Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrating with the bubbly

With New Year's Eve marking the end of twenty ten (and awards season kicking in to high gear) I'm receiving questions regarding champagne. My knowledge of alcohol is different from most of my friends in the sense that I took an interest in wine long before I found beer appealing. For my last post of the year, I wanted to recount memories revolving around this particular drink.

Growing up, I would attend weddings where they liked serving me Martinelli's sparkling cider. It tasted way better than the pale liquid all the adults had. To this day, I still equate it to special occasions. It disappears faster than any soda at grandma's house on Thanksgiving.

My first experience with champagne was a wine tasting trip with students from USF's Hospitality School. I was the only one under 21, but we worked around that. For our final destination, our group paid their respects at Domaine Chandon. This is where I learned that champagne not made in the Champagne appellation of France was labeled sparkling wine in California. There may be better wineries, but DC holds a special place in my oenophile heart. It was where I fell in love with bubbles.

Turning 21 was enjoyed by doing four things. At midnight, we went to TGI Friday's to see if I would get carded (I didn't). The weekend was spent at The Getty in Malibu and Cheesecake Factory. Lastly, I met the age prerequisite and registered for Cal Poly Pomona's Wine and Spirits class. It was the only Hospitality Management elective where you could find students from ALL majors in attendance. Go figure.

Before this class, I only drank Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante and knew that red wine paired well with beef. Professor Small led thirsty students through the nuances of determining a wine's varietal by bottle shape. Using a spit bucket was the unspoken way of saying you couldn't handle your alcohol. We spent precisely one day on beer. My greatest take away was how to properly uncork a bottle of wine. Fancy gadgets aside, classic corkscrews are both timeless and effective (and the reason I used them as wedding favors).

Living in Southern California, the closest vinification could be found in Temecula. One summer, we met up with our friend Jude at the Balloon & Wine Festival. He introduced us to almond champagne from Wilson Creek Winery. It was different. A rebel bearing the "c" word with a bit of nuttiness. He planned on purchasing a case during the holidays and giving them as presents. It's that popular down here.

For my close friend's wedding, she wanted to conduct a tasting at Mumm Napa to choose her toasting wine. We spent a giddy afternoon sipping in their relaxed tasting room.
I was surprised at how many options were offered. While the concept of rose colored sparkling wine confused me, it was tasty. Good thing we took notes. I believe we ended up going with the Blanc de Noirs after all.

A few years back I was watching a television show that discussed affordable (non-Dom/Cristal) champagne options. In it, the host offered an alternative to French and California styles. It was Prosecco. The sparkler was the perfect non-traditional wine I'd been searching for. It's what I prefer today.

If there's one piece of advice I like to tell my friends, it's that whatever you consider good is good. My palate isn't the same as yours. It also changes over time. I used to only drink white wine, now it's primarily red. Experiment, choose what works, and learn how to wield a corkscrew. (Note: You don't need a corkscrew to uncork a champagne bottle. Those directions can be found here.)

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

and you thought my pineapple post was random?

First off, thanks to Joshua for providing today's entertainment!

I'm throwing this up on the brekkie fan blog because the video you are about to view features a vegetable. A leek, to be exact. Related to the onion and garlic, it is mild in taste (like a scallion). If you plan to cook with them, be sure to read up on proper prep procedure, as they can trap dirt in their leaves.

Lemme set up this clip. Per J, the song played is, "a trance remix of an Eastern European polka song by a totally artificial Japanese performer. How did I not know about it and how did I live without it".

The YouTube description states that Hatsune Miku is not human. This voice is from software "VOCALOID".

I was just commenting to a friend how I once had a Japanese anime soundtrack phase back in college. Robotech and Gunbuster were my favorites.

So get your clubbing outfit on and enjoy.

Ievan Polkka

Monday, December 27, 2010

Random pineapple fact from my (Fruit Ninja) Sensei

I purchased Fruit Ninja for my iPhone a week ago. It is rather addicting (especially when I am away from home and left to my own devices). At the end of each game, your Sensei shares a fun fruit fact. After reading a few out loud, I started to sound like that kid from Jerry Maguire.

There's this one fact that fascinates me more than the rest.
Williams-Sonoma embraces this symbol of hospitality on their store windows. Shawn and Gus from Psych sneak one into every episode. The Chomp Chomp Nation food truck integrates them into their Kaya Cocount Stuffed French toast. It involves the elusive pineapple.

Supposedly, the fruit from this tropical plant contains an enzyme called bromelain. It breaks down protein. This is useful when tenderizing meat. Sensei, however, points out that bromelain is also added to beer to clarify it (a.k.a. prevent it from appearing cloudy).

The next time I'm staring into my pint of Blue Moon I'll feel empowered with knowledge.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My favorite Burlingame

December means my annual pilgrimage to the Bay Area. Mornings are spent sleeping in. Afternoons are for last minute shopping trips. Evenings are filled with outings, rain or fog. I typically write about Orange County, so until January it's all about the peninsula.

I did not fully appreciate the concept of dining out until beyond my college years. Therefore, trying to sound like an expert on San Francisco (or any city up here) dining would probably be met with disagreement. What I will share are the places I ended up at and what I've enjoyed.

One summer I found myself working in Burlingame. It was for a bed & breakfast reservations group. My manager had a file folder specifically for take-out menus. The surrounding neighborhood was quaint. Storefronts were an eclectic mix of big names and local finds. A walkable place with no high rises. I was enamored. Nowadays, I have a cousin and a favorite dining companion who reside here, and this is how I found myself coming back. Also, there really is only one part of the city to explore.

Crepevine was a place I used to frequent with old classmates. It was also my first experience with crepes. Still going strong and with a bounty of locations, it doesn't surprise me that they've prospered over the years. I remember the days when they didn't take credit cards. I loved their savory and sweet entrees, never straying from the namesake dishes. Secretly, I've always been curious of their "Benedictions". .

A short walk away, you can pop in the Pez Museum. I found this either on Bay Area Backroads or Food Network. This is a teeny place, but worth a visit if you're close by. It has a charm that fits right in with its surroundings. Not to be outdone by sweet nostalgia, the Powell's Sweet Shoppe chain set up a branch around the corner. Your dentist will never forgive you.

Finding somewhere open late in this town (that isn't strictly a bar) is no problem when Straits is around. Part lounge, part restaurant, it hovers with a club atmosphere. My main reason for coming here was to hang with my cousin. Secondly, it was to grab a late meal. We shared some butter chicken and samosas while 'B' threw back a martini. It's more of a social gathering place with Asian-influenced dining options than a dinner destination.

The space currently occupied by Kabul has an unfortunate track record. Fortunately, this isn't their only location. Afghan cuisine was unexplored territory for me until last night. Recommended by a friend (who knows me better than I thought), my taste buds salivated as soon as I read all the lamb entrees. The food is hearty and comforting. If you're going to indulge in carb cravings, skip the bread and appreciate the pallaw or challaw (basmati) rice that accompanies most dishes.

My dining companion had a Groupon for $50 worth of food at Medallion, formerly the location of Kuleto's. It was oddly quiet for a Saturday night. They have an early bird 3-course prix fixe for $25 featuring prime rib. However, I was there for steak. 'A' previously tried their grass fed meats and was not pleased with the taste. 14 ounces of Premium New York Gold (corn fed) with blue cheese crumbles and toy box tomatoes found its way to my table. It was cooked and seasoned just so. The creme brulee we ended with, not so much (how do you mess that up?). While this is a formal space, guests were casually dressed. Also, service was much slower than necessary. A date or celebratory place, visit when you've got time on your hands.

While not walking distance to the aforementioned establishments, by far the BEST brekkie in the area is nestled within the residential neighborhood containing Idaho Street.....Nini's Coffee Shop. Two words: salmon hash. Ok, it's listed as San Mateo, but it's practically Burlingame. The Yelpers say it best. Lots of seating options. Huge selection with portion sizes to match. A long wait, but with hot coffee to pass the time.

It's the city with a little bit of this, and a lot of that. It's easier than parking in SF, and there's ample shopping for walking off the meal. I have multiple reasons for stopping by, and now you have (at least) one, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My lamb. My love. My Lazy Dog.

I don't hide my adoration for Lazy Dog Cafe. When Westminster (I still consider it Huntington Beach.) opened their doors, I held my birthday there. Once Orange started up, it reigned over their neighbors. These days, my check-ins revolve around champagne mojitos and hummus trios in The Market Place (Irvine). For a restaurant chain, I am quite content.

Recently I met someone for lunch. At some point, I decided a gift card would be perfect for Mr. brekkie fan's co-worker. A friend also loved their t-shirts, so it became an impromptu shopping trip. I inquired with a manager about purchasing the style worn by employees, and we were able to cut a deal.

During our conversation, it came out that I was a fan of their lamb entrees. However, they were no longer offered. Yes and no, according to my new contact. Turns out the items are seasonal and would be available NEXT WEEK. I almost teared up out of sheer joy, but I maintained my cool and thanked him for the intel.

Lamb stroganoff - Braised and tossed with exotic mushrooms, fettuccine and traditional sour cream sauce. It is savory and comforting to one's tummy.

Lamb shanks - Braised with burgundy wine gravy, served with mashed potatoes and confetti vegetables. I was on an osso buco kick for years, and this used to be my favorite.

Both items are priced in the mid-teens. Oh, and you'll likely need a doggy bag. When it's cold outside and I crave more than steak, this is Plan B for the next few months.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kickin' things up for a second location

Cruising down Bristol to meet my brother-in-law, I spotted a sign out of the corner of my eye. The Kickin' Crab. Not recalling that fellow foodie Edwin Goei previously wrote about their grand opening, I took the bait. Yelp reviews gave above average ratings and encouraged me enough to inquire if Mr. brekkie fan was interested. He was game to the idea based on the reasons I told him.

  1. We don't have to drive to Garden Grove for comparable cuisine.
  2. We don't have to wait 2 hours in Garden Grove for a table.
  3. I (probably) wouldn't need to sneak in rice from next door.
  4. It's a bigger space.

So on a whim we had a double date there tonight. Service was much better than what I've read. Our server gave a very honest recommendation about how filling certain combos would be. We ended up with combo #1, sweet potato fries, fish & chips, chowder and gumbo. I also began an addiction to their peach iced tea.

The same server happened to mention a new location fast in the works. It's slated to open in less than a month. Up the 405 in Fountain Valley, part two is situated by the intersection of McFadden and Ward. He stressed that it will be smaller in size (max headroom of about 40), but feature take-out service.

If you're debating checking this place out, make note of "Happy Hours". Monday through Friday, from 3-6pm. Chowing on the cheap is a good motivator.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have you seen this pie?

On Fridays I normally spend time with my best friend and her kids. She utilized the McDonald's drive-thru today and bought me a surprise. Behold the Holiday Pie.

It isn't available at all locations, which explains why I don't recall seeing it before. In addition, you can only purchase it until the end of the month. The marketing sounds very McRib, if you ask me.

Conceptually the same design as their apple pies, the outer crust is coated with a sugar cookie texture. Multi-color sprinkles add a festive touch. The filling is an eggy custard flavor.

Upon initial inspection, it reminds me of two things. A) Mother's Circus Animal Cookies or B) An intermediate recipe for the Easy-Bake Oven. Either way, it has an appealing selling point, 2 for $1.

While I am not advocating it, it certainly falls under those things that I'm compelled to try once. I liked the crust.

Monday, December 6, 2010

'Home grown couture' or 'If Lady Gaga was vegan, what would she wear?'

Ever read the headlines after logging off email? I do. Human interest pieces (and other assorted entertainment news) can keep me clicking links until it's bedtime. I came across this piece a few minutes ago and felt compelled to share.

Yeonju Sung is not a fashion designer. A photographer with a vision, she blurs the lines between cuisine, clothing and creativity. While Sung resides in South Korea, her artwork is traveling to the US next month for an exhibition in Los Angeles. My favorite is the almost ethereal white gown.....made completely of eggplant.

The "Wearable Food" collection also brings to mind the recent series Top Chef: Just Desserts. In the October 13th episode, cheftestants were given a unique elimination challenge: Create an edible ensemble. While some faltered with their ability to incorporate their pastry chef talents, a few managed to excel with intricate interpretations of runway style. Host Gail Simmons' blog provides reference and insight into the minds of the judges.

While the pieces don't appear to be wearable, that did not stop Yeonju from crafting with thoughtful attention to detail. I would rather toss with my favorite roasted red pepper with Parmesan dressing than try them on.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cupcakes + Christmas trees = Science?

I originally had one thing to talk about regarding the Discovery Science Center (DSC). Just one. Maybe they sensed my hesitation to write about it, but someone upped the ante and gave me even more to discuss. And this is a good thing.

While I am not a parent, most of my friends are. Finding an age appropriate activity that doesn't involve sitting in front of a screen is not always easy, or affordable for that matter. This is where Auntie Anne (The Pretzel Lady, as my niece and nephew dub me) puts on her thinking cap. I logged in a few hours this year volunteering at this museum. I love DSC because it reminds me of my favorite place in the Bay Area, The Exploratorium. Even though I never enjoyed nor excelled at science, DSC reminds me that it can be fun. If you're looking for some street cred, know this - They are Orange County's only Smithsonian Affiliate.

Featured exhibits rotate every couple of months, and they are mindful of celebrating the seasons. This month showcases The Science of Gingerbread. Visitors are encouraged to explore the wonders of recipe science in the mock kitchen. Supervisors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are scheduled to answer questions and debunk myths about bacteria. There's even a gingerbread competition going on. Entries are currently on display through January 2. DSC's Facebook page includes snapshots of a few of the creations.

General admission tickets are $12.95 for adults and $9.95 for children ages 3 to 17. If that's a little steep for your wallet, I've got some options for you.

Are you attending a holiday potluck? Perhaps you want to bring some sweets into work? Divine Desserts in Laguna Niguel has a promotion lasting through the end of the month. Buy a dozen cupcakes and receive a free child's admission. If you're already going to be spending the money, might as well get something out of it. A s'mores or apple cinnamon cupcake sounds pretty yummy right about now.

Tanaka Farms, known for their tractor-pulled wagon tours of strawberry and watermelon patches, has their Christmas tree shipment in. They have a similar offer: Purchase your tree there and receive a child's admission. Pricing is not cheap, but they do guarantee trees lasting until Christmas, or they will replace it (or give you credit towards a tree next year). The sale runs until December 20.

Friday, December 3, 2010

lingering at South Coast Plaza....

December means shopping, and shopping means going to SCP. Inevitably, we are forced to stop by on a weekend. Thankfully, the gang at South Coast Plaza acknowledges this and offers a few perks this time of the year.

Sip a quick pick-me-up as you cross over Bear Street. Every weekend this month, a hot cocoa and cider station will be standing by to satisfy your thirst. Find it along the Garden Terrace, directly across from the Juniors entrance to Macy*s.

In addition, Seasons 52 will cue their piano bar earlier in the day. Normally starting nightly at 6pm, on Fridays it will begin at 1pm. The piano man will play his song beginning at 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of the year. Occupying the former Clubhouse space, Seasons 52 is located on the second level, around the corner from Sephora.