I returned to relative Szechuan newcomer Hip Hot to see how it’s holding up…
I returned to relative Szechuan newcomer Hip Hot to see how it’s holding up…
Many people consider Newport Seafood one of the best Chinese restaurants in SoCal. Essentially, it’s Southern Chinese, with some Cambodian and Vietnamese influences. We went again the other day and ordered up a bunch of new dishes…
Restaurant: Brandon DiFiglio at the Villamalka
Location: The Villamalka
Date: January 23, 2016
Rating: Best “home cooked” meal I’ve had
January 23, 2015, my wife and I hosted a second annual special fund-raising dinner at our house. And given our penchant for details, things were bound to be off the charts epic. Last year was a blast, so we had really high standards and wondered how to take it to the next level…
Our “solution” was Chef Brandon DiFiglio (right), formerly head chef of Maude, and before that at elBuli, the French Laundry and more! Brandon (and I) came up with a staggering menu, and then he worked like a dervish all week brewing up a storm of components to generate this amazing meal. Brandon is a highly technical chef with a passion for combinations and textures. There were literally hundreds of ingredients. When he arrived at 10 in the morning the day of the party his entire car was packed with them! And so soon was our kitchen.
I might like modernism in my food, but when it comes to the decorative arts my wife and I agree things have been on a downhill slope since the mob stormed Versailles. We’re both history buffs and have gone to some length to recreate the fantasy of a 1730s Italian villa. So, in that vein, guests are welcomed into the Chinoiserie Drawing Room for champagne and snacks.
NV Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée. AG 94. The NV Grande Cuvée is absolutely stellar. This is one of the very best Grande Cuvées I can remember tasting. The flavors are bright, focused and beautifully delineated throughout, all of which make me think the wine will age well for many, many years. Lemon peel, white flowers, crisp pears, smoke and crushed rocks race across the palate in a vibrant, tense Champagne that epitomizes finesse. This release is based on the 2005 vintage and was disgorged in winter 2012/2013. The blend is: 44% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay and 19% Meunier.
Gougere, french pâte à choux, carmelized sunchoke puree filling.
All wines are from my cellar and served by 2/3 Master Sommelier Chris Lavin. By 2/3, I mean he’s passed 2 out of the 3 of those torturous tests detailed in the Somm documentary. Which really means he’s an amazing Sommelier.
2010 Borgo del Tiglio (Nicola Manferrari) Collio Studio di Bianco. AG 95. Weightless, crystalline and pure, the 2010 Studio di Bianco appears to float on the palate. White pear, crushed rocks, oyster shells and lime jump from the glass. A beautifully delineated, vibrant wine, the 2010 captures the best qualities of the year. Stylistically, the 2010 is brighter and more focused than the 2011, with a bit less body but more sheer drive and personality. What a gorgeous wine this is.
2004 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune. AG 95. Pale, bright yellow. Ripe pineapple, liquid stone and exotic honey on the nose, with a spicy lift that suggests an oak influence this wine does not possess. On entry, this is sweeter and creamier than the Frederic Emile, but it livens up quickly in the middle, showing powerful minerality and sharply delineated flavors of liquid stone, pineapple and citrus peel. Still, this conveys a distinctly glyceral impression that suggests more sweetness than its 5 grams of residual sugar, no doubt a function of the 20% or so botrytized berries (in contrast to the Frederic Emile, which included no botrytis). Communicates an impression of power with elegance, finishing minerally and long but not austere. Pierre Trimbach compared this wine to the estate’s great 1990. This is already showing more Rosacker terroir than riesling character. About 9,000 bottles were made from 1.5 hectares of vines.
2011 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Bruck. 96 points. First beautiful straw chablis like color, nose of oil can like and lead pencil, the finish is very long smooth and lasting for over a minute. Awesome wine.
2005 Luneau-Papin / Domaine Pierre de la Grange Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Le “L” d’Or. VC 94. Opens nice and light, saline, with that curious note you often get in older Muscadet that suggests oxidation, but goes away with some air time. Elegant, refined, medium-light bodied; not a ton of depth and complexity, but well-integrated and health-giving. A good bottle.
2012 Domaine Comte Abbatucci Cuvée Collection Général de la Révolution. 92 points. Full yellow. This was also a large scaled white wine but not nearly as satisfying as the Diplomate d’Empire. For one, it has an underlying core of oxidation.
2011 Zilliken (Forstmeister Geltz) Saarburger Rausch Riesling “Diabas”. 92 points. Justin brought this because he knows I like it. As usual, very crisp and precise on the nose – light and pure: powdered stone, light citrus. Gentle now with just the right touch of sweetness to round it out a bit while still having it stay exciting. Lemon and stone, nice balance. This is great. Spicy nose: cinnamon, nutmeg, petrol and apple. Quite dry on the palate. Gentle, balanced, spicy with good acid. Apple. Apple/spice finish.
2009 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese. VC 96. Tantalizing aromas of papaya, sweet herbs and incense. A discreet but intense apricot flavor rises from the mid-palate, accompanied by a subtle acidity. Animated, finely spiced spatlese with a deep, long finish.
2007 Paolo Bea Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro. 96 points. Still amazing. Today it showed more cumin herbal notes, anise, black licorice, and orange peel. Still powerful, integrated, complex, and dynamic in the glass.
2010 Azienda Agricola Montevetrano Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT. AG 96. The 2010 Montevetrano is flat-out gorgeous. Vibrant, floral aromatics lead to layers of beautifully delineated fruit in this finely sculpted chiseled Montevetrano. A wine of extraordinary beauty, the 2010 impresses for its clarity and nuance. I don’t think I have ever tasted a young Montevetrano with this much pure silkiness and finesse. There is a level of precision and delineation in the 2010 that is truly marvelous. I can’t wait to see how it ages. The 2010 is also notable for a much higher percentage of Aglianico (30%) than has been common in the past, while the international varieties are less prominent in the blend. In 2010 Montevetrano is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Aglianico and 20% Merlot, which means the Cabernet Sauvignon now plays a much smaller role in the blend.
Challah Crusted Branzino, parsley, saffron, whipped tofu. This dish was an 11. The fish was incredibly moist and soft, and the blend of the pseudo chili sauce with the cool parsley and interestingly sweet tofu were awesome.
2000 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. 94 points. Light in colour with cherry, stalks, floral spice and musk – really quite bright and appealing. So refined on the palate, this steps it up to the next level. Beautifully layered and with great depth. Superb – an effortlessly great wine. The other contender for WOTN.
2001 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. VM 95. Saturated red-ruby. Explosive, superripe aromas of black raspberry, boysenberry, black olive tapenade, licorice, coffee and smoked meat. Wonderfully opulent and voluptuous in the mouth, with a texture like liquid silk. Coats your mouth, cheeks and whatever other surfaces it can find. Finishes with extraordinarily fine tannins and great sweetness and persistence. The best bottle of Pavillon I’ve tasted in at least a decade.
1999 Forey Père et Fils Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Gaudichots. AG 90. Medium ruby. Nuanced aromas of raspberry, Oriental spices, espresso and mint. Powerful, closed and severe in the mouth; boasts strong fruit but comes across as rather dry today. Finishes with huge tannins but also very persistent dark fruit flavors. My score assumes that this wine will benefit from another four or five months in barrel.
2002 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts. Burghound 92+. More elegant and finer than the Brulées though this doesn’t have the raw muscle, spicy exuberance or power. As is usually the case, there is an appealing note of minerality on both the nose and the slightly chalky, sappy, very stylish flavors that build in intensity to an astonishingly long finish. This too is blessed with impeccable balance and undeniable class.
2004 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Barolo Le Brunate. AG 92. There is notable clarity and detail to be found in the 2004 Barolo Le Brunate. The wine possesses lovely density and richness, with very typical balsamic aromas and flavors that swirl around the dark fruit. This shows terrific purity and balance, yet the firm style will require quite a bit of patience.
2004 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis. AG 98. Just as impressive as it was at the outset, the 2004 Barolo Cannubi Boschis remains fresh, vibrant and absolutely impeccable. Black cherries, plums, spices meld into mocha, menthol and leather as this plush, inviting Barolo shows off its alluring personality. As good as the 2004 is today, it truthfully still needs time to show all of its cards. The towering, statuesque finish is a thing of beauty. I hope to do a vertical someday with the 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 just to see how the vintages stack up. There is little doubt the 2004 is one of the best vintages of the Cannubi Boschis in recent memory.
1995 Louis Jadot Echezeaux. 92 points. Impressive deep ruby-red. Perfumed, slightly candied aromas of red berries and smoky, charred oak. Supple and sweet, but a wine of only moderate intensity. Finishes with slightly dry tannins.
2002 Louis Jadot Echezeaux. Burghound 93. Strong oak spice presently dominates the nose with round, sweet, rich and impressively complex flavors that deliver stunning length. This is quite a powerful wine yet there is almost no rusticity and I very much like the obviously high quality material. As with several wines in the range, my score awards the benefit of the doubt regarding the oak.
2007 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc Le Méal. AG 94. Pale greenish gold. Orange, pear, hazelnut, sweet butter, truffle and minerals on the nose, with a slow-building floral quality; like a serious Chassagne-Montrachet. Palate-staining sweet citrus and orchard fruit flavors are underscored by smoky minerals and talc. The minerality seems to gain power on the finish, which is strikingly pure, focused and persistent. More energetic than the l’Oree, and in need of more patience.
1989 Troplong-Mondot. Parker 96. The 1989 Troplong-Mondot is an extraordinary wine. It is slightly less evolved than the 1990, with more muscle and tannin, but equally rich and compelling. The color is an opaque dark ruby/purple, and the wine offers up aromas of licorice, prunes, black cherries, and sweet cassis fruit intermingled with high quality toasty new oak and smoke. This is a full-bodied, rich, layered, concentrated wine that should evolve more slowly than the 1990. It is a spectacular achievement in this vintage!
2000 La Fleur de Gay. Parker 94-95. I have always thought this was the best Fleur de Gay since the 1989 and 1990, and it showed extremely well in the 2000 horizontal tastings. Dense ruby/purple, with notes of melted caramel and mocha, along with raspberry and blueberry, the wine has that endearing combination of elegance and power. Layered and multi-dimensional, with silky, sweet tannins, the wine seems to have hit full maturity, where it should last for another 20 or more years. This is a beautiful wine.
Cheese plate. Not only were all four cheeses great (We made a family outing of tasting — I mean selecting — them at Andrew’s Cheese Shop), but the chefs arranged and decorated to great effect. The plate is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen!
1946 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Convento Selección. Parker 100! The 1946 Don PX Convento Seleccion produced with Pedro Ximenez grapes dehydrated under the sun at the time of the Second World War, was only bottled in September 2011. This is an extreme wine, my first descriptor was ultra-mega-super concentrated. It is unbelievably powerful, both in the nose and the palate, full of umami, with sweet cinnamon, Christmas cake, camphor, petrol, lemongrass, Belgian chocolate and butter. Incredibly complex and rich, sweet, balanced and smooth in the palate, it is both very sweet and somehow salty, and with time it develops a black olive note. It combines the texture of the 1962 and the elegance of the 1949. It is as decadent as it gets. 825 bottles were produced. This wine will survive all of us. These wines are kept for generations and offered in very small quantities, but it’s amazing that you can still buy and drink something so old, and I’m even tempted to say that it might represent good value for what it is. A real tour de force sweet wine. Drink it if you ever have the privilege to do so from 2013-2060.
Gelatti, chocolate grapefruit, szechuan peppercorn.
Sorbetti, blood orange campari, blackberry madeira.
I made these myself for the dinner. You readers might not know, but I’m fairly serious about my gelato/sorbeto fetish. I’ve made perhaps 70 flavors. These were all interesting and quite excellent. Most are my own variants/inventions. The chocolate grapefruit has an awesome creamy texture. Somehow it tastes like chocolate orange, even though it was infused with grapefruit rind. The szechuan peppercorn is my unique creation and was actually rather incredible with a spicy citrus character and a bit of mala numbing heat. The blood orange is tangy and bitter and refreshing, and the blackberry madeira uses the fabulous Bual from Marcel Vigneron!
They even blend well together.
Mignardises. pate de fruits, macarons, nougat, brigadeiros. I love these little desserts, so we sourced all this stuff ourselves.
Roy Rene Nougat de Provence, flavored with honey and lavender.
Francois Doucet, Pate de Fruits. apricots, “Orangés de Provence” and pear “William des Hautes Alpes”.
Brigadeiros, Brazilian chocolate/dulce de leche deserts in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, vanilla coconut, pistachio, and lime. Sourced from Simply Brigadeiro.
Macarons from ‘Lette Macarons. Chocolate, vanilla, coconut, raspberry, and almond.
Bundt cakes to go from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Can’t have a truly epic dinner without “parting gifts.”
But what was really epic was the length. Over 7 hours for dinner! A marathon of gluttony, but everyone had a fabulous time. Brandon’s cooking was on point and inventive, and no one went home hungry. In fact, the “wafer thin mint” joke was bandied about more than once.
Everything was amazing, and we ironed out a few kinks from last year. But the food was just crazy good. I was staggered at how efficiently Brandon and his team (who only met that day) were able to churn out so many complicated dishes. A lot of it was due to Brandon’s multi-day prep. And they really tasted great. There wasn’t a miss amoung them. Probably the “worse” was about an 8 on the 10 scale. Some, like the Branzino, were 11s. Just really interesting and memorable.
The wine pairings were really amazing too. These weren’t always the easiest dishes to pair with — modernist cooking can be tough — but Chris pulled all sorts of unusual stuff out of the cellar and all were dead on.
Location: 419 Cold Canyon Rd, Calabasas, CA 91302 (818) 222-3888
Date: January 21, 2016
Cuisine: Modern American
Rating: Great ambiance and terrific game oriented food.
Ever year, both in the summer and winter, we Hedonists return to Saddle Peak Lodge. It’s pretty much the perfect venue for both a winter or summer food and wine blast, with gorgeous lodge patio, game driven food, and awesome wine service. For those of you who don’t know, Hedonist events have amazing wines (each diner brings at least one bottle).
Saddle Peak Ranch used to be a game lodge back in the early part of the 20th century. The rich and famous used to come up and hunt Malibu’s finest, such as this poor fellow. Now the deer are just served up on the menu.
2005 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne. VM 94. Bright yellow. Vibrant pear and melon aromas are complicated by suggestions of ginger, brioche and smoky minerals. Dry, smoky and precise, offering intense orchard and pit fruit flavors that gain weight with aeration. A dusty mineral quality adds focus and lift to the long, penetrating, floral finish. There’s a Burgundian thing going on here that’s quite intriguing.
Roasted Vegetable Soup. It tasted a bit like Eastern Shore Crab soup (tomato based for sure).
Bonus from my cellar: 2005 Morey-Blanc Corton-Charlemagne. BH 91-94. More evident wood with hints of spice and vanilla frames the green fruit and spiced apple aromas and a trace of it can also be found on the full-bore, rich and intense big-bodied flavors blessed with excellent concentration and muscle, all wrapped in a minerally, delicious and serious finish of superb length.
2008 Domaine Michelot Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières. VM 92. Deep yellow. Initially reticent stony, saline and smoky aromas gave way to butter and stone fruits with extended aeration. Complex and mineral-driven on the palate, with a dusty gingery spice quality and an impression of firm acidity. Broad, rich and dense wine with a long, tactile finish, but very young and in need of cellaring. In fact, this improved markedly with 48 hours in the recorked bottle.
This begins the first of our three red flights. The theme tonight was “Rhone Style”, and in this case, actual Rhone.
1989 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. Parker 97. The 1989 is inkier/purple in color than the 1990, with an extraordinarily sweet, rich personality offering up notes of smoke, melted licorice, black cherries, Asian spices, and cassis. Full-bodied and concentrated, it is one of the most powerful as well as highly extracted Beaucastels I have ever tasted. It requires another 3-4 years to reach its plateau of maturity, where it should remain for at least two decades.
1990 Les Cailloux (Lucien et Andre Brunel) Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Centenaire. Parker 100. One of the greatest vintages for Andre Brunel, aside from his extraordinary succession of vintages from 1998-2001 is 1990. The perfect Cuvee Centenaire is still dense ruby/purple-colored with a sumptuous nose of white flowers, raspberry and cherry liqueur, smoke, and mineral scents. The gorgeous aromatics are followed by an unctuously-textured, pure wine that combines the best of Chateauneuf du Pape with the floral, earthy complexity of a great grand cru red Burgundy. This is a riveting tour de force in winemaking. Don’t miss it.
1995 Guigal Cote Rotie la Landonne. Parker 95-97. The brawny, black/purple-colored 1995 Cote Rotie La Landonne reveals the animal, sauvage side of the Syrah grape. Licorice, prune, iron, and vitamin-like aromas compete with copious quantities of black fruits and smoke in this complex, structured, muscular, massive Cote Rotie. It will require 5-6 years of cellaring, and should keep for 30+ years.
From my cellar: 2000 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage A Jacques Perrin. Parker 98. The 2000 Châteauneuf du Pape Hommage À Jacques Perrin (60% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Counoise, and 10% Syrah) was singing! Open, upfront, sexy and seamless, with awesome notes of saddle leather, Provencal herbs, barnyard, spice and licorice-soaked black cherry and sweet cassis, it hit the palate with full-bodied richness, no hard edges, and an unctuous, heavenly texture. Reminding me of the 1990, yet perhaps just slightly less intense, this is a profound effort that will drink nicely for another two decades or more.
Or sauternes to go with the foie: 1997 De Suduiraut. Parker 88-90. The 1997 Suduiraut reveals surprisingly crisp acidity for its weight, as well as excellent richness. An intense, weighty, moderately sweet feel in the mouth, with copious quantities of buttery, honeyed fruit, impressive power, and a corpulent style, characterize this well-delineated wine. It should develop more complexity, and may merit an outstanding score after bottling. Anticipated maturity: 2004-2022.
And back to our regularly scheduled program of heart reds, this time the Grange flight!
1980 Penfolds Grange. Parker 94+. The least impressive, but still a very great wine, is the dark garnet-hued 1980. Still a young wine at age 29, it exhibits massive earthy, meaty, bacon fat notes intermixed with notions of scorched earth, blackberries, currants, pepper, and spice. Full and rich with slightly rustic tannins, it has a good 20 years of life ahead of it.
1981 Penfolds Grange. Parker 97. The 1981 stood out as slightly superior. Winemaker John Duval always felt this was a tannic style of Grange, but the wine has shed its tannins, and this is one of the few vintages where the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was above 10%. Sweet notes of creme de cassis, cedarwood, charcoal, and barbecue spices are followed by a full-bodied, opulent wine displaying heady amounts of alcohol, glycerin, and density in its full-bodied, skyscraper-like texture. I was drinking this wine with great pleasure in the mid-nineties, yet here it is nearly 15 years later, and the wine does not appear to have budged much from its evolutionary state. This is a testament to how remarkably well these wines hold up, and age at such a glacial pace.
1990 Penfolds Grange. Parker 96. Deep garnet-brick colored, the 1990 Penfolds Grange has an evolved, earthy character of damp loam, black truffles and tar with an underlying core of figs, dried mulberries, salami and aniseed. There’s a good amount of savory flesh supported by a crisp acid line and medium to firm level chewy tannins, finishing long with some smoked meat coming through. Drink this one now to 2020+.
And onto the Chris Ringland flight!
1997 Chris Ringland (formerly Three Rivers) Randall’s Hill Vineyard Shiraz. Parker 96. Deep garnet colored, 1997 Randall’s Hill Shiraz offers notes of warm mulberries, figs, sandalwood, cinnamon stick, cloves, underbrush, tree bark and black truffles. Decadently full bodied, rich and dense, it has just enough refreshing acidity and a medium to high level of velvety tannins to support. The finish is long and layered of baking spices and dried fruits. Drinking beautifully now, it should continue at this plateau for another 6 to 8 years+.
1999 Chris Ringland (formerly Three Rivers) Shiraz. Parker 98. The Chris Ringland (formerly known as Three Rivers Shiraz), is aged 42 months in 100% new French oak, and is rarely racked until bottling, represents an extraordinary expression of Barossa Shiraz. The intense 1999, released in 2004, demonstrates that this vintage is somewhat underrated after all the hype over 1998. From a vineyard planted in 1910, its inky/purple color is accompanied by aromas of lavender, lard, smoke, licorice, blackberries, cassis, espresso roast, chocolate, and pepper. Full-bodied, slightly less voluminous than the perfect 1998, with an unctuous texture, sweet tannin, and a 70+ second finish, this magnificent, still young Shiraz should be accessible in 3-5 years, and last for two decades.
2000 Chris Ringland (formerly Three Rivers) Shiraz. Parker 97. This is a re-review of the 2000 Shiraz since I significantly underrated it previously. It is clearly the Barossa wine of the vintage, and has put on considerable weight since it was bottled. This stunning cuvee, which used to be known as the Three Rivers Shiraz, was aged 33 months in new French 300 liter hogsheads. A beautiful bouquet of crushed rocks, white flowers, blueberries, blackberries, incense, and subtle pain grille is followed by a rich, full-bodied red revealing supple tannin as well as tremendous texture and richness, and more depth and intensity than it did last year. By Chris Ringland’s standards, it is quite approachable, and should age beautifully for 10-15 years.
2001 Chris Ringland (formerly Three Rivers) Shiraz. Parker 100! The monumental 2001 Shiraz, from a 91-year old vineyard, spent 43 months in new French 300-liter hogsheads. The result is a compelling wine of great richness, flavor breadth, and length. An inky/blue/purple color is accompanied by extraordinary scents of flowers, blackberries, blueberries, and cassis as well as hints of espresso roast, truffles, roasted meats, and incense. This sexy, beautifully balanced, loaded Shiraz should keep for three decades or more.
This was a total blow out event. The food was impeccable and the service warm. We had so much wine we left them a little overwhelmed, but that’s par for the course. Plus we had a really great mix of people and some of the most awesome wines. Tonight was particularly killer in the wine department as you have seen.
A note on the wines. The flighting really helped, and even helped me enjoy the New World’s better because they drink much better amongst their own kind.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Date Played: January 2016
Rating: Awesome (although hard)
Many years back to played a couple days worth of Dark Souls, by this same developer. So when I was recently perusing some “best games of 2015” and came across the PS4 Bloodborne, a more updated take on the “mega-difficult action RPG genre” I decided to give it a try.
Although it might not be obvious, Bloodborne is really a spiritual descendant not only of those older “Souls” games (also by FromSoftware), but of Castlevania. It’s dark, gothic, and a creature hunting action roll playing game with lots of secrets.
Let’s talk about atmosphere. Bloodborne is Japanese Gothic, with a kind of vaguely european, vaguely 18th or 19th century vibe. Creepy cities, leather, top hats, blunderbusses, werwolves, and all that. It’s a gorgeous gorgeous kind of dark game. Excellent and moody visuals and soundscape.
At the mechanic level, Bloodborne is a sort of brawler. You fight usually two handed, with both a firearm in the left hand (generally a slow shooting blunderbuss or flintlock pistol) and a “trick weapon” in the right hand. The trick weapons switch between a smaller faster version and a bigger slower one. This switch can be done in the middle of combat. In fact, you can have two of each kind of weapon and switch those out too. Combat is careful and calculated, generally up close and personal, very visceral — not unlike a Final Fight style brawler. You dodge slow deadly blows, shoot guys to stun them, and then bash their faces in — combos abound. This refinement of the Souls hand-to-hand combat is faster and more furious. Different kinds of weapons and blows are satisfying. The monsters are varied, their animations clear and effective. A new mechanic where you can steal back lost hit points by attacking immediately after loosing them is very effective to encourage a more furious style of fight.
But all that is this micro-mechanic. The macro mechanics (i.e. the RPG element) are brutal and different (although less evil that the Souls games). Blood echoes are xp earned by killing monsters, but you loose them all when you die. However, some nearby monster picks them up, and if you return to kill him (after killing everything up to him again), you can regain them — unless you die a second time on route. This mechanic, combined with a ridiculous scarcity of continue points means that you spend a LONG time killing the same guys over and over, learning every corner of the world. In fact, you have to kill one of the hideous bosses to get a continue, and it took me over a week to do that. Long before that I pretty much learned the ins and outs of the first area (which has a choice of two bosses).
And you can spend your blood echoes on leveling up, or weapons, or leveling your weapons, which are all great ways to get better at the game. Too bad you can’t actually spend anything until you at least see the first boss — and this is quite brutally challenging without leveling up.
Nor did the game bother to explain this, or much else about its rather oddball but well crafted macro-mechanics. Bloodborne, like the Souls games is virtually free of the burden of documentation, walk-thru, or any of those niceties for coddled modern player. Instead it relies on painful trial and error — and no small amount of walkthrough video viewing.
It took me about a week to kill the first boss. By the time I even faced him seriously, he really wasn’t that hard, but my initial encounters at low level had been so punishing I took my time leveling and exploring. For while the monsters respawn every time you die or return to the leveling hub, rare items and “doors” are persistent. That is you can only collect an item once, and a door, once opened stays open. It is this last, since the level is folded around itself, that makes the long traversal through the level more manageable after awhile. For example, an initially locked gate near the checkpoint, when unlocked from the back allows “quick” (killing “only” 11 monster) access to the first boss.
And while one might think that slinking around killing the same monsters over and over again would be boring, the addictive rhythm to the combat and the slow progress in both leveling and skill makes it all quite rewarding — if dastardly difficult.
All ARPGs involve a grind. Diablo 3, one of my favorites, is nothing but grind. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In Diablo, you just slay slay with abandon in order to earn xp and small changes at gear upgrades. In Bloodborne, you pick your way through carefully, for the consequences of death are much sharper. Still, fundamentally you kill monsters, collect XP, and improve your character for more more monster killing. Such is the name of the game.
More thoughts to come after I progress…
The same shopping trip that picked up ingredients for my homemade Dan Dan Mein led me to make my other favorite Szechuan dish, Mapo tofu. This fragrant and spicy dish translates roughly as “pockmarked old lady tofu”, possibly due to its “unattractive” appearance.
Again I used a hardcore online recipe as my base.
And, of course, Mapo wouldn’t be real Mapo without Szechuan Peppercorns, about to be lightly mashed. These incredibly aromatic bits of vegetation provide the “mala” (numbing spiciness) that is so characteristic of this dish.
I fry them up here in oil.
Meanwhile chopping garlic and ginger.
Add in the garlic.
Add in the ginger.
Then I used ground lamb as my meat, since I can’t use pork.
Mixed in to brown.
Szechuan hot bean paste is a key salty ingredient to this dish. This is a mix of fermented broad beans, soy beans, salt, and various spices.
Cook for just a touch longer and serve.
This isn’t the loveliest dish, and mine was uncharacteristically tan instead of red — despite packing a pretty serious hot and numbing punch — but it tasted pretty dead on like a nice Szechuan restaurant version. The lamb was a good addition too, adding a “spicy” heft as opposed to the pork. Really delicious stuff which got the forehead sweating!
Location: 7274 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90046. (323) 930-7900
Date: January 14, 2016
Rating: Good “New American” Spanish
After a year’s absence, the Hedonists return to Smoke Oil Salt for some more creative Spanish food — particularly given that they have a new chef.
Owner Stephen Gelber was on hand making sure we didn’t get into too much trouble!
Bonus bottle from my cellar: 2011 Raul Pérez Rías Baixas Muti. 90 points. Fresh citrus…lemon, lime, grapefruit tinged w/floral notes. Razor sharp base minerality puncuated with clean even finish. Great wine for the summer!
2006 Domaine Ponsot Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants Vieilles Vignes. Burghound 90. A ripe, pretty and spicy green fruit nose leads to textured, sweet and seriously intense flavors underpinned by firm acidity and evident minerality, all wrapped in a linear, long and precise finish. Impressive if not overly complex at present yet this wine always requires time in bottle to deepen as well as flesh out.
Frank brought: 2012 Marchand & Tawse / Pascal Marchand Clos de la Roche. Burghound 91-94. This is aromatically similar to the Clos St. Denis except for the presence of plenty of sauvage character and a more pronounced earthiness. As one would reasonably expect there is more size, weight, richness and power to the big-bodied flavors that possess very solid volume on the balanced and impressively persistent finish. There is fine depth and this should amply repay medium to longer-term cellaring.
Brian brought: 2005 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial. Parker 96. The 2005 Castillo de Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, a classic among classics, is back in top form with the excellent 2005 vintage. It’s produced from a blend of 89% Tempranillo and 11% Mazuelo (aka Carinena), a difficult grape that is in high esteem at the winery (they exceptionally produced a varietal Mazuelo in 2000 to celebrate their 150th anniversary) as they consider it adds acidity and aging potential to the blend and has been selected specifically to make part of the flagship wine’s blend. In 2005, the Tempranillo was harvested on September 30, the Mazuelo on October 3, and fermented separately in stainless steel vats. The Tempranillo ages in American oak barrels and the Mazuelo in French ones, both for a period of 30 months. The wine matures for a further two years in bottle before being released. It’s extremely backward and tight, showing very young, with a balanced nose between spice, tertiary and cherry fruit aromas. It’s a powerful, still young vintage, with plenty of glycerin, body, round tannins. An austere wine (is it the Mazuelo?), it is complex and ever-changing in the palate. It has a sense of harmony that only the best wines have. Very long and elegant. I loved its serious and austere overall feeling. 100,000 bottles produced. This is a true vin de garde which develops complex notes of violet and meat with time in the glass. This is a Gran Reserva greatly marked by the Mazuelo, which should give it great ability to age. At this quality level it represents very good value. Drink 2014-2030.
From my cellar: 2007 Spectacle Vins Montsant Espectacle. Parker 98. The 2007 Espectacle is 100% Garnacha sourced from 120-year-old vines located at La Figuera on the northern edge of the Montsant DO. The vineyard is managed by Rene Barbier’s Clos Mogador team and is aged in one 4000-liter vat at Celler Laurona. The 2007 Espectacle reveals a sexy bouquet of mineral, Asian spices, incense, truffle, and black cherry compote. This leads to a full-bodied, plush, succulent, impeccably balanced wine which admirably combines elegance and power. It will evolve effortlessly for several more years and have a drinking window extending 2013 to 2022 if not longer. It is Montsant’s benchmark wine and a world-class expression of old-vine Garnacha.
Kirk brought: 1997 Clos Mogador. 91 points. Clos Mogador’s 1997 boasts a saturated ruby/purple color, a fat, dense, concentrated, black currant, mineral-infused character, full body, layers of concentration, sweet tannin, and a 35-second finish. Impressive and pure, with nicely integrated toasty oak, it will drink well for 10-15 years.
Sebastian brought: 2001 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape. Parker 93. The 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau is gorgeous, structured, impressive. Full-bodied and backward, with great depth, purity, and heady aromatics, this 20,000-case blend of 60% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, and 15% miscellaneous amounts of the other permitted varietals will easily rival the 1998. A deep ruby/purple-tinged color is accompanied by a sweet perfume of salty sea breezes, seaweed, melted licorice, kirsch liqueur, creme de cassis, and iodine … a classic Vieux-Telegraphe aromatic display. Powerful as well as firmly structured, this is a wine to lay away for 4-5 years. It should prove to be uncommonly long-lived, lasting a minimum of two decades. It gets my nod as the greatest Vieux-Telegraphe since the 1998.
Larry brought: 2000 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape. Parker 95. The Burgundian-styled 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking at point today. Possessing beautiful notes of forest floor, truffles, spice, garrigue and sweet cherry and kirsch like fruit, this beauty has notable freshness and purity, medium to full-bodied richness, fine tannin and a layered, integrated texture that keeps you coming back to the glass. There’s no need to delay gratification here and I’d enjoy bottles over the coming 4-5 years.
Arnie brought (again :-)): 2007 Alban Vineyards Syrah Reva Alban Estate Vineyard. Parker 96-100. The 2007 Syrah Reva is dazzling. It possesses striking inner perfume and beautifully delineated fruit. Blackberries, blueberries, freshly cut white flowers, licorice, tar and asphalt are some of the notes that take shape in the glass. Alban gave the 2007 Reva 44 months in untoasted French oak barrels. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2027.
Lana brought the Ornellana: 2008 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia. Parker 97. The 2008 Ornellaia continues to blossom in the bottle. Dark cherries, chocolate, espresso, blackberries and mocha are just some of the many notes that explode from the glass. A rich tapestry of licorice, tar and camphor notes develop in the glass, adding considerable complexity. The 2008 is a huge, structured Ornellaia endowed with massive structure. It has come together beautifully since the early days when it was a tannic beast. Readers who can be patient will be rewarded with a spectacular bottle of wine. This is a fabulous showing. Anticipated maturity: 2018-2033.
2005 Gruaud Larose. Parker 90. The 2005 Gruaud Larose has a deep ruby/purple color, excellent concentration, and clean, pure black and red currant fruit, licorice and spice. It is medium to full-bodied, lush, and very soft and round. I’m surprised how drinkable it is already, although it is certainly capable of lasting 15 or more years.
All in all another great evening of pure hedonism. SOS is rocking on even minus the original chef. The dishes are largely similar in style, with some being even better, a few more middling (like the short-rib rice). It is right in there in the current “wood table, paper menu, small plates, loud room” thing that dominates new restaurants in LA right now. The food is quite Catalan/Valencian and very good. It’s quite salty, sometimes a little too much. Not crazy salty (like I’d sometimes get in Japan), but noticeable. Flavors are very strong (a good thing IMHO). The service was 11 out 10. Everyone pulled out all the stops.
Since I’m a noodle fiend, and Dan Dan Mein is one of my all time favorites, and a lot of my home cooking focuses on pasta (and pizza and gelato) I got it in my head to try making this amazing noodle dish at home — super authentically of course.
So I hunted around for recipes and came across this hard core one to use as my base.
For those of you that don’t know, Dan Dan Mein is the sort of “OG Sesame noodles.” But it’s so much more than the watered down version we get in the states. Ever wonder why sesame noodles are sometimes spicy? It’s because they derive from this dish, which in its true form is always hot. But it’s more than hot. Good dan dan is very complex incredibly aromatic, nutty, spicy, numbing, meaty, and a hefty bowl of chow.
Then before meeting my pal Sebastian out in the SGV for some Szechuan I stopped by the 168 Market and spent about an hour hunting down all the ingredients. I went so far as to make sure even normal items like garlic and peanuts were grown in China! Subtle things like the differences in vegetable breed can influence the flavor of a dish.
We start off making chili oil from scratch. This particular incredibly Szechuan oil is flavored with Szechuan peppercorn, star anise, cinnamon, and “regular” chilis.
Here are the Szechuan Peppercorns, which I learned were also known as Prickly Ash or sometimes Red Ash. They smell amazing (and strong) and have a citrus note and a numbing quality on the tongue.
Dried star anise, which smells like licorice. Oh, and the cinnamon.
Next try went much better. You basically cook the peppercorns, anise, and cinnamon in the oil slowly to 325.
Then strain out that stuff and dump the regular chilis in and let it sit until it becomes super red and potent.
Next up we brown the meat for the dish. I actually made the noodles twice the first week, once with turkey (above) and another time with lamb (below).
The sauce for cooking the meat involves a mix of shaoxing wine.
Then in with the browning meat you add sui mi ya cai. This mystery ingredient, which apparently is some kind of preserved mustard green, took me about 30 minutes to possibly locate in the market. None of the employees knew what it was. This “spicy preserved vegetable” was the closest thing I could find. Perhaps it’s the right stuff. Perhaps it’s a variant. It’s certainly preserved and certainly mustard green.
Here they are cooked together with the sauce, then set aside until the noodles are ready. As my friend Bryan, who tried my second batch, commented, the preserved vegetable makes it much more Chinese.
It looks great above, but you need to mix it up.
Here is the fully mixed version you eat. It might not be a looker, but the dish is incredible and I was very pleased how it turned out. Just like restaurant dan dan, all the good stuff is at the bottom, the rich sauce, the meat chunks etc. The lamb version really kicked ass too (most dan dan uses pork). I also used more meat then most restaurants do and tried to keep the sauce under control so it didn’t get too soupy.
I love me some Szechuan, and surprisingly, so do a lot of others because Szechuan places have become all the rage lately. I recently headed back to Chuan’s to check out its spicy Szechuan fare a year+ after opening…
Restaurant: Pizza Factory
Location: 970 N Main St, Bishop, CA 93514. (760) 872-8888
Date: January 1, 2016
Rating: Solid non-chain Pizza parlor
In the 1990s I used to go to Mammoth all the time to ski, and almost every time we would stop on the way back at one of the two Pizza Factory outlets. Now that I’m back up skiing with my wife and son, we decided to rekindle the tradition.
Overall, Pizza Factory turns out solid pies. They aren’t new style, but they are well executed classic American pizzas. They have good crust, gooey real cheese, and a wide variety of toppings — so what isn’t to like about it?
Location: 6085 Minaret Rd. “At The Village”. Mammoth Lakes, CA. (760)-924-4408
Date: December 30, 2015
Rating: decent, for Mammoth
But like most Mammoth places they do allow corkage!
From my cellar: NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rosé. VM 92. Pale orange. High-pitched red berry, orange zest and jasmine aromas, with suave mineral and smoky lees notes adding complexity. Spicy and precise on the palate, showing very good punch to its strawberry and bitter cherry flavors. Opens up smoothly with air and picks up a bitter rhubarb quality that lingers onto the long, tightly focused finish. This bottling showed more brawny character than many past renditions of this cuvée, but with no lack of vivacity.
From my cellar: 1993 Georges Noellat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts. 92 points. Medium garnet-tinged ruby. Narrow paler rim showing a touch of brick, and clear at the very rim. Light, fresh nose. Spicy and floral with ripe cherry and plum fruit. Classy, but not much depth. Mouth feel is round, firm and sweetly fruited with red cherry. Mid-palate shows spicy, meaty tones. Round and pleasing, with good acidity and real flair. Lingering, spicy finish.
Seafood Jambalaya “As southern as you can get in Mammoth”. Shrimp, scallops, king crab, Andouille Sausage. It wasn’t exactly real Jambalaya — the seafood was pretty good actually, but the sauce was more a ratatouille than a properly cooked down Creole dish. Still, not bad.
Overall, Mimi’s was fine (for Mammoth). The service was top notch and very friendly. The food was solid, but hardly “exciting” in a foodie/culinary way. Still, their execution was decent. And it was walking distance from our condo!
Restaurant: Tempura Endo
Location: 9777 Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90210 USA. 310-274-2201
Date: January 3, 2016
Cuisine: Japanese Tempura (Kyoto style)
Rating: Like being back in Japan, including the price 🙂
My friend Liz Lee of Sage Society invited me to a pre opening dinner at Beverly Hill’s latest high end Japanese restaurant.
Tempura Endo is a new branch of a traditional Kyoto style tempura restaurant. As they say on their website: “Savor our exquisite Kyoto-style tempura in a most traditional setting in the ancient capital of Japan. the ingredients for our delectable tempura feature the choicest seasonal delicacies. Indulge yourself in exquisite Kyoto-style tempura at Tempura Endo.”
The plate is pre-prepared with a variety of salts, soy sauce, and lemon. “The delicately seasoned original dipping sauce, made with a secret recipe and carefully selected salt, enhance the natural flavors of the tempura. Premium quality cottonseed oil made from the finest guarantees the amazingly crisp, light, healthy tempura.”
Liz brought: 1999 Bruno Paillard Champagne Nec Plus Ultra. AG 94. Vivid yellow-gold. Potent, smoke-accented aromas of pit fruits, melon and honey, with a sexy floral overtone and building minerality. Lively, sappy and seamless, with intense nectarine and candied ginger flavors and notes of buttery brioche and anise. Shows a compelling blend of richness and vivacity, with no rough edges. A refreshingly bitter note of citrus pith adds lift and cut to the smoky, strikingly long finish, which leaves notes of honeysuckle and poached pear behind. a 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir that was aged for 12 years on its lees and disgorged in January, 2012.
Cold Tempura Appetizer. Kyoto-eggplant, minced shrimp, ginger dashi gelee. Very Japanese, with that mild savory flavor lent by the dashi. Interesting textural interplay between the jelly, the bits of ginger, and the cool eggplant.
Corn tempura. A quarter turn of kernels skimmed off the cobb. Perfectly fresh. The frying style here is light and fluffy, with a nice crispy texture, but without any taste of oil. It serves to enhance the ingredients rather than distract from them. The was eaten (as recommended) with the rice salt.
Liz brought: 1992 Louis Jadot Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot. Burghound 92. Deep golden. When this wine is good it’s terrific but these days it often isn’t. After years of being a relatively closed wine, particularly in the context of the vintage, this has arrived at its full maturity and is now wonderfully expressive with ample breadth and depth that complement well the admirably rich and full but delineated flavors that offer better fine acid/fruit balance plus excellent length. While not a great vintage for this storied wine, it still is really quite lovely plus, if well-stored, remains a lovely effort. Still I would suggest drinking up sooner than later as my experience, even from perfect storage, has been very inconsistent with several oxidized examples.
Wagyu sashimi. The beef is from Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan, one of the most elite sources of genuine Wagyu beef. It completely melted in your mouth, silky smooth. Almost certainly the best beef sashimi I’ve ever had.
Just appreciate the geometry of the sauce tray — ignoring the white blob at the bottom.
From my cellar: 2006 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. Parker 94. The 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape blanc (80% Roussanne and the rest Marsanne, Picpoul, and Bourboulenc) possesses classic notes of orange marmalade, honeysuckle, and rose petals, a full-bodied, unctuous texture, gorgeous purity and richness, and a stunningly long finish. It can compete with the finest full-throttle, dry whites of France as well as the world. It is difficult to find a better white Chateauneuf du Pape than Beaucastel. Much like their reds, their whites are made in a style that is atypical for the appellation. It is put through full malolactic, and one-third is barrel fermented, then blended with the two-thirds that is aged in tank. Extraordinarily rich and honeyed, it is ideal for drinking with intensely flavored culinary dishes.
Endo’s Tempura, style 1. On the left, classic shrimp. They use a bit of wine in the batter, either Chardonnay or Sauvignon blanc, depending on the type of thing being fried. This tempura is eaten primarily with salt, in this case the yuzu salt.
From my cellar: 2011 Veyder-Malberg Riesling Bruck. 92 points. First beautiful straw chablis like color, nose of oil can like and lead pencil, the finish is very long smooth and lasting for over a minute. Awesome wine…
Then the Refreshment Tempura.
Flambed sweet potato. Sweet and crispy. Like the ultimate high end version of one of those sweet potato desserts served at some Chinese Restaurants.
Yuzu Granite. Delightfully refreshing.
Caviar for the next course.
Ten Don. Egg and various other bits all fried together over rice. This is a high end version of what they serve at Hannosuke. Another of my favorites. I love the egg yolk on the rice.
A specially trained member of the staff prepares the tea in the “tea nook.”
A close up of the tea.
Overall, this was some spectacular tempura and a lovely meal. In every way it reminded me of various dinners in Japan: the small intimate room, the friendly staff, the small courses of exquisite food, the high price tag (although it’s also similar in price to Totoraku and Yamakase). I also understand this kind of food is inherently expensive, because the staff is large (relative to the guests) and the technique labor intensive. You’ve never had fried food with this attention to detail! But it will be interesting to see if LA appreciates that.
Also, in terms of experience, once they officially open they plan not to allow corkage, which is something I’d like to see changed. They have a very straightforward wine list, and wine guys like us have way too much interesting wine to go that way. If I were eating here again under those rules I’d go with sake (which I do like), but still, not allowing outside wines precludes this as a wine dinner destination — and that is 99% of my fine dining.
Still, as we have such a fine collection of great Japanese restaurants in LA, it’s nice to have yet another with such a different style of cuisine.
Restaurant: CJ’s Grill
Location:343 Old Mammoth Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546. (760) 934-3077
Date: December 29, 2015
Rating: classic American menu, middling execution
Mammoth Lakes California isn’t exactly known for its fine dining, and CJ’s grill isn’t exactly the best there is to offer — however, they did manage to squeeze 6 of us in at the last minute on a mad busy holiday week on one of the nights where we didn’t have a preplanned reservation (bad idea during the holidays).
Even when the restaurant is fairly plebeian, I travel with the good stuff.
From my cellar: 2006 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Château de Fonsalette Reserve. JR 92. Cinsault component: Wild, gamey and expressive, with fresh raspberry and cherry aromas and flavors. Quite elegant, with good juicy length. “This always gives finesse to the blend,” Reynaud told me. Grenache component: Very pale red. Explosive strawberry and raspberry scents, with spicy red fruit preserve flavors, silky tannins and excellent persistence. Proves that weight isn’t necessary for flavor impact-much less deep color.
The water came in cute mason jars.
Coconut Shrimp. Probably 8/10 on the Coconut Shrimp scale. Lots of coconut, very sweet, heavily fried.
Tomato basil soup.Caesar salad with chicken.
Regular Caesar salad. A little plain for my taste. No zing.
Mac & Cheese (side of fries). Not much to look at, and hint of Velveeta, but tasty enough.
Cheese Burger (no bun).
Chicken Pot Pie.
Look at those fancy veggies!
Inside of the pie was okay. But I prefer the stretched pie crust type.
BBQ platter. Mac was solid enough, if nothing fancy. BBQ pork was okay. Chicken just was. Like a grilled chicken breast with BBQ sauce. Oh wait, thats what it was.
CJ’s reminded me of meals of yesterday — well yester decade. The service, however, was super friendly and nice. And the place was bustling. And they had room. So all and all it was what it was.
Time evidently moves slower in the mountains.