Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Articles & News - The Melt's Technology

I love how more and more restaurants are embracing technology for the growth of the food industry. You already have several food trucks using services like Square or iPads instead of actual registers (some restaurants too!). You have more order-ahead options available now. It looks like a techie guy, Jonathan Kaplan, decided to go the food route with his chain restaurant called The Melt, a hub of grilled cheese goodness. You might have heard of Kaplan before as he was the creator of the Flip videocamera (hey, I have one of those!). Well after selling his start-up for a whopping $590 million, he decided to bring childhood favorites to life.

So where's the innovation? If you had watched the video above, you would have seen that a special Electrolux panini press type of machine (modified through Kaplan's instructions) is used at the restaurant to ensure the perfect grilling and browning of the bread on both sides of the sandwich. That's about a two-minute preparation time before you get your meal! Additionally, he is using smartphone app technology to get customers' orders ready ahead of time. You just order through the app, scan the QR code when you get to the front of the line, and you're all set. The Melt currently exists in 5 locations but by the end of the year, the vision is to have 26 locations total. Pretty ambitious there eh?

Reader questions: Would you want to give this place a try? What do you think of using technological advances for ordering and cooking? Does this model work?

Original article: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-06-03/the-melt-expands/55364106/1

Monday, July 30, 2012

Eatery - Taco Asylum (CA)

Taco Asylum on Urbanspoon

2937 S Bristol St, Ste B102, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Pricing - $/$$ | Dining - Casual, To-Go | Cuisine - Fusion

After eating at Haven Gastropub so many times, I finally made my way to taco asylum which is manned by the same people and chef. It's located in The Camp in Costa Mesa next to the Native Foods Cafe (in case you can't find it). Duc and I were curious as to what their tacos tasted like, especially after reading their online menu.


So we walked into the open area (the front "wall" is pretty much two big doors) and saw the same menu we had seen online written on a chalkboard. The neat thing that we didn't know about were the variety of drinks available that weren't just beer - thus, we opted for some craft sodas: a blueberry one and a ginger ale jasmine tea. Wow. Those were to die for. We even looked them up on our phones to find out where to get more. We also experimented with the different hot sauces they had on our table. In the picture, from left to right, were the Scorpion, Mediterranean Ghost Chili, Ghost Chili, Smoked Red Savina, and Honey Habanero sauces which went from hottest to least hot in that order. Now, we're both sissies when it comes to spicy stuff so we only tasted droplets of each but man was there heat! It was nuts. Our third drink was the berry limeade which we needed after trying out the sauces.


So what was our order? Taco asylum is cool because they offer a flight sampling of their first 8 tacos on the menu. Their tacos are normally on 6 inch tortillas so their flight samplings offered them on 3 inch tortillas which was fine since we had somewhere to go after. The first 8 were the grilled octopus, pork belly, short rib, curried paneer, wild mushroom, lamb, duck, and steak. Sound delicious already? Well feast your eyes on the pictures.


We went in the order on the menu as we each took a bite per taco (it was pretty much a two-bite piece). For all of them, the slightly crisp tortilla was consistent and paired well with all of the ingredients that made the tacos not quite normal (there wasn't a Mexican style one...). The grilled octopus had Kalamata olives, oregano, Feta cheese, and tomatoes on top of the perfectly grilled baby octopus. Next was the pork belly which was surprisingly like a pork banh mi sandwich in all parts including the pickled carrots, daikon, onions, and cilantro. I would've passed on a normal sized one considering the price and its likeness to banh mi (or was that the point?). Next was the short rib which had pickled red onions, salsa verde, Cotija cheese, and cilantro. Is it bad to say that I don't quite remember how it tasted? I think it was just eclipsed by how awesome the curried paneer taco was with its raita, tomato chutney, and scallions. I mean, wow, what a way to capture Indian food in a few bites. It doesn't help that I also really love paneer. The texture of the paneer with the spice-ridden sauce was music in my mouth, and the extra touch of making it a naan tortilla was genius.


Our next favorite from the flight was the wild mushroom with the chickpea puree, parsley salad, and fried chickpeas (who knew?). What an interesting concept that worked well in taco form. The mushrooms were very savory and the fried chickpeas added a fun crunch alongside the tortilla. Lamb came next with its olive tapenade, ratatouille, and mâché, and surprisingly it did not impress. I think the olive tapenade was just too heavy so that it overpowered the other tastes in the taco. Then we had duck with Camembert, dijon crème fraîche, and purple fingerling potatoes. I really liked the crisp from the potatoes and the cheese actually complemented the duck well; the only issue was that the duck was a bit overdone. Our last was a good one to have at the end since the steak with its chimichurri, buttermilk fried onions, and potato hash was bursting with flavor and juiciness.


Did we stop then? Well no because there was a ghost chili pork taco on the menu. How could we resist a challenge? We snagged a taco plate which came with two normal-sized tacos and their version of rice and beans (Israeli couscous and lentil salad). I'm so glad that we got the sides because I'm not sure how else we would have survived the attack of ghost chili on our mouth. Our two tacos were the ghost chili pork and the curried paneer since that was our favorite in the flight.  To save our tastebuds for the good stuff, we had the paneer first before tackling the ghost chili pepper replete with chili threads and pork cracklins. It looked so scary with all that chili on it and man did it burn. I ate my half slowly and felt the heat throughout but silly Duc decided he'd eat it all in one fell swoop. He said it wasn't bad but I told him to wait just a little bit for it to hit him all at once...which it did. Oh the tears! Bad idea but good meal. My only concern for an everyday eater is the price since a regular taco goes for $5 which is a tad high for a taco (though of course, the ingredients are great). By the way, they have a screen with all their Twitter tags showing up so check out on the picture how many times I was on that screen that day!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Articles & News - Asian American Soul Food

Photo by Nancy Matsumoto from original article

My friend emailed me an interesting (and lengthy) article the other day on the face of Asian-American cuisine and the main developers of what is present-day fare at such proclaimed restaurants. Many of you may have heard the name Roy Choi thrown around several times as a big instigator of this new wave of Asian cuisine as he was the chief chef of the Kogi BBQ truck (which also jump-started the food truck craze) and now the owner of Chego. Admittedly, he has done a lot for the culinary Asian-American community, so naturally the article focused a lot on him. Yet what is the more specific focus of this discussion?

"Fusion" food is. The Kogi BBQ truck has a menu with a combination of American, Latino, and Asian cuisine with items such as kimchi quesadillas and kalbi sliders. The author of the article started calling the food Asian Soul Food, which I found to be accurate. How else would one label the homestyle favorites turned into modern plates with flavors from other influences? So why did I put quotation marks around the word "fusion" up above? Well because it might be difficult to call this food wave as one of fusion cuisine. It isn't formed by non-Asians adding in copious amounts of soy sauce, sesame seeds, and lemongrass. It's made by Asian-Americans who have learned techniques and styles for other types of cuisines and are incorporating their own home-style recipes brought about by being the children of immigrants (and eating strange foods all the time at home).

I think a large part of this upbringing comes from how food-centric the Asian family is. Like many of them, when I reach into my parents' fridge to look for something to munch on, it isn't full of junk food or typical American snacks. It's full of savory Asian bites that may be a little weird to others. That experience is what the chefs in the article are trying to recall as they bring dishes to life - finding the bits here and there that make an Asian-American home Asian. I think this new spin on Asian food is exciting as it brings in more culinary creativity and techniques typically used in European (or other) cooking. Read the article to learn more about all the different Asian-American chefs making news in this up and coming wave of Asian-American cuisine.

Reader questions: What do you think of these trends? Is the article an accurate depiction of Asian-American food nowadays? Do you think there is a reason for the seemingly all-too-common link now of food being Asian and Latino (I'm thinking about Kogi, Dos Chinos, etc)? If you aren't Asian-American, how have you received the food?

Original article: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/stinky-spicy-and-delicious-the-radical-reinvention-of-asian-american-food/259864/1/

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Event - Chef Competition Demo #2

Another lovely evening of friendly culinary competition was had on Thursday (July 26) at the Golden Foodie Awards' second chef competition demo at the impressive Subzero Wolf Showroom in Costa Mesa. This time, I got to have Duc along with me touting his beautiful D700 hunk of a camera so thank him for the majority of the following fabulous pictures. Two cameras clicking away between us meant that we snagged a multitude of action shots. Anyhow, all the delectable contributions were there again from the sponsors Sadie Rose Baking Company, Splenda, Melissa's Produce, Cabot Cheese, and La Crema which kept the crowd munching and happy.


This time around, the emcee for the evening was Fit Chef Katy Clark, Food Network Star Season 7, who was charismatic, entertaining, and overall very fun as a hostess. It also really helped this time as the chefs had mics on them so that they could talk while cooking. So which chefs were head-to-head? It was Chef Pascal Olhats of Pascal Restaurant and Brasserie Pascal and Chef Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub and Taco Asylum. What seemed quite funny was that Chef Greg had actually studied under and worked for Chef Pascal at one point in time which Katy proved with an old picture of the two of them together! Since I sat in front of Chef Pascal, I got to hear his comments, and I loved how he said that if Chef Greg didn't win, he would have failed him as a teacher. The competition between the two was friendly and to last 60 minutes of cooking time using the ingredients provided by the sponsors (such as Jidori Chicken and Santa Monica Seafood) as well as a few ingredients they were allowed to bring with them. They would be under the scrutiny of 11 judges of whom I was one! I was happy to participate in this capacity, particularly because I was very excited about these two chefs.


So let's start with a little background on Chef Pascal Olhats. For one thing, I noticed that he was quite deliberate and wrote down notes at the start as well as during the competition. He had brought along his infamous wooden spice box carved from one piece of wood in Bali and filled with exotic spices including what I spied - Turkish saffron. Mmm. He seemed very proud of his treasure and I don't blame him. It was certainly a gorgeous piece. Unlike the previous competition, the two chefs brought sous chefs with them and the neat thing was that Chef Pascal brought Sue the sous! I was surprised that she was working so diligently beside him considering she had fractured a finger. That's dedication. Chef Pascal did a slight review of his culinary background for the audience which I have shortened for you: he started working at a local restaurant in France when he was 15, went to a restaurant school in Belgium, did some military time before working as a server (though he was always in kitchen) at a restaurant, and eventually came to California in 1984. One thing I love about people who are involved in food is that they are very giving people. He surprised the audience by saying that he had brought chicken crepes for them since they weren't judges; these were crepes with chicken, Gruyere cheese, and mushrooms which the lovely Tricia served to the crowd. Our thanks go to you Chef!


As for Chef Greg Daniels, he is from Whittier and started off in the food industry working at a KFC. After that spark, he studied at Cordon Bleu in Pasadena before working for Chef Pascal. He did a quick stint at Napa Rose before doing a variety of other positions (just about every!) in the restaurant industry. When his friends got in touch with him about working on opening a pub, Haven Gastropub was born. He also gave us a little hint as to his upcoming potential venues for other restaurants. The concepts sounded wonderful. I noticed that his style was generally more innovative and experimental, especially his usage of a handheld smoker gun. I didn't even know those things existed. His sous was Courtney who worked quite diligently at her tasks. Whereas Chef Pascal's secret ingredients laid in his spice box, Chef Greg brought some foie gras with him (what a treat!) to incorporate in his food. Nothing wrong with splurging a little right? A fun little thing that you'll see in some of my pictures is the plush frog he gave to Chef Pascal at the start of the competition since, well, French = frogs.


My apologies that a lot of our images were Chef Pascal-centric but it really depended on seating; we were right in front of this French culinary genius watching his every deliberate move. Not only was he whipping together such a variety of different dishes but he kept a jovial attitude and enjoyed being the subject of our constant cameras' clicking.


When the time finally came to a close, Chef Greg's dishes were the first ones presented. He actually didn't finish his third planned dish (they were all to be separate courses) which involved pan-fried chicken in seasoned flour but his other two were great. The first to come out was his rendition on the classic Southern dish of shrimp and grits. These grits, however, were the smoothest I've ever had and probably the fanciest with cream, smoked Serrano powder, and cheddar. They were topped with shrimp and smoked pineapple salsa (achieved with the smoker gun). To be very honest, though this dish was the star of the night amidst the judges, I was not the hugest fan because the back-of-throat spiciness from the grits' Serrano powder was not fully quelled by the citrus of the pineapple salsa which was tangy at the front of the bite and not at the end. I guess I had been hoping that the flavors would complement each other a little better instead of being slightly confusing. His second dish was fabulous though. It was a seared foie gras with blackberry panzanella salad. Who would have thought of this? The foie gras was nicely seared and paired well with the blackberry. As for the hardy bread from Sadie Rose which he had formed into crouton-like pieces, I thoroughly enjoyed the soft but crunchy textures.


Chef Pascal's offerings were on his very own rectangular plates because he had planned to take us on a journey through the countries. Let's start with Mexico which was represented with a subtle yet complex chicken soup full of tomato, haricot verts, cilantro, lemon juice, and lemon zest. This was spectacular as its flavor notes offered a zesty taste amongst a savory soup. Never underestimate the power of brilliant stock! I asked him afterward for some pointers on making good stock so I hope to experiment soon with these new tips in my head. Anyhow, then I moved on to taste my favorite part of this four-part plate which was the shrimp marinated with saffron and a citrus sauce; the fact that I had barely tasted lemon in the previous soup and then moved onto bites that incorporated bolder citrus flavors was well thought-out. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the marinade playful in my mouth. Afterward, I had the chicken which had been coated with coriander and olive oil prior to being pounded flatter and covered in freshly grated peppercorn. This was coated with a sauce made with drippings and much heavy cream and topped with green onion that had been grilled and drizzled with hazelnut oil. Lastly, I had his gratin made of fingerling potatoes, freshly grated nutmeg, and white cheddar - wow. The cheese was very strong in this dish but worked! It was hearty, sharp, and (looked quite) easy to make. I like that homestyle cooking, and it was definitely captured in the plate we got to try.


What was the verdict at the end of an entertaining night? It had been interesting to see the chefs slowly working on their dishes and then flying around the kitchen in the last ten minutes. They and their sous chefs had put in so much work but unfortunately, a winner had to be declared. All the judges voiced their opinions over the mic (with the chefs out of the room), and I said that I appreciated subtlety in food a lot more...so I'll let you decide for whom I voted. Anyhow, the final result was a very close 6-5 in favor of Chef Greg so congratulations to you! I loved how you both accepted the outcome graciously and thank you both for taking pictures with me. My gratitude goes out to Tricia and Pam who worked to put all of this together as well. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to judge! It was a fun end to a fabulous foodie night to chat with the chefs a bit and take home some delicious bread. I'm looking forward to the Golden Dine-Out starting August 5th!

Photography by Duc Duong and Minerva Thai. More photos available on Facebook.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Quips & Anecdotes - Slater's 50/50's 'Merica Burger

When buzz comes about that there is a burger at Slater's 50/50 that has a 100% bacon patty, I must round up people (basically my younger teenage brother who can eat anything and Duc who loves bacon more than he loves me) to tackle it. This was especially hurried because it was only being featured in July as the Burger of the Month. Limited time offer + bacon = poor life decisions.

So we went on Sunday to brave the feat, and I almost regret the decision but hey, look at the picture of how happy we were! How did this crazy burger come about? A dare. In my mind, Barney Stinson from HIMYM declared, "Challenge Accepted!," on the behalf of Chef Scott Slater after his SDSU friends dared him to make a 100% bacon patty. That's what happened and there the burger was, waiting to be eaten by the three of us.


We decided that we'd split the burger between the three of us, so out of fear of lack of food, we placed orders for two appetizers. The fried artichoke hearts was one of those ordered but I don't believe any of us liked them because we could taste the oil that got trapped between the layers of the hearts. Pretty bad and unhealthy (says we who were about to devour the 'Merica burger). The fried mac-n-cheese though was out of this world. I'm still craving it now. How could you not? It's fried mac and cheese! Delightfully crunchy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside, this appetizer made me feel like I had splurged on a childhood treat. Thumbs up!


Then the burger came out and we nearly died while staring at it. We had ordered the FULL POUND of the 'Merica Burger, a monstrous thing with a 100% bacon patty, thick cut bacon strips on top, a sunny side up egg, "bacon island" dressing, and bacon cheddar cheese. Depending on who you ask, it's heaven or hell. I honestly took about two bites of that thing before I pushed it away for Duc to finish off. If you could imagine ground cooked bacon as the glue holding together chopped and chunk pieces of bacon in a patty form, that was what the patty was like. It was ridiculous. It was salty. For the boys, it was conquered. I needed so much water after my few bites that I threw in the towel. I'll chalk it onto my list of poor life decisions, and they'll mark it as a life accomplishment. Slater's 50/50, once again we overindulged at you!

Funny story after the fact, by the way, was that we were wearing our pork-loving shirts that we got from Bad Pickle Tees. We went to many places afterward and eventually ended up at Veggie Grill...with...our...shirts about how tasty pigs are. Let's just say that I ordered food very embarrassingly covering my shirt as much as possible. I bet I looked weird. Le sigh.