wineries have simply put out signs announcing: "No limos." Unfortunately, the signs have a tendency to disappear, said Michael Korson, an investigator for the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

    The owners "assume they're taken by people who don't agree with the concept," said Korson, whose five-county area contains about 900 of the state's 1,200 wineries.

    Some tasting rooms in the Napa area now require reservations and charge as much as $50 for a few sips of their choice vintages and a plate of artisan cheese. Most California wineries charge about $10 for a "flight" of five or six wines, and a few still offer free tastings.

    "Those higher prices are going to eliminate the party crowd," said Veronica Barclay, a wine marketing consultant in Napa County, "unless they're dripping with money."

    In the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, wineries have banded together to hand out yellow warning cards and red expulsion cards for customer infractions.

    The no-nos, listed beside check boxes on a form given to limousine and bus companies, include "excessive profanity, littering, intoxication, theft, public urination" and, in a nod to the infinite variety of bad behavior, "other." A red card bans the offending tour group from any of the 50 or so participating wineries.

    Under the new Temecula Valley rules, drivers must keep clearly intoxicated passengers in their limos or buses and leave immediately with any passengers who have been disruptive. Violations can result in companies being barred.

    "It's really worked well," said Arbogast, the winegrowers association director. She cited one bus driver who made "zero attempt" to keep his plastered passengers from dumping beer on passersby and making degrading comments to women in a winery parking lot. Rather than face exile, the company agreed to send only its top drivers to wine country.

    As part of the Responsible Partners program, drivers must also "highly discourage" passengers who want to down liquor or beer as they cruise.

    John Kelliher, the owner of a Temecula-based company called Grapeline, bans booze on his tours but sometimes sees loud, tequila-fueled guests stagger out of limos.

    "This is not supposed to be about getting drunk," said Kelliher, an architect of Responsible Partners, who transported 21,000 visitors through Temecula wineries last year. "There's a big difference between pleasantly intoxicated and falling-down drunk, and if you don't know what it is then you shouldn't be in the business."

    About 90 transportation companies have agreed to the rules, but not all of them are happy about it. They say it's tough to police passengers who, after all, are trying to do the right thing by not driving drunk.

    Mark Pondoff, whose Orange County-based Party Lounge buses feature mega-sound systems, cocktail waitresses and stripper poles, said he's thinking about directing his guests away from the Temecula Valley, where he does only a small fraction of his business.

    "People want to go where they feel wanted," said Pondoff, whose nom de bus is Capt. Marky Mark. "Why should I bring them customers if they treat us like dirtbags?"

    Some wineries say they'd rather lose the business. Rowdy limo groups "have a history of not being really great buyers," said Root, the tasting-room expert. "My hunch is they've blown all their money on the limo."

    Wine enthusiasts often make their treks on weekdays to avoid the weekend roisterers.

    "We have serious aficionados who come here to taste, to meet with the winemakers, to see what's new and exciting coming out of the Santa Ynez Valley," said John Tomasso, an oenophile who lives in Buellton.

    "But for others -- it might be a limo full of women from a bachelorette party -- it's kind of a Disneyland day, and they want to consume as much as they can, as quickly as they can."

    When Tomasso spots a limo at a tasting room, he tends to drive on. "You hope your luck is better at the next one," he said.

    To be sure, most buses and limos carry the mildly buzzed rather than the majorly blitzed. And most tasting rooms aren't Party Central, especially off-season or on a weekday.

    In an hour at the Fess Parker winery in Los Olivos one recent Saturday , there was pleasant chitchat and spirited conversation but nothing approaching even a heated argument about the merits of screw-tops.

    At a winery a few miles away, though, a Bakersfield man who had just turned 40 was enthusing -- loudly -- about the limo he had rented for the occasion.

    "If I didn't get a limo, I'd be DUI from Day One," he said. "I like to drink, I like to party, and no one can tell me I can't."

    Winery managers and law enforcement officers say that's not exactly true.

    The local sheriff's office gives classes to winery employees on, among other things, how to cut off insistent drunks. It's a skill that comes in particularly handy on busy summer Saturdays, when traffic can clog the area's narrow, winding roads and high-volume high jinks can boom through the wineries.

    Safety is a concern as well. Last week, the California Highway Patrol announced a $658,000 effort to curb drunk driving around the wineries in Santa Barbara County.

    Jim Fiolek, director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Assn., said his region continues to feel the effects of "Sideways," the 2004 movie about two buddies and their drunken week at the local wineries.

    Even four years later, crowds want to have the rowdy good times portrayed in the film. "At least three times, we've heard of people drinking the dump bucket just to get pictures of themselves doing it," Fiolek said.

    Still, "Sideways" also has brought newcomers willing to pay for good wine.

    "Look what it's done for Pinot Noir," he said. "Try to find a cheap one anywhere."

    steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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    In Little Saigon, a revitalized dining scene

    Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

    By Linda Burum, Special to The Times

    AS dragons run and dance down Bolsa Avenue in Westminster during this Saturday's Tet parade celebrating the lunar New Year, the restaurants of Little Saigon will be opening their doors to floods of revelers. Many of the thousands of Vietnamese Americans who throng to the district for the holiday carnivals, concerts and events will head for favorite places that cook the regional dishes they grew up eating. Others will follow the buzz to check out the latest developments in this lively dining scene.

    And lately, those changes have been remarkable.

    Fresh energy and style-savvy creativity are flowing through the Vietnamese restaurant community. The sweet-salty heat-tinged complexity of the cuisine is showing up in classier preparations than we've ever seen in Southern California as owners and chefs insist on higher-quality ingredients and improve their cooking standards as well as the likability of their restaurants.

    Many of the Vietnamese restaurants that have opened recently in Westminster and surrounding communities seem more connected to today's world than to the past. For example, Grand in Garden Grove, a classy boîte specializing in chicken dishes, uses only free-range birds. Fountain Valley's Aysya promises fusion food and Le V, in the same town, boasts a wall of wines that bisects its bistro-Moderne dining room.

    These trend-conscious ventures resemble the old-fashioned minimalist pho shops and sandwich joints of the immigrant community's early years about as much as Wolfgang Puck's edgy new Red Seven resembles Musso & Frank Grill.

    "People's expectations are different now," says Cecilia Le, a former financial analyst who owns 6-month-old Le V Cuisine. Her customers tend to be business professionals who enjoy wines with her menu of Vietnamese and fusion dishes and shareable small plates such as small spring lamb chops arranged on blue cheese-spiked potato "fondue" or salmon carpaccio sprinkled with crispy capers and chives. They're not averse to culinary experimentation, Le says.

    Contemporary chic

    OTHER restaurateurs must share her perception that restaurant-goers will support ambitious, pricier places in Little Saigon. In 2006 the Dang family, which has had great success with its casual cafe, Brodard Nem Nuong, went for the big time, opening Brodard Château, a beautifully appointed, bi-level, 8,000-square-foot restaurant with a full bar, fireplace and Euro-Asian menu.

    Several of the family's trademark, stuffed rice-paper rolls (cuon) from the cafe are on the menu here. But there are also handsome meal-sized salads and daily specials that include rice paper-wrapped soft shell crab and braised chicken, coq au vin style.

    Even more up-market, on the outskirts of Little Saigon, in a sleek contemporary wood-lined pair of dining rooms, is 2-year-old S Vietnamese Fine Dining. Chef-owner Stephanie Dinh prepares traditional Vietnamese items such as northern-style deep-fried sweet potato cake studded with shrimp, as well as dishes with a more Euro-Asian bent, for example, lemon grass-encrusted lamb chop served on broken rice.

    It's become easier, bit by bit, for Vietnamese restaurateurs to strike a balance between pleasing traditionalists and courting a growing multicultural audience.

    It's not always about getting fancier. Attempts to reach out to a crossover market can be as subtle as accepting credit cards or creating a name with a hint of familiarity: Instead of such Vietnamese appellations as Banh Mi & Che, you find Baguette Planet, Pho Republic Noodles and Grill, Pholicious or Rockin Crawfish.

    What propels restaurateurs into such a challenging profession when, 30 years after the postwar wave of immigration, many other business opportunities exist? Love for the cuisine, several owners said in interviews, and an almost-missionary zeal for showing off its stunning virtues.

    Former engineer Trish Doan champions the knockout flavors of her perfectionist mother's central-style cooking at Café Co La. Her mi quang, a brilliant dish of wide, yellow rice noodles tossed in a curry-like sauce, topped with a host of garnishes that include two tiny quail eggs, banana flower shreds and a thatch of crisply fried shallots vaut le voyage, as the French would say -- it's worth a drive.

    "We don't try to have one of those encyclopedic menus; we just focus on a few good things," Doan says.

    The cafe's hipness factor comes from a smart palette of citrus colors on curvilinear walls and a lengthy list of fresh, frothy fruit smoothies, milky tea and the boba drinks to go with those good things.

    At Pho Republic Noodles and Grill, owner Tina Vu aims to introduce the pleasures of traditional Vietnamese-style dining into the American mainstream with her house specialty, the Saigon wrap. The assembly includes grill-your- own shrimp, scallops, thinly sliced beef and more.

    Each person individualizes the meal, enclosing grilled bits in pliable rice paper or lettuce with fresh herbs chosen from the accompanying rau son, a platter heaped with lush sprays of herbs and greenery. The ritual, Vu says, is reminiscent of how families gather together at the table "and take time sharing a meal and conversation."

    The restaurant's location is the Anaheim Colony Historic District. Vu has designed the room and decorated it with furniture and art from her homeland to give diners the feeling they're in a comfortable Vietnamese home.

    Vu isn't the only restaurateur settling outside Little Saigon's center. Rents are high there, and on weekends traffic clogs the intersection of Bolsa Avenue and Brookhurst Street where the huge Asian Garden and Asian Village malls face off. So the hottest new area is south of Bolsa and along Brookhurst through Westminster and Fountain Valley all the way to the freeway.

    Quan Hop is there. Its parent restaurant, Quan Hy, one of Little Saigon's breakout restaurants, was a revelation with its professionally designed décor and attentive service. Family spokesman Bon Ton says he wanted to feel proud when introducing his mother's refined, central-style Vietnamese dishes to American friends.

    Sure enough, Quan Hop, with a similar architect-designed, vaguely earthy look, attracts a diverse crowd. The place sparkles, and the flavors of its pan-regional food create new devotees of the cuisine every day.

    Also joining the neighborhood is Pholicious, a spic-and-span pho shop with lettuce-green walls on a side street a few blocks from Brookhurst. The kitchen arranges its pho garnishes like a little bouquet rather than the usual unruly heap of vegetation. It turns out crowd-pleasing shrimp pho and chicken pho as well as the familiar beef variety. Co-owners Danny Buu and Jonathan Bao Huynh say their best advertising results have come from MySpace.

    "We are the crossover generation," says Hunyh, 31, who arrived here at age 3. "We take ideas from both cultures." Their venture may be a practice run for a franchise. Look for Pholicious No. 2 in Irvine later this year.

    Amazon, with its wall of water at the entryway and its collection of flat-screen TVs nearly covering the walls of the room, is a sort of Vietnamese sports bar hidden on a narrow road off Bolsa. Its kitchen turns out food that's way better than it needs to be.

    Beer is inexpensive, and there's an emphasis on game dishes: the crunchy, beautifully fried quail with a whiff of five-spice seasoning on a bed of romaine and the tender sautéed venison cubes garnished with Asian basil are probably the best fare you'll ever have while watching football or a televised golf tournament.

    You can barely detect the skeleton of a former Coco's coffee shop beneath the opulently revised restaurant Aysya on Brookhurst in Fountain Valley. Low light from paper lanterns, a long hand-polished eating bar, big cherry-wood tables and intimate nooks set the stage for a menu of dishes based on many far-flung cuisines: Thai curries, Vietnamese standards, a bit of Chinese, a hint of Indonesian and French bistro favorites such as steak au poivre and frog legs in butter sauce.

    A few dishes are culinary blends: The spicy, soft-shell crab has no precise traceable heritage nor does the semiripe, shredded mango salad with meaty shrimp charred from the grill. But both never fail to please.

    When asked why this kind of restaurant now, co-owner Vinh Buu explained: "I love food, all kinds of food, not only Vietnamese -- and many people I know feel the same."

    Clearly, he has his finger on Little Saigon's gustatory pulse because there has been an increasing influx of Thai and Japanese restaurants along with a quirky fad for Louisiana-style crayfish.

    Crossover style

    THE perpetually mobbed and swankily modern Hot Pot City in Westminster is another example of Little Saigon's growing taste for diverse cuisines. Its inexpensive menu may be in Vietnamese and English, but the cooking instrument on every table is the northern Chinese-style hot pot and grill (via Taiwan).

    You select foods from a refrigerated cabinet, then grill them or swish them in hot broth. A young, spiky-coiffed waitperson carries around a huge pitcher of broth and replenishes any pots that threaten to go dry.

    For Kim Ta, owner of Zon Baguettes, it was the clientele's diversity at her former Tustin pho restaurant that inspired her to go international with a Vietnamese sandwich shop. She serves well-filled banh mi sandwiches of mixed Asian cold cuts or grilled pork on crisp-crusted house bread spread with house-made mayonnaise.

    But she also gives the medium an international twist. Denver omelet-filled breakfast baguettes or carne asada smothered in pico de gallo rate high among her bright, modern shop's many creations.

    Back in Westminster's Little Saigon we see quite a few "coming soon" restaurant signs fluttering in the breeze. It looks like the year of the rat has more gastronomic surprises in store for this deliciously endowed neighborhood.

    food@latimes.com

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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas


    Seafood pasta is among of the Vietnamese and fusion dishes at Le V Cuisine.


    In Westminster, Quan Hop, with its vaguely earthy look, attracts a diverse crowd. The place sparkles, and the flavors of its pan-regional food create new devotees for the cuisine every day.

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    Foods That Make You Happy..Just what you need Juan!

    Don't you sometimes wish there were a happy pill to spritz up your spirits when you're out of sorts? To make you laugh when you're grumpy? Or to warm your heart when you're about to bite someone's head off? Well, there are probably several things in your kitchen that could do the trick, and they taste a lot better than a pill. These foods tweak your brain in ways that help you feel happy.

    A Little Dessert Sugar soothes us when we're stressed--or at least it calms down stressed-out rats, which are good models for stress in people. But before you race to the vending machine with a license to binge, know that a little sugar may soothe rattled nerves, but too much will backfire, playing moody havoc with your blood sugar. Here's how to get just enough:

    A small slice of angel food cake with 1/2 cup strawberries
    2 Fig Newman cookies and a 6-ounce glass of juice
    Fruit and Chocolate Fondue
    1 cup fresh strawberries
    1 peeled, sliced kiwi
    1/4 cup fat-free chocolate syrup
    >Dunk fruit into syrup, lean back, and smile.
    Toast and Jam "Of course we crave bread and other carbohydrates when we're down!," laughs Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Food & Mood. "Carbs raise levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which lifts our spirits." But think whole-wheat bread and other whole-grain carbs, because they also stabilize blood sugar levels--unlike refined grains (white bread, pasta, rice, and pretty much anything white). They send blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride, leaving you jittery, grumpy, and hungry. Get a happy serotonin boost from the following snacks:

    Half a toasted whole-wheat English muffin or bagel with jam or honey
    A small bowl of oatmeal with some dried cranberries and a bit of brown sugar
    Comforting, creamy peach open-face sandwich
    2 Tbsp. fat-free cream cheese
    1 tsp. honey
    1 peach, peeled and chopped
    1 slice 100% whole-grain bread
    1/2 tsp. chopped walnuts
    >Blend cheese, honey, and chopped peaches; spread mixture on bread and sprinkle with nuts. Yum.
    Yogurt and Eggs Numerous studies show that getting more of the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA in your diet makes you happier and smarter. Even people battling tough-to-treat depression feel as much as 50% better when they get lots of DHA. To keep your chin cheerfully up, aim for 200 mg of DHA a day. Mix and match DHA-fortified foods like these...

    1 container Rachel's Wickedly Delicious Yogurt (32 mg of DHA)
    1 Gold Circle Farm egg (150 mg)
    1 Oh Mama nutrition bar (115 mg)
    1 cup of Horizon Organic reduced-fat milk plus DHA (32 mg)
    18-oz. Odwalla Soy Smart drink (32 mg)
    Popeye's Fave No wonder he was always in such a high-energy mood. Spinach is full of folate, a B vitamin that's a must for making feel-good serotonin. Like DHA, folate is potent enough to ease clinical depression, say researchers. If you're trying to stay on the sunny side of life, make chowing down Popeye-style a habit. To get plenty of this happy green (about two cups of cooked spinach is perfect)...

    Add a 10-ounce packet of frozen, chopped spinach to soups, stews, and casseroles, homemade or not.
    Use spinach instead of lettuce in sandwiches and wraps.
    Whip steamed, chopped spinach into mashed potatoes.
    Make a salad meal of it
    Pile your plate high with baby spinach leaves
    Top it off with a grilled chicken breast or broiled salmon fillet (another great DHA source, BTW)
    Black Bean Dip Black beans, like most legumes, are a nifty source of iron. And if you're low on iron--as many active women are--you can be tired and have trouble sleeping, turning you into Major Grouch. Here's how to help keep your iron levels, and your mood, up:

    Mix black beans with chopped spinach, roasted red peppers, and salsa as a dip for a toasted whole-wheat tortilla.
    Heat black beans with onions, garlic, and cumin, and serve over brown rice.
    Toss black beans and turkey cubes into a salad (the "heme" iron in poultry and meat helps you absorb more of the "non-heme" iron in beans).
    Add extra black beans to chili and soups.
    Two quick tips for iron intake: To help your body absorb max amounts of this mineral, do combine iron-rich foods with foods that are high in vitamin C (tomatoes, broccoli, red peppers, OJ). But don't wash them down with coffee, tea, or milk; all three can block iron absorption.

    Happy foods have another big, big payoff besides brightening your outlook on life: Taking care of your emotional health and well-being can make your RealAge up to 16 (!) years younger

  23. #173
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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas

    WINE OF THE WEEK
    2005 Château Marquis de Calon Saint-Estephe

    Lush and velvety, it's ready to drink now.
    February 13, 2008

    A second label of Château Calon-Ségur, Château Marquis de Calon is a relative bargain in the overpriced Bordeaux market. If you want to see what the highly touted 2005 vintage is all about, try this delicious Saint-Estephe. Lush and velvety, it's ready to drink now.

    So when you feel like drinking a Cabernet blend, break out a bottle of the 2005 Château Marquis de Calon at about half the price of the big dog Calon-Ségur. Maybe make that two bottles. Share them with friends over a crown rib roast, prime rib or a hanger or skirt steak. Beef and Bordeaux were made for each other. And at this price, you can afford to indulge more often than not.

    --S. Irene Virbila

    Region: Bordeaux

    Price: $26 to $35

    Style: Velvety and lush

    Food it goes with: Roasts, prime rib, steak

    Where you find it: Duke of Bourbon in Canoga Park, (818) 341-1234; Red Carpet Wine Merchants in Glendale, (818) 247-5544 or (800) 339-0609, www.redcarpetwine.com; Wine Exchange in Orange, (714) 974-1454 and (800) 769-4639, www.winex.com; the Wine House in West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3731, www.winehouse.com.

  24. #174
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    A must have for wine drinkers

    A little air with your wine?

    Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator
    February 13, 2008

    Giving it some air

    The Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator is not exactly a kitchen essential, unless Frasier and Niles are dropping by, but it's a nifty item for wine lovers and gadget hounds. It does the work of a decanter in a lot less time. You simply hold the device, a sleek acrylic gizmo with a no-slip grip, over a wine glass and pour the wine into the shot-glass-like opening. The device pulls air into the wine with a satisfying glug, glug, glug as the liquid splashes into the glass, and presto: aerated wine. We performed a highly unscientific before-and-after taste test on a serviceable Pinot Noir and found the Vinturi-ized wine brighter and smoother than the non-aerated sample. Comes with a stand to catch the drips and a travel pouch for those wine-drenched fishing trips.

  25. #175
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    Peter Newton, 81; Napa Valley vintner

    Juan, I hope you don't mind me posting this orbit here, been that we both are wine lovers I thought this orbit belongs here.

    By Mary Rourke, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    February 13, 2008

    Peter Newton, a pioneer in the California wine industry who founded Sterling Vineyards and Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley, has died. He was 81.

    He had been in failing health and died Feb. 4 at his home in St. Helena, said his daughter Carol Boone of San Francisco. The cause was complications from a heart condition.

    Newton became interested in the wine business after buying a weekend home in Napa in the 1960s. He and a partner established Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga and released the first vintage in 1969. At the time, there were about 25 wineries in the area. There now are about 325, according to the Napa Valley Vintners Assn.

    "Peter Newton was at the forefront of the California wine industry," wine merchant Paul Smith of Woodland Hills Wine Co. said this week. "He was very intelligent, he knew what he wanted and had a great vision."

    At Sterling, Newton created a unique setting with an aerial tram, bell tower and architecture inspired by an Aegean monastery.

    "It was one of the most unusual concepts for a winery," Steve Wallace of Wally's Wine and Spirits in Westwood said this week.

    Newton hired winemaker Ric Forman, then 25, and sent him to France to study French winemaking techniques. "Peter trusted me," said Forman, who now owns Forman Vineyard in St. Helena. "He was one of the most powerful mentors I've ever had."

    Sterling soon had a reputation for top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet aged in small wooden barrels and Chardonnay fermented in the barrel.

    "It wasn't what people here were doing at the time," Forman said. "Sterling became known for an innovative, almost flamboyant style."

    Sterling also produced one of the first Merlots from the Napa Valley.

    Newton sold Sterling to Coca-Cola Co. in 1977. The large property included 425 acres of vineyards. (It is now owned by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines.)

    He then established Newton Vineyard, a much smaller estate in St. Helena. It now has 120 acres of planted vineyards.

    "Sterling was beginning to grow in the late '70s, and I think Newton wanted to downsize and maintain the handcrafted reputation," Smith said. "A smaller winery is easier to handle."

    The result was "a more polished wine," Smith said.

    The Newton label became known for quality Chardonnay and Merlot. "The unfiltered Chardonnay is world-class," Wallace said.

    The grounds of the winery were distinct. Newton designed extensive gardens, including one in the Japanese manner, that attracted horticulturists from Europe and the U.S.

    French luxury goods company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy acquired a majority stake in Newton Vineyard in 2001.

    Newton had enjoyed high-quality wines long before he ventured into winemaking.

    Born in London on Aug. 27, 1926, he graduated from Oxford University with a law degree. By his senior year, he had developed a taste for Bordeaux wines and helped select the wine for the university's cellar.

    Newton served in the British Army Rifle Corps during World War II, and later came to California as a West Coast correspondent for the London Financial Times.

    The first business he founded was Sterling International, a paper manufacturing company based in San Francisco. He opened it in 1951 and later sold it.

    He married his first wife, Anne, in 1951. She died in 1970. Newton and his second wife, Sua Hua, were married several years later. Their marriage ended in divorce.

    Newton was a major supporter of his church, Grace Episcopal Church in St. Helena, where he helped design an addition to the structure last year.

    In addition to his daughter Carol, Newton is survived by another daughter, Gail Showley of St. Helena; a son, Nigel Newton of London; a brother, Dr. Kenneth Newton of South Fawley, England; and six grandchildren.

    A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church.

    mary.rourke@latimes.com

  26. #176
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    You Are the Man!

    Hi Frank,

    No worries! I really appreciate your posts here and my answer is: Post away!

    Even though I might not respond to every piece, I find your selection of articles fascinating and try to read up every chance I get.

    That's really interesting about the passing of Newton. If I'm not mistaken, my brother, Luis, won a wine and food match competition a number of years ago involving Sterling wines and got a short vacation with his wife, Lisa, out of it at Sterling Vineyards. Now, if it wasn't Sterling, it was another wine maker. I'll have to ask Luis and get back to you on that.

    In fact, I was going to copy and paste this article in an email to Luis.

    By the way, last night on the way home from work, I stopped at this little wine shop called Wine Knows in Grayslake, Illinois. I was having a cornish hen for dinner and wanted to pick up something red to go along with it.

    The owner, who loves jazz as well as wine, had some terrific music playing and was sampling several bottles from a new distributor. So, naturally, he let another customer and I taste samples from about four or five different bottles. In the end, I bought a mellow pinot noir which went very nicely with dinner!

    Anyways, keep up the great work, Frank and know that you are a valued friend and contributor here!

    Cheers,



    Juan

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    Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator

    Quote Originally Posted by kikibalt
    A little air with your wine?

    Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator
    February 13, 2008

    Giving it some air

    The Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator is not exactly a kitchen essential, unless Frasier and Niles are dropping by, but it's a nifty item for wine lovers and gadget hounds. It does the work of a decanter in a lot less time. You simply hold the device, a sleek acrylic gizmo with a no-slip grip, over a wine glass and pour the wine into the shot-glass-like opening. The device pulls air into the wine with a satisfying glug, glug, glug as the liquid splashes into the glass, and presto: aerated wine. We performed a highly unscientific before-and-after taste test on a serviceable Pinot Noir and found the Vinturi-ized wine brighter and smoother than the non-aerated sample. Comes with a stand to catch the drips and a travel pouch for those wine-drenched fishing trips.
    By the way, Frank, do you have contact info on the producers of this product? It looks really cool and might be something I'd like to buy.

    Thanks,



    Juan

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    Re: Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator

    Quote Originally Posted by Juan C Ayllon
    By the way, Frank, do you have contact info on the producers of this product? It looks really cool and might be something I'd like to buy.

    Thanks,



    Juan

    $38 to $40 at www.vinturi.com; amazon.com; and winestuff.com.

  29. #179
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    Re: Favorite Easy Party Hors Deauvres & Tapas

    Thanks, Frank!

    Talk soon,



    Juan

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    Oysters Copa from the Winnetka Grill

    Back in the summer of 1994, I waited tables at this wonderful restaurant called the Winnetka Grill on Greenbay Road in the wealthy northshore city of Winnetka, Illinois. A man named Henry owned and ran it.

    What a wonderful wine list! And the food was sublime.

    I remember this scallops dish, where scallops were wrapped in deep-fried strings of potato, appearing much like a candy in a potato mesh wrapper. On the top of the "wrappers" were small chunks of foi gras (duck liver) which were tender and practically melted in your mouth! These scallops sat in a shallow broth of sweet corn in a large bowl.

    Sadly, the Winnetka Grill closed its doors a number of years ago.

    Here's another item that was served there, which I found online:


    OYSTERS COPA FROM THE WINNETKA GRILL

    Source: Carolyn Collins, Collins Caviar, Chicago

    Growing up in Crystal Lake, Ill., Carolyn Collins loved fishing. She hooked perch and bluegills in the glacially-formed gravel pits of her area. She pulled chinook salmon from Lake Michigan. Her commitment to eating the catch was as great as it was to sport . "Many of my fish had eggs--or roe--in them," she recalls. "The small sacs from the sunfish were delicious simply sauteed in garlic butter. But big orange salmon eggs were a challenge...." Collins decided to go to work on turning salmon and trout roe into exquisite caviars. Results--lightly salted, odor free and bursting with juice--drew raves. Her creations were discovered by a friend who in 1983 opened The Winnetka Grill, on Chicago's North Shore. Collins' handmade salmon caviar was featured. Ten months later Carolyn Collins American Freshwater Caviar Company was in business. This is one of the recipes from the "restaurant that launched a company." It can be prepared several hours in advance.

    One dozen fresh Bluepoint oysters, opened, lower shell muscle cut loose

    Two cups (one pint) sour cream

    One cup freshly grated horseradish, or prepared horseradish, drained

    Enough crushed ice to fill a large serving platter about two inches deep

    One three-ounce jar Collins Salmon Caviar

    Sprigs of cilantro or parsley trimmed for garnish

    In a bowl thoroughly blend sour cream and horseradish. Refrigerate. Open oysters, cut them loose, discard top shells and place oysters on cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to serve, fill platter with crushed ice and place oysters snugly down into ice. Cover each oyster with a generous dollop of the horseradish-sour cream sauce. Spoon or sprinkle Collins Salmon Caviar on top of each. Garnish each oyster with a sprig of the greens. Serve with a basket of thick, crunchy whole wheat crackers, such as Rye-Krisp.

    This presentation is ideal for buffets and as a pass-around appetizer.

    Yield: Four appetizer servings (or three oysters per person)

    Link to Article Online
    Last edited by Juan C Ayllon; 02-14-2008 at 04:58 PM.

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