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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Need A Pan That’s Smokin’ Hot? Reach For Carbon Steel

Carbon steel sauté pan on high heat, smoke rising from the blended oil. Credit: David Latt

To create beautifully charred meats and crispy skin fish filets, restaurant chefs use sauté pans designed to take high heat. Searing caramelizes the outside and locks in flavor. In the home kitchen, cast iron and stainless steel pans are favored by many, but carbon steel has advantages over both. No health issues are associated with using carbon at high heat and cleanup is easy. Like woks, once a carbon steel pan is seasoned, the surface turns black so there is no need to brandish a scouring pad and cleanser.

Working with carbon steel


Available in cooking supply stores, the heavy duty pans are half the cost of stainless steel and twice the price of cast iron. In Southern California, Surfas Culinary District carries the pans in their stores and online. Once seasoned according to the manufacturer’s directions, the pans are virtually indestructible and designed to last a lifetime.Some additional care needs to be taken. Never soak a carbon steel pan in water or place in a dishwasher. Simply scrub with a little soap to remove particulates and grease, rinse, then heat the pan on a stove top burner until dry and the pan is ready to use again. Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice and tomatoes can affect the seasoning of the pan, but that is easily remedied by following the manufacturer’s directions.
The pans I use are the heavy duty de Buyer and the Paderno 12.6-inch. A bit lighter than a comparably sized cast iron pan, the extra long handle never gets hot when used on the stove top. At high heat, the surface of the carbon steel pan becomes nonstick with the smallest amount of oil.
Very much like Chinese stir-frying, cooking at high heat requires all ingredients to be prepped before cooking begins. To avoid risking a burn, experts suggest using a pair of long metal tongs, 12 inches or longer to manipulate the ingredients in the pan.

Get ready for some serious heat

A good exhaust hood with a fan above the stove is also necessary. High heat’s sweet smoke can turn from pleasure to pain if unvented. Many a meal has been spoiled by the annoying screech of a smoke alarm.
Use an oil that can tolerate high temperatures. A proponent of high-heat cooking to prepare his signature crispy salmon filet, chef Taylor Boudreaux of Napa Valley Grille in West Los Angeles, Calif., recommends a blend of canola (80%) and olive oil (20%).
Keep a premixed bottle on hand in the kitchen and you’ll always be ready for a smokin’ good time.
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A medley of vegetables -- carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions and garlic -- sizzling on a carbon steel sauté pan. Credit: David Latt

Pan Seared Bone-In Ribeye Steak

I believe a little bit of steak goes a long way, so my preferred portion is 6 to 8 ounces. Quality rather than quantity makes the difference in this supremely easy-to-make, protein-centric dish. Buy the highest quality steak available.
A good steak deserves good accompaniments that are entirely personal in nature. One person draws pleasure from a side of fries, another prefers a baked sweet potato with butter. Some diners wouldn’t eat red meat without a glass of red wine. I enjoy a charred steak with caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms served alongside garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, a carrot-broccoli sauté and an ice-cold perfect Manhattan up with a twist. But that’s me.
The times indicated in the recipe are estimates. The thickness of the steak will affect how long the meat needs to be cooked to reach the desired level of doneness.
Serves 1
Ingredients
1 bone-in ribeye, T-bone or Porterhouse steak
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon blend of canola oil (80%) and olive oil (20%)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional, see variations)
1 garlic clove, peeled, root end trimmed (optional, see variations)
½ teaspoon finely chopped chives, or the green part of a scallion (optional, see variations)
Directions
1. Wash and pat dry the steak. Season lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
3. Place the carbon steel pan on a burner on a high flame.
4. When the pan lightly smokes, drizzle the oil into the pan. In seconds the oil will smoke.
5. Using tongs, place the steak in the pan. Press down gently along the edges and the meat next to the bone. Pressing too firmly will force juices out of the steak which would diminish the flavors.
6. Allow to cook and sizzle. Steaks are best served medium-rare. Make adjustments as to time if you prefer yours less or more cooked.
7. After 3 to 5 minutes, turn the steak over. After another 3 to 5 minutes, press against the middle of the steak. If the meat feels solid, it is cooked. If it can be pressed down easily, then it probably requires more cooking. To be certain, use a sharp paring knife to make small cut in the middle of the steak. Inspect and determine if the steak has cooked to the state of doneness you enjoy.
8. Serve hot with your preferred sides and beverage of choice.
Variations
1. Use a combination of stovetop searing and oven baking, as many restaurant chefs do. To do this, sear the steak for 2 minutes on each side, then place in a 400 F oven for 5 minutes. To remove the pan from the oven, remember to use an oven mitt. The handle that rarely gets hot on the stove top will be very hot after spending time in the oven.
2. Test for doneness as before. If not cooked to your preference, place back in the oven.
3. After removal from the oven or the stovetop, drop a teaspoon of sweet butter and a crushed garlic clove (peeled) into the pan. Spoon the butter-garlic mixture over the steak, bathing it in the sauce. Discard the melted butter and garlic before serving. Place the steak on the plate with the sides.
4. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives or the green part of a scallion over the steak just before serving.

Caramelized Farmers Market Vegetables

Perfect as a side dish or as an entrée with noodles or rice, the vegetables should be charred but not overcooked so their texture is al dente. Using the freshest, highest quality vegetables will create a better tasting dish. Butter is optional, but a small amount can add a level of umami that turns a good plate of vegetables into an outstanding one.
Serves 4
Ingredients
2 large carrots, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds or 1 -nch oblongs
1 medium onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, julienned
3 garlic cloves, skins and root ends removed, smashed, finely diced
2 cups broccoli florets, washed, sliced long ways into bite-sized pieces
2 cups Brussels sprouts, root ends trimmed, cut into quarters or julienned
1 cup shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, stem ends trimmed, thin sliced long ways
1 teaspoon blend of canola oil (80%) and olive oil (20%)
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Directions
1. Assemble all the vegetables on the cutting board, ready to use. If serving with steamed rice or cooked pasta, have that prepared as well.
2. Set the burner on the highest setting. Place the carbon steel pan on the burner. Allow to heat until a small amount of smoke begins to form.
3. Drizzle in the blended oil. When it smokes, add all the vegetables.
4. Using the tongs, toss the vegetables frequently to prevent burning. Toss for 3 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked al dente.
5. Remove the pan from the burner. Because the carbon steel is still very hot, continue tossing the vegetables. Add the butter and cayenne (optional). Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional sea salt and pepper.
6. Serve hot as a side dish or with the pasta or rice.
Variations
— If caramelized onions are preferred, cook them separately until they take on a golden color, then add the other vegetables.
— Substitute or add vegetables you enjoy, such as zucchini, turnips, kale or kohlrabi. Since some vegetables cook more quickly than others, learn which ones need to go into the pan ahead of the others. For instance, small diced turnips and kohlrabi would go in first before adding the other vegetables.
— Instead of adding butter and cayenne (optional), add 2 tablespoons soy sauce or an Asian sauce (optional), and for added heat, add 3 tablespoons finely chopped Korean kimchi (optional).

Monday, September 22, 2014

These Days I Spend As Much Time at Starbucks as I Do at Home

Right now Starbucks has a "Sweet Receipt" promotion that rewards customers who stop by in the morning and return after 2:00pm. Bring the morning's receipt, choose any of the pastries and pay $1.00 instead of $2.45-3.45.
The promotion has been on-going for several weeks. Starbucks has promotions through out the year. Usually they are advertised with inclusive dates. The baristas I've asked don't know how long the promotion will last. "Sweet Receipts" was on my receipt today, so that means it's still going on. The next time you stop for your morning beverage and breakfast, ask for the receipt and read on the bottom to see if the $1.00 offer is still in effect.
You can have any of the baked goods: the almond croissant blossom, muffins, coffee cakes, sliced loaf cakes, croissants and scones. My personal favorites are the pecan tart and the George Washington Apple pound cake. Ask for them heated, on a plate.

Specialty coffee stores vs. Starbucks
The explosion of specialty coffee shops like Intelligensia Coffee & Tea, Caffe Luxxe, Stumptown, Groundwork and Handsome Coffee to name a few shows that people care more about their coffee than they used to. As a matter of personal taste, I prefer Starbucks. That's as much for the coffee as for the culture of the stores that invite customers to spend as much time as they want.

On a press tour I attended Starbucks Coffee College in Seattle. The experience was similar to a wine tasting. We were shown how to "cup" coffee to taste if it was full-bodied. And, just like a wine tasting, there was a lot of sniffing, swirling and spitting into a bucket. We learned about the growing and harvesting process in a slide show. At the end, we were led into a cavernous room stacked high with heavy sacks of sun dried coffee beans. In the middle of the room there was a large barrel shaped roasting machine.
The room was scented with the thick aroma of warm coffee.You could taste the thickness of the coffee-secented air as it floated onto your lips.
Starbucks looks like a college study hall
Starbucks is the best place to write. The stores have air-conditioning and free WiFi. All the stores in our area have been recently built or remodeled using a clean, airy design of dark wood tones and large picture windows. In the Southern California area, I have visited probably two dozen stores in the past year. No two have the same design.
I'm amazed at Starbucks' business model. Stop by most Starbucks stores these days and they look like college study halls. Just about every seat is in use. Long tables, four-tops and easy chairs are taken by people reading, writing or talking for hours on end.

The easiest way to engage with Starbucks is to download the APP and put money into your account. Depending on how often you use your account, you will be offered rewards and benefits, which include free brewed coffee refills every day and a free beverage or food item after 12 purchases or stars.

I don't need the "Sweet Receipt" promotion to encourage me to stop by Starbucks, but it is definitely nice to have the pecan tart at the end of the day as a break from writing.

I'm glad this business model works for Starbucks.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer’s Last Salad - Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

How can summer be over? Honestly, it seems only a few weeks ago that we were in the park watching 4th of July fireworks. Now every day the sun leaves the sky earlier and earlier. 

Walking through our farmers market, the tell-tale signs that fall is closing in are everywhere. The mounds of corn at our farmers market are smaller. The tomatoes aren’t as acidic-sweet as they were last month. The peaches still look beautiful but they aren't as full of flavor with firm flesh.
In these last moments before temperatures plunge and skies cloud over, now is the time to seize the day and celebrate summer before it disappears completely.
Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage against the dying of the light” (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night). Personally I prefer a good chopped salad to ragging against the inevitable.

Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Always examine the ears of corn closely before purchasing. That is always true but at the end of summer, choosing ears carefully is even more important. Ideally the husks should be green and pliant, the tassels moist and the kernels plump. Dimpled kernels are a sign the corn is losing its sweetness. A worm or two isn't a problem. The presence of a live worm says the corn is organically grown. Just cut that part of the cob off and discard.

Use whatever fresh vegetables you enjoy.

My preference is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they are similar in size to the corn kernels.

Charring the corn adds a smoky-sweetness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 basket or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut into eighths
2 ears fresh corn or 4 cups of kernels, husks and tassels removed, washed, dried
1 large bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, stem cut off and discarded, cut into a fine dice
1 medium avocado, washed, skin and pit removed, small dice
1/3 cup green and black olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 red or yellow pepper, washed, dried (optional)
1 cup croutons, homemade preferable
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar (made from 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduced on a low flame)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the ears on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Char the ears of corn either on the barbecue or in the oven. On the barbecue turn the ears frequently over medium-high eat to char but not blacken. Remove and let cool. If in the oven, preheat to 350F, place the ears on an aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet and roast fifteen or twenty minutes, turning every five minutes for even cooking.

When cooled, remove the kernels from the cobs with a sharp chefs or paring knife. Place in a large mixing or salad bowl.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame. Allow to cool.

If using a pepper, char a whole red pepper on the barbecue or over an open flame on the stove. When the skin has turned black, remove and allow to cool. Under a stream of cold water, rub off the blackened skin. Place over a bowl. Using a paring knife, remove the stem. Cut open to release and capture the oils inside the pepper. Discard the seeds. 

Finely dice the cooked pepper. Add 1/4 cup to the salad. In a sealed jar, reserve the remainder to be used in stews, soups or another salad. The cooked pepper will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Add the reserved pepper oil to the salad.

Add the cut up pepper (optional), cherry tomatoes, avocado, parsley, olives, carrots and croutons to the bowl with the corn kernels. Toss well. If desired, add crumbled feta cheese.

Season the salad with olive oil, reduced balsamic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Variations

Use grated cheddar or crumbled blue cheese instead of feta.

Add a chopped protein like cooked chicken breast or grilled shrimp.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped red onions or scallions.

Add 1/4 cup fresh chopped bell peppers, preferably red and yellow.

Add 10 asparagus spears, woody bottom part removed, washed, charred on the barbecue or roasted in the oven, chopped.




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Old School Mexican Food Rocks at La Fiesta Brava on Venice's Rose Avenue

Long-time locals know that when you want an affordable, home-cooked Mexican meal, park in the Venice Ranch Market's small parking lot on the corner of Rose and 4th Avenues and walk into La Fiesta Brava (423 Rose Avenue, Venice, CA 90291, 310/399-8005, open 7 days a week 10:30am-9:00pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner). 
Crowds fill the restaurant and the dining room buzzes with laugher and conversation. La Fiesta Brava is a fun place to hang out and enjoy a well-made meal.

For decades, mom and pop businesses have served the largely Hispanic community in the surrounding neighborhood.  

But Rose Avenue is changing.

Challenging Abbot Kinney's reputation as Venice's restaurant row, between 5th and 6th Avenues on Rose Avenue, half a dozen trendy restaurants with outdoor patios are filled with upscale diners.

Cafe Gratitude, Simon's Provisions ("Wine. Draft Beer. Provisions."), Hostaria de Piccolo, Cerveteca, Venice Beach Wines and Superba Snack Bar have attracted a hip crowd, eager to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere with servings of quality food and beverages. 

And then there is La Fiesta Brava. 

Opened twenty-three years ago by Samuel and Evangelina Camarena, the intimate dining room looks more like a living room with tables and chairs than a restaurant. A family affair, Samuel and Evangelina managed the restaurant with their kids, Jasmin, Nancy and Sam Jr. Four years after Samuel's passing, the family continues to run the restaurant with the kids juggling work and school. The night we were there, Sam Jr. was waiting tables, taking a break from his business administration classes at El Camino College.
Samuel and Evangelina came from Jalisco and the menu reflects the dishes they prepared at home in Mexico.

Not bound by any one regional cuisine, what they serve is what they like to eat. The menu features stews with beef, chicken or shrimp, seafood sautéed with a variety of sauces, burritos, tostadas, fajitas, shrimp cocktails, enchiladas, moles, tacos, quesadillas, Huevos Rancheros, flan for dessert and hamburgers and fries.

Many of the dishes sound familiar. Who hasn't had a fish taco? But the one served at La Fiesta Brava was unlike any I have eaten elsewhere.
The small plate arrived with the taco topped with shredded lettuce and a sprinkling of chopped tomato. The sea bass was grilled not breaded and deep fried. The piece of fish was longer than the plate was wide. Beautifully prepared the moist filet tasted fresh and sweet. Another pleasure of the dish was the price. At under $3.00, the fish taco was a bargain.

I am a sucker for shrimp cocktails, a legacy of having to accompany my parents to upscale restaurants when I was young. While they excitedly feasted on prime rib, spaghetti Alfredo and chicken Kiev, nothing on the menus ever appealed to me except for the shrimp cocktail. 

European style shrimp cocktails are elegant affairs, with shrimp hanging on the rim of a champagne glass served with a catsup-horseraddish sauce and a lemon slice. The Mexican version is a more primitive artifact. The one at La Fiesta Brava gave me a great sense memory back to trips I have taken to Tijuana, San Jose del Cabo and Playa del Carmen.
A large cut-glass goblet arrived at the table with a plate of lime wedges. A dozen sweet shrimp and fat chunks of avocado floated in a tomato sauce flavored with lots of chopped white onion and fresh cilantro. The sauce was good but I happily added to the flavor with a generous squeeze of the lime wedges and a good dousing of the housemade roasted chile ancho salsa. Delicious.

My wife ordered the garlic shrimp. Sautéed shrimps shared the large plate with generous portions of refried beans and rice. The garlic was pulverized and coated each shrimp in a spicy crust. The beans were sweet. The rice was moist.
Even though La Fiesta Brava does not have a liquor license, as Sam Jr. explained, they encourage guests to BYO. The "corkage" fee to bring your own wine or beer is $1.50. Yeah, you read that right. $1.50. This is a friendly restaurant!

We're looking forward to our next visit so we can sample more of the menu. The quandary is, we really enjoyed the dishes we ordered the last time. The solution is simple, we'll bring friends so we can order more and share everything.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Grand Central Market, Almost a Hundred Years Old and the Hottest Destination in Downtown Los Angeles

Located on Broadway and Hill between 2nd and 3rd, The Grand Central Market reflects the changes sweeping over Downtown Los Angeles. Long before farmers markets appeared all over LA, the Grand Central Market provided the Downtown community with fresh food at affordable prices.





















The shoppers who filled the aisles, bought fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat and poultry. Freshly made tortillas traveled down a conveyer belt where they were stacked in plastic bags and sold still warm in the open-air tortilla factory that once stretched along the southern wall close to Broadway .


The Market specialized in health products, fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and homeopathic remedies from around the world.
And where there are shoppers, they will be places to eat. Dozens of stalls sold Mexican tacos, enchiladas, ceviche, whole lobsters, plates of fried fish and shrimp in the shell. Anyone who needed an old-school Chinese-American food fix could eat at China Cafe and Broadway Express.
Today, many of the vendors have been at the Market for generations. On the Broadway side next to the floor-to-ceiling Grand Central Liquor, you can't walk by Las Morelianas without being offered a taste of their delicious roast pork inside a freshly made mini-tortilla. A personal favorite, to the moist meat I add  mounds of pickled onions and carrots, chopped raw onions and cilantro and a liberal dousing of green chili sauce all freshly made.
I first visited the market when I was in college. I bought spices at Valeria's and the ready to use mole paste at the very misnamed A&B Coffee where I could also buy any one of a dozen different dried beans. I wanted to learn how to make tortillas at home. I came to the Market to buy masa and a tortilla press. The tortillas were good, but, I had to confess,  the ones I bought at the Market were better so I kept coming.
In the late 1970's I photographed the Market to use for a TV pilot I was producing for KCOP. I took a hundred photographs of the vendors and customers. I loved the community feeling of the Market. Families with babies in tow shopped for the basics and stopped to have snacks or lunch.
Today the market still has families doing their daily shopping but they have been joined by a new population, eager to explore the newly arrived vendors who have set up shop and added new flavors and culinary experiences.
To keep that new population updated, LA food blogs track the latest the developments at the Market. Upscale purveyors like DTLA Cheese and Belcampo Meat Co. have opened stalls with counter seating, selling high quality products previously only available in specialty stores in Beverly Hills or Hancock Park. Customers wait patiently in line for their turn to order at McConnell's Ice Cream, Sticky Rice - Thai Street Food, Egg Slut and Wexler's Deli. Compared to the original vendors, the new comers are definitely more upscale and more expensive.

I have my favorites and they are a mix of the old and the new:  the mole at A&B Coffee (ask for a taste and find the one you like), pork ramen at Bento Ya, the vegetable curry with shrimp and Crying Tiger beef at Sticky Rice, the roast pork tacos at Las Morelianas with lots of salsas and pickled vegetables and the beef at Belcampo Meat Co. (terrific although pricey, Jared Standing, Head Butcher suggested I try one of the less expensive cuts, the chuck eye steak and it was delicious!).
The produce stands that are still in the market are very old school. The fruits, vegetables and berries are sometimes a great bargain and sometimes not so great. I can always find root vegetables at a good price. And on occasional seasonal berries that are half the farmers market price.

A balancing act

At this moment in time, the Market is perfectly balanced between the new and the old so that I can indulge my passion for affordable ethnic food and quality products from specialty purveyors.

The old and the new are pressed together in a mash up that reflects what's happening Downtown. The mostly Latino population has been joined by a diverse mix of young professionals who have rediscovered the glories of Downtown Los Angeles, rich with history and benefiting from a great collection of buildings that are now being renovated and modernized.
Before that rediscovery, the Market had fallen on hard times. Local shoppers had turned to farmers markets for better produce. One by one stalls closed for lack of customers. The grit and grime of the city settled heavily onto the walls and floors. The Market had grown sad and forlorn.
But today, the Market is one of the most frequented Downtown destinations. Come during the day and the aisles are packed. The large indoor patio on the Hill side is filled with families and professionals enjoying a large bowl of ceviche from Lupita's Seafood, a taco plate from Sarita's Pupuseria, Wexler's house smoked lox on a freshly baked bagel and Bento Ya's $5.00 pork ramen that, in my opinion, is as good as any of the celebrity-chef bowls on Sawtelle or in Manhattan sold at three times the price and half the portion.
There is so much more to say about the Market, but I'm getting hungry. Happily I brought home a bowl of Bento Ya's ramen and I'm going to have that for breakfast.

One quick user's-tip about parking. Parking Downtown is very expensive. Happily, there is 60 minutes free parking inside the Market building.

The entrance is on the Hill Street side, almost to 2nd street. Spend $10.00 and ask the vendor to stamp your parking ticket. Go to the Security Desk next to the China Cafe for validation, then (yes, you still have one more step) go up the stairs to the parking garage and to your left you'll see a parking kiosk. Put your ticket in and you'll be told if you owe any money. Take the validated ticket with you to use at the exit.

On the weekend, the open air parking lots to the north of the Market above 2nd Street have reduced, all day rates, so if you are staying for several hours, park there.

I'll write more about the Market in coming weeks. Until then, I hope you take the time to visit the Market yourself.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213/624-2378), Sunday-Wednesday 8:00am-6:00pm, Thursday-Saturday 8:00am-9:00pm (selected vendors only open past 6:00pm).

Monday, August 4, 2014

752 Reasons to Submit Your Film to the Short Food Movie Project at the Rome Film Festival 2014 & Expo Milan 2015

The Short Food Movie Project Feed your Mind, Film your Planet is doing something pretty amazing.

Win an all-expense paid trip to Rome

Foodie-Filmakers have the opportunity to share their work in a unique setting. Anyone over sixteen can submit a 30 to 60 second video to the Short Food Movie Project before September 10, 2014 to be eligible to win an all-expense paid trip to the 2014 Rome Film Festival.

The videos should be about food related topics. Filmmakers can talk about what interests them: the environment, recipes, food policy, culture, nutrition, hunger or sustainable food production.

Rome is the first stop on the way to EXPO Milan 2015.

One film will be a winner, chosen by crowd-sourcing. The movie with the most “likes” on the Project’s web site will be shown at the Rome Film Festival, which is held between October 16th – 25th.

One movie screens in Rome, all the movies screen in Milan

All the movies uploaded to the web site before March 31, 2015 will be screened on a giant Samsung video wall constructed out of 752 screens in Pavilion Zero at the entrance to the Expo.
 

According to Project coordinator, Diamara Parodi Delfino, the shorts can be animations, narratives or docs. The production values can be simple or visually complex. Given the short length of thirty to sixty seconds, the films need to make simple statements.

When all the films are curated, the video wall of screens will be a visualization of EXPO MILAN’s central themes of Feeding the Planet.Energy for Life.  

Look at the web site and it’s apparent how widely different the shorts can be.

Every movie is unique

If a minute seems like a short amount of time to make a statement, some filmmakers need even less. In thirty-five seconds, Mauro Jonathan Manzo creates a dizzying “Mosaic of Food to celebrate the foods we love: soups, hamburgers, shawarma, French fries, sunny side eggs, pizzas, desserts, fresh berries, sausages on a grill and a pastry with whipped cream.
 
Using a low-res camera and a simple narrative, Greta Gabriel’s “Naturale” watches as two young women take very different culinary paths. One woman watches TV, drinks a soda and eats a hamburger filled with nuts and bolts while the other enjoys a green salad, a bowl of fruit and a glass of water. The result of their different diets is immediately apparent. The hamburger-woman looks ill and exhausted after her meal while the natural-woman walks happily on the beach. Sure it's didactic but the contrast of a sensible diet with one that disregards health is a lot of fun.

Many of the shorts go into kitchens to illustrate the making of a favorite dish. Grace Hsia’s “Shall We Eat Homemade Dumplings” lovingly details how to make pierogies according to an American friend’s recipe.

Your Word for Food” Belgium’s Aurélie Duray created a montage of stills showing people from around the world holding up a small blackboard with their one word description of food. The words come fast and furiously: joy, satisfaction, pleasure, rice, grain, carrots, quality hunger, balance, inequality, life…. The list goes on and on, ending with a question for the viewer: “What’s your word?”

From the U.S. in “Be the Change: 3 Meals a Day,” Sarah Gulick uses title cards to create a peppy, thirty-eight second film that makes the case that every one of us can help save the planet if we eat green.

Italy’s Emilia Garuti shows people and animals eating in his impressionistic, 59 second long “´E Ora di Pranzo” (“It’s lunch time”): a woman in a small kitchen making tortellini for nursing home residents, cows being fed, a butterfly hovering over a flower and a man in his city patio feeding chickens.

France’s Simon Bonanni goes to the dark side in a comic look at two young men who load up on supermarket food for a road trip in “Chevaliers” (“Knights”). Overcome by a savage hunger, they rip open bags of chips and junk food as they drive down a quiet country road.

Diamara Parodi Delfino encourages everyone to take their cue from the movies already uploaded to the site. Any one who has a professional camera, a point-and-shoot camera, a tablet or a smart phone, start shooting and UPLOAD your movie so you can be part of the fun.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

West Hollywood's RivaBella Ristorante: Italian Luxury Just Off The Sunset Strip

RivaBella Ristorante is in West Hollywood on the border of Beverly Hills and within sight of the Sunset Strip. From the outside, RivaBella has the look of an expensive fine dining restaurant.  Walk inside and the friendly bar men will offer you a cocktail or a glass of premium wine, then you'll enter a dining room with rustic wooden tables, brick walls and a massive hearth. The spacious restaurant has the feel of an upscale country inn. 
RivaBella balances elegance with casual dining. On the evening we had dinner, some diners were dressed in business suits while others wore shorts and colorful sport shirts.  A retractable ceiling opens to the sky. Natural light floods into the room through floor to ceiling windows. At night, candles on the tables and strings of white lights give the room a romantic, festive aura. 
RivaBella puts on a show
You'll experience the restaurant's theatrical side when you enter the dining room and pass the DJ who is working through a play list of pop songs. Order the mushroom risotto and the waiter brings a cart to the table heavily laden with a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel large enough to fit on a Mini-Cooper. 

The server ladles the hot risotto on to the wheel of cheese. As he swirls together the delicate grains of slow cooked Acquerello rice and sautéed mushrooms, the Parmigiano Reggiano yields to the heat forming a more perfect union of rich deliciousness. 
At the other end of the spectrum, Carmelo, our waiter, encouraged us to order the ice cream prepared table side using liquid nitrogen. The menu describes a dessert that you expect will be a dish of vanilla bean ice cream and a choice of toppings as varied as candied pistachios, chocolate pearls, fresh strawberries, salted caramel and Nutella sauce. But the dessert arrives not in a bowl but on another one of those carts, this time with enough machinery and "smoke" rising into the air to make Willy Wonka swoon. The liquid nitrogen supplies the pyrotechnics. The waiter works the machinery and presides over the transformation of mere mortal ingredients into a memorable sweet feast.

The menu
Executive Chef Luigi Fineo and Chef-Partner Gino Angelini created a menu that draws on many traditions. Northern Italian dishes like cavatelli with broccolini come directly from chef Fineo's grandmother's kitchen. So too the bucatini carbonara and shellfish caciucco are classics of Italian cuisine. But the chefs are open to discovery, which is how the popular lamb reuben with pickled cabbage materialized on the menu.
As a starter, we ordered the corn soup with crab. Everyone dipped a spoon into the bowl for a taste. By the time I pulled out my camera, the soup was half gone it was that good. Somehow chef Fineo created a "creamy" soup without cream that tasted like summer. Bits of steamed crab and finely chopped chives were a great addition.  I liked the dish so much, chef promised I can come back to the restaurant and he will do a video demonstrating the recipe. 

For a salad antipasti we had a plate of prosciutto di Parma topped with wild arugula and chopped burrata. Salty prosciutto was mellowed by the burrata and countered by the spicy arugula. 

Chefs Fineo and Angelini are masters of contrasting textures and flavors. That was apparent repeatedly through out the meal. A dish of roasted octopus had the right amount of char to bring out a sweet chewiness that was balanced by oven roasted fingerling potatoes, salty olives and spicy salsa verde.

We enjoyed the strozzapreti with langoustine. The slender, twisted pasta and the soft, pink langoustine paired well together and both benefited from a musky sautéed wild mushrooms-brown butter sauce. 
Their preparation of a ricotta chicken breast also made good use of wild mushrooms. The bottom of the flat bowl had a thick pool of sauce flavored with Hen of the Wood mushrooms and Padron peppers.  


When we asked about the bone-in ribeye steak, Carmelo said the 20 oz. cut was large enough to share. Covering a rectangular wooden platter, the thick steak had a beautifully charred crust. Seasoned with salmoriglio, the lemon-garlic-chili flake topping brightened the moist, fatty meat. Accompanied with a large side of oven roasted vegetables, the shared steak was perfect for two. 


The dessert menu had a good selection of choices. Besides the liquid nitrogen ice cream sundae, there were classics like tiramasu, sfogliatelle, crostata, a selection of gelato, an inventive milk chocolate pana cotta layer cake and sweets fabricated to look like a plate of charcuterie. The desserts sounded delicious but we had eaten too many antipasti and entrees. Carmelo was disappointed that all we wanted to end the meal was a round of double expressos and macchiatos.  Next time we'll save room for the sfogliatelle, a favorite from my days living in Providence, Rhode Island and I'd definitely like  to be entertained with a nitrogen ice cream sundae.

RivaBella Ristorante, 9201 W. Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069 (310/278-2060), http://www.innovativedining.com/restaurants/rivabella