Thursday, September 30, 2010

Edendale Grill: Eight years in, it's still a work in progress

The Edendale Grill back when it was a fire station

This month's Los Feliz Ledger took me back to the Edendale Grill, which recently changed ownership. There's a new menu and a few tweaks inside, but the same problems remain: there's enough business from the bar that food is an afterthought -- too expensive for a not-very-interesting meal. But even the bar side could use a tuneup -- the beer selection is pitiful, wine service is non-existent and while the classic cocktails are fine, they could be doing a lot more with modern mixology.
The review was trimmed for space (or snarkiness?), so here's the rest of the piece. I'm not trying to take anyone down -- just wishing this was a place that I looked forward to eating at.

Silver Lake's Edendale Grill: Love the space, wish I loved the food.
Whether Edendale is more of a bar or has ambitions to be a real restaurant, it's not particularly good at either. The bartenders always seem to have fans, but the wine and beer list could use serious work. Wine from a middling list is even harder to enjoy served in cheap, heavy glasses. With nearly every bar and restaurant in town seriously stepping up its beer program, the best Edendale can offer is Racer 5 and Stella valiantly holding down a list of bland commercial brews. Special cocktails are on the overwrought side, though the standard ones are fine.
The restaurant recently changed hands, with former bartender Eddie Ebell taking over from longtime owner Melanie Tusquellas. Ebell kept the former chef but changed up the menu a bit, adding more contemporary-sounding dishes like wild blue crab salad, pork confit sopes and quail eggs on toast with proscuitto. The longtime tableside Caesar is gone, replaced by salads like pear, stilton and butter lettuce with a curiously flavorless lemon tarragon dressing. Alas, adding burrata cheese and pea tendrils to a menu isn't always enough, as the food continues to hover between competent and careless. Sea bass with grilled eggplant ($19) is a perfectly fine piece of fish. But a Harris Ranch burger requested medium rare has to be sent back since it's basically raw, and the rare replacement tastes only of blood with no apparent seasoning. It comes with fries that are just ok. Considering the huge number of non-meat eaters in the area, there could be more choices than salad, mac 'n cheese or veggie sopes.
But Ebell hasn't been overseeing the place for long, so maybe there's still hope. In case he's wondering how to get a little more respect in the neighborhood and sell more than just fried calamari at the bar, here's a few suggestions:
1) Locals appreciate the historic character, but they'd like to love the food as much. Bring in some guest chefs to stir things up, and ask patrons what they'd like to eat.
2) If it's really more of a bar, then go gastropub. Craft a killer beer list, add some taps, get some decent wineglasses and enlist a local wine store for advice on the wine list. Add a great burger (for $14, it better be excellent), learn to make irresistible fries, and add fish 'n chips or good pizza or reasonably priced small plates ($15 for tuna tartare?).
3) Continue to transform the inner dining room into a livelier space. Add some art and flowers, let people drink there even if they're not eating and make sure service keeps pace.

Edendale Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

L.A. Beer Week: What's going on near the Eastside

Like the Craft Beer Crawl, L.A. Beer Week seems to be really taking off this year with dozens of events that combine great beer with food and ice cream. Here's a rundown of selected events -- lots more all over town on the L.A. Beer Week calendar:

All week long: Lucky Baldwin's 14th anniversary featuring Stone Brewing archive beers, Pasadena and Sierra Madre

Saturday, Oct. 9
Verdugo Bar Oktoberfest, 1-7 pm $20

Sunday; October 10
 Cabal Brewer's Brunch, Eagle Rock Brewery with food from HotKnivez and homebrew talks and demonstrations, $40.

Dionicess VII - Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Foundry chef Eric Greenspan team with Randy Clemens and Gev kazanchyan for Dogfish Head and Decadance luncheon, Sunday 1-4 pm, 5 beers, 5 courses $79

Beer Float showdown from FoodGPS, Verdugo Bar, 5:30 pm, $25

Monday, Oct. 11

Premiere of beer ice cream at Scoops East Hollywood - rotating flavors all week

Tuesday Oct. 12:
Lost Coast Brewery night at Spring St. Smokehouse, Downtown, 7-9 pm

So You Want to Open an L.A. Brewery panel, Eagle Rock Brewery, 7 pm free

Wedesday Oct. 13: Craftsman Brewing and BBQ dinner, The Oinkster

Thursday Oct. 14: Beer and brats at the York, Highland Park, German beer specials all night

Friday Oct. 15: Schneider Beer & Cheese Pairing with The Cheese Impressario, Surly Goat--West Hollywood

Saturday Oct. 16: Schneider Beer and sausage brunch, Wurstkuche 

Sunday: October 17
Beer Week Festival, Union Station, 12-4 pm. This is the big one with over 70 breweries from around the world, $40 with unlimited 4 oz. tastings.

Monday, September 27, 2010

L.A. Craft Beer crawl: A sudsy success

Bacon brown ale and a Guelaguetza mole tamale on Las Perlas pat
The first L.A. Craft Beer Crawl started out on the toasty side -- it was at least 100 degrees as I boarded the Gold Line in South Pasadena to start the Saturday afternoon crawl. By the time I got to Casey's and Seven Grand, I really needed a beer. Starting out at Seven Grand with Craftsman's Fireworks Saison, I moved on to Las Perlas and tried Uncommon Brewers' Bacon Brown, which had only the faintest hint of bacon.
The Varnish served a wonderful Picon Biere cocktail
More to my taste was Eagle Rock Brewery's Populist IPA, and Belgian-style Blond from Brouwerij West, a new Palos Verdes Belgian-style brewery. Las Perlas was also serving smoky chicken mole tamales from Guelaguetza, the perfect pairing for the bacon beer. Hanging out at Las Perlas were Verdugo Bar and Surly Goat owner Ryan Sweeney and Craftsman Brewing's Mark Jilg. Everyone I spoke with was floored by the turnout -- more than 1,000 people roaming the steamy streets of downtown tasting dozens of great, mostly local beers.
Doing the entire crawl down to Cana and Golden Gopher might have been a bit much in that heat, so when I got to Cole's I basically holed up here it was dark and cool -- at the Varnish, where they were concocting refreshing and different beer cocktails. But first, I enjoyed both Taps Cali Gold XPA and Schwarzbier, which I hadn't tasted before. Also holing up at the Varnish were Jonathan Gold, Evan Kleiman, Ladyface Alehouse proprietors David and Cyrena, and expert booze bloggers including FoodGPS and SavoryHunter.
Taps served XPA, chocolatey Schwarzbier and Belgian white.
We also sampled Hot Knivez contraband Tonka Bean Porter, Tonka Beans are banned by the FDA because they contain possibly dangerous coumarin, and since I'm not going to be eating any fugu anytime soon, that's about as close as I'm going to have to get to living on the edge.
Autumn lights on warm beer-soaked night
On the way home I stopped by the Pershing Square Autumn Lights exhibit which was pretty cool, freaky and uncrowded, and a lot easier to get to than the Glow festival. I know -- there was also lots of great beer I missed from The Bruery, Dogfish Head, Unibroue, Alemsith and much more. The Beer Chicks, who organized the incredibly popular event, plan to do it again next year, so I'll just have to start in the other direction next time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lardon: One bacon truck to rule them all

Frisee aux lardons sandwich on a brioche bun

Even though the novelty of gourmet food trucks has pretty much worn off in the nearly two years since they've taken off, it's still possible to get a jaded food blogger excited -- basically, just add bacon. The Lardon truck was launched by Silver Lake residents and parents Heather and Jeremiah Crowley, and Jeremiah says he plans to park the truck in the less-popular areas so as to not irk restaurant owners. In the evenings, he'll often be down the street from his house at Sunset and Coronado St. in Silver Lake. We found him in front of Gingergrass Friday morning in time for brunch. Brioche French toast sandwich with crumbled bacon sounded amazing, but since I love frisee aux lardons salad, I wanted to try their version on a brioche bun. The sandwich with a fried egg, a nice clump of frisee and several delicious crispy lardons was a fun twist on a salad, though a few more lardons would have made it even more decadent. If you're going to have a bacon truck, you might as well go all the way, right? Kathy had the breakfast burrito with potatoes, cheddar, and smoky thick-cut bacon, but said a good salsa would have made it even better. The Lardon truck is still getting its bacon legs, working on details like finding a coffee supplier to go with the Bacon pancakes, but it's certainly off to a savory start. We'll be back to work our way through the pancakes, French toast, and BLT with blue cheese.
Follow the Lardon truck here to find out where to get your bacon on.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beer. Ice Cream. Need we say more?

FoodGPS is hosting the second annual Beer Float Showdown in honor of the upcoming L.A. Beer Week, and this year's edition at the Verdugo on Sunday, October 10. Competitors this year include Boneyard Bistro, Ladyface Alehouse, Simmzy's and Tony's Darts Away. Solid food will be available from the Manila Machine and Mandoline Grill trucks.  Buy tickets here; they're $25 in advance and include a donation to Share our Strength.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

JR Bistro: Old-school Chinese in a new Chinatown setting

Le veritable egg foo young

I love checking out the latest hole in the wall dumpling spot in the San Gabriel Valley as much as anyone, but most of the requests I get for Chinese recommendations go something like this: What's good in Chinatown? Where do they have good hot and sour soup? And even, where can you get egg foo young?
This last one didn't sound like my idea of a fun Chinese meal, but my faithful eating companion Matt has endured everything from lard cookies to eyeball tacos, so he deserved a vote for a change. But where to go? Paul's Kitchen seems to be defunct. Chinatown's Master Chef shows it on their website, but it's no longer on the actual menu, although the maitre d' said they would make it if we wanted. But we decided to go a little farther down Hill to try out JR Bistro, the offspring of the earlier JR Seafood in West L.A.
BBQ pork lo mein -- not bad, but on the bland side
Located downstairs from Ocean Seafood, JR is a modernish space with two large TVs tuned to different channels, a tank of bulbous-eyed carp up front and a vintage L.A. Reader restaurant review on the wall from the earlier incarnation. For your more adventurous friends, there's chitterlings with spicy garlic salt, Chinese meat loaf with salted fish or garlic frog clay pot. But we were there for a more old-school experience, and the server was happy to accomodate our request for shrimp egg foo young. Matt was worried we'd both be stripped of our foodie credentials, but I assured him that according to Wikipedia, egg foo young is actually based on a real Shanghai dish called Fu Yung egg slices. Probably without the brown gravy, I'm guessing. JR's version was just what Matt had in mind, with large floppy discs of omelet studded with shrimp and bean sprouts that would actually be pretty great with a better sauce. We indulged in more Americanized Chinese food with bbq pork lo mein -- pretty bland, and a little strange that you get Sriracha when you ask for chili sauce.
The crunchfest that is orange peel beef
Much better was the old standby, orange peel beef, deep-fried within an inch of its life, sweet but balanced, possibly more batter than beef but right up there with eel crack on the list of insanely tasty goopy Chinese dishes. The way I had to have the platter pried out of my hands, you would have thought I was giving up my only baby for adoption.
So what did we learn? We learned that probably most Chinese restaurants that cater to farang will make egg foo young for you. We learned that if you must eat in Chinatown, you will probably find something you will like at JR Bistro. And we learned that it doesn't always pay to be snobby about what's authentic. Oh yeah, and they have $9.99 lobster and whole crab, so we'll have to return and see how the hot 'n sour soup shapes up.
JR Bistro (open 11 am - 1 am)
750 Hill St. #F

JR Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Behold the bacon truck, Lardon

Finally, a bacon truck. Lardon launches tomorrow with items like an egg frisee sandwich with bacon, or brownies with nutella bacon frosting. We like how the name works two piggy ways: in French, lardons are little cubes of not-crispy bacon, while the Twitter handle entices diners to Get Your Lard On. Soft opening Wednesday most likely near 2404 Wilshire Blvd., but check their Twitter for up to date info.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Win tickets to Pourtal's Bored to Death tasting Monday - can you pass the test?

So, on HBO's show "Bored to Death," Jason Schwartzman's character is a big wine geek. Pourtal Wine Bar in Santa Monica is celebratin the second season of "Bored to Death" with a special, free Wine Detective Challenge Event with a blind tasting, and EatingLA is giving away tickets.
On Monday, September 13th, Pourtal Wine Bar and HBO will be hosting a free, private event at Pourtal Wine Bar -- open to just 70 lucky individuals. Attendees will receive a limited edition "Bored To Death" bottle of wine and compete in a series of blind tasting challenges to win additional prizes.

This will be an exclusive engagement from 7:30 to 9:30pm.

To win a spot for you and a guest this Monday, you must correctly answer the following 3 questions:
1: What is the name of the character that Jason Schwartzman plays on the series "Bored to Death"? Hint: It is the same name as the creator of the series

2: In the series "Bored to Death", is Jonathan Ames' wine of choice red, white or rose?

3: What are the 3 main white varietals grown in Bordeaux, France?

Submit your answers HERE along with your full name, age and email address (Please don't reply on the blog). Winners will be emailed a confirmation with all event details. You must be over 21 to participate.

If you can't make it to the event, drop into Pourtal anytime this month for a chance to win a free case of wine by partaking in the "Bored to Death" Wine Detective Challenge Blind Tasting Tour.

That's right, we are doing our next theme BLIND. You'll have the opportunity to guess the varietal for each of the 8 wines and enter to win a case of "Bored to Death" Chardonnay!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

New in Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park: K2, Papa's Place and soon, Sunset Beer

It's not a mountain peak, just a mountain of hash browns: K2 as in Kokomo 2 has (finally!) opened on Sunset in the old EatWell space. For the old-old timers, back in the 80s this spot was home to Seafood Bay, a bargain-priced chowder and fish house. Here's a report from EaterLA, but for the record, I am way not into the SiLa moniker for Silver Lake. What's next, EcPa? LoFe? Expect Kokomo's giant salads, hearty breakfasts and satisfying sandwiches, some with a vaguely Cajun twist like the reliable blackened catfish sandwich.
Papa's Place is now open on Hillhurst with an intriguing mix of Turkish and German sandwiches, sausages and salads. Bratwurst and tabbouleh, anyone? Here's a preview from UrbanDaddy; not much news yet from people who have actually eaten there. It's always good to see another reasonably-priced option in the neighborhood.
Here's some more great news for Echo Parkians -- as if Cookbook weren't cool enough, now Sunset Beer will open early next year in the mini-mall opposite A Grocery Warehouse, reports the EastsiderLA. It's owned by the folks from Eagle Rock's popular Colorado Wine and aims to eventually have a tasting room and store with 1,000 bottles of craft beer. And if you want to argue about public drunkenness, head over to the comments section of the Eastsider blog.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Cookbook: Echo Park's new greengrocer features Zuni Cookbook this week

Happy shopper Beth with her Cookbook purchases

Cookbook is a charming little grocery that pretty much puts the seal on the gentrification of Echo Park. Owned by Marta Teegan, who is a gardener, chef and author, Cookbook is a greengrocer with a small but careful selection of organic fruits and vegetables, but it's much more than just produce: despite its small size, there's a smattering of all the things you've suddenly remember you needed.
A sweet idea: branches of Oregon blackberries for a vase
Of course exquisitely-selected foodstuffs don't come at Trader Joe's prices, but the prices seem fair for the quality. I managed to spend $40 in a heartbeat, but I came home with a full bag of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Maldon salt, aged gouda, a deeply flavored cantaloupe, a bass confit on walnut bread sandwich and a baguette baked by the folks at HeirloomLA, who also supply lasagna cupcakes, fresh pasta and sauce, cold salads and other prepared foods. 
A small but excellent selection of cheeses and butters
It's not easy to find decent bread on the east side of town, but Heirloom recently added a baker to help supply the businesses like Cookbook who need a better source of bread. 
Olive oil in bulk is reasonably priced (just don't leave it in a hot car - the cork might pop)
Each week, Teegen will choose a cookbook, and Heirloom will prepare dishes from the cookbook. This week: Zuni Cookbook.
A good selection of vegetables and herbs

Everything is impeccably sourced: Coffee comes from San Francisco's Sightglass, eggs from Teegen's favorite egg farm in Paso Robles, Strauss creamery milk, Dr. Bob's ice cream, Morning Glory brittle. I like that Cookbook is a local business that encourages people to actually cook instead of just buying coffee and cupcakes -- in fact I think every neighborhood could use a store like this. A Cookbook next to McCall's Meat and Fish, for example, would be the perfect combo!
1549 Echo Park Ave.
Open daily 8 am - 8 pm

Friday, September 03, 2010

Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery: 5 facts for local beer lovers

There's even a beer tap made in brewmaster Brian Lethcoe's image
 A L.A. Beer Scene, At Long Last, FoodGPS announced today, and the post was well-timed for the grand opening of Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery south of Downtown. I stopped by for a taste of Extra Special Bitter today and found out what you need to know about L.A.'s second brewery.

1. What does Nibble Bit Tabby mean? It's a old joke from Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery owner Brian Lethcoe's Nevada youth meaning "a wee bit chilly" or some such.
2. What's the Twitter handle? Nibble don't tweet, nor does it have a website. But it does have a Facebook page.
3. Can you taste Nibble Bit beer at the brewery? No, and south Santa Fe Ave. downtown isn't really where you probably want to hang out anyway. A tasting room might be in the works in a year or so though. In the meantime, find Downtown L.A.'s only native beer at bars including Pure Luck, Eagle Rock Brewing, Tony's Darts Away and Downtown's Down and Out. Also look for bottles at Whole Foods and elsewhere in the next year.
Seven barrels can accomodate two or three beers brewing at a time
4. Are these good beers for a hophead? No, Lethcoe prefers less hoppy beers influenced by several beer traditions, though he'll make an IPA once a year. Right now, try a mellow, full-bodied ESB or Uncle Ernie's Irish Red, with Pale Ale coming soon.
5. Hey, maybe I'll start a brewery in L.A.! Must be easy money, right? Not so fast. Lethcoe and his partner Loyd Kattro have been working nearly 24/7 for three years to line up all the right permits. Like Eagle Rock Brewery, they've forged a path for other breweries who might have an easier time now. But it took a last-ditch appeal to the health department directly from Mayor Villaraigosa to finally get the place open. Yes, the partners are available for consulting to other breweries.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Cham Korean Bistro adds killer beer and wine, tapas too

Raspberry lambic float
What's the one thing you need most after sitting for ages on the 110 waiting for a huge tree to be cleared off the freeway like I did last night? It's gotta be a raspberry lambic float with vanilla ice cream, which you may now obtain at Cham Korean Bistro in Pasadena, courtesy of the casual modern Asian cafe's newly-minted beer and wine license. At a press preview dinner last night, we tried just about everything from Cham's new Korean tapas menu as well as their regular menu, along with selections from the small but very well-edited craft beer and wine list.
 stuffed tofu pockets
tofu pockets with spicy tuna, blue crab, seaweed,  and mizuna

A jumbo bottle of Lost Abbey Devotion helped my forget about the tree traffic, while HC tried the Maredsous, an unusual but delicious pairing with Korean food. Cham is one of the new-style Pasadena restaurants -- that is, ones that don't suck. I had lunch there earlier this year, but this was a great chance to try more of their menu of healthy casual Korean food. The tapas menu is priced well for nibbling with beer and includes bacon-wrapped Korean rice cakes, fried calamari tacos with kimchi, tempura green beans and ahi tuna with chimichurri sauce.
 watermelon feta salad
Cham's watermelon salad is an amazing deal at $5, with cool, crunchy watermelon paired with feta, figs and arugula.
 chicken bibimbap
For a main course, it's hard to choose between japchae (yam) noodles with vegetables and egg or bibimbap ($10), which comes with either beef, chicken, pork, ahi or tofu. If you need something even heartier, there's also bbq meat platters and Korean shortrib stew. For dessert, the afore-mentioned beer float is a must, or try rotating specials like pumpkin angel cake or creme fraiche cheesecake.
Located in an office building near the corner of Cordova and Lake, Cham is a handy place for local students and anyone looking to get away from the generalized mediocrity of Old Town.
Cham Korean Bistro 

851 Cordova St., Pasadena

See more photos from Cham Korean Bistro on Flickr.