Let’s Talk About Purple Gnocchi

We all know what gnocchi looks like. At least, we think we do. It exists in our mind as it typically manifests on the plate: plump with potato filling, tightly packed, and semi-translucent white in hue. Yet this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can be purple.

Trust me on that last bit. I made this discovery when the fine people of Sauté Magazine asked me to write an article about how Haven Gastropub in Old Town Orange utilizes the products grown by Frieda’s, the pioneering OC-based purveyor of weird produce. Their collaboration resulted in delicious purple gnocchi, but it also laid the foundation of a cool discussion about esoteric produce’s place in the kitchen. You can read about this conversation by clicking this link to Sauté‘s Winter 2018 issue and flipping on over to Page 42. Just don’t read my article, though – take some time and read through the rest of the magazine. As usual, there’s a ton of great content to enjoy, from recipes and secret bar menus to a special wine section. You’ll dig it the most.

Happy reading!

I Finally Hopped Over to The Blind Rabbit

Yep. I’ve been super busy again, hence the lack of activity on the website. I assure you, I’ve been working on some cool stuff. I’m coming up for air to share a slice of that coolness with you today.

Before we get to that, please indulge me in a mini-rant. I hate writing headlines for online articles. They’re not clever, because they can’t be clever. Clever doesn’t translate to page rankings, SEO, and all of that other stuff that makes the online media world go ’round. Need proof? Look at this article’s headline. It’s horrible. It’s the opposite of burying the lede – it digs up the lede, puts it on a mountain peak, and leaves it to rot in the sun. But it’s effective because of metrics or something, so it stays put despite its awfulness. Sorry to sound like a curmudgeon, but I felt inspired to complain. Frankly, it felt cathartic.

Anyway, as you can guess from the dull, dumb headline, I did indeed pay a visit to The Blind Rabbit, the well-hidden speakeasy tucked inside the Anaheim Packing House. I went there on assignment for Tasting Panel, who kindly asked me to put a story together for their November issue. You can read that very piece by clicking this link and virtually flipping the magazine to page 40. I’m hoping you like it, and I’m hoping you peruse the rest of the publication. There are some excellent articles inside, including an interview with arguably San Diego’s coolest bartender.

As always, please enjoy.

Time for Another Shameless Plug

You may have noticed I’ve been conspicuously absent on this site recently. I’ve been feverishly busy putting together articles and stories for other publications and sites recently. Most of them will be published soon, and they’ll be shared here, as usual. However, one of them is ready today, and it’s one I’m pretty excited to post.

As some of you know, I’m part of a website called Fork & Glass. It’s a new site featuring shared content from a collection of Orange County food and drink journalists. Normally, the stuff I write here gets uploaded to Fork & Glass’ website. However, I’m pleased to say that today, this act of synergy is working in reverse. I wrote a post designed to be initially published on F&G’s page. This will be the first of many, I’d reckon, so you may want to bookmark that site now, if you haven’t already.

As the photo implies, the article talks about the lima beans from Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom ranch. It can be found here. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the legume from this property, but it’s a great story worthy of a new, albeit similar, piece. So check it out! When you’re done, peruse rest of the site. There is some stellar work on there that’s not to be missed.

An Evening of Tiki Drinks with a Tiki Legend

Tiki culture is a state of mind, an exotic one replete with hip-shaking women in grass skirts, twanging guitars, and crashing blue surf that kisses the horizon you’re gazing out from underneath a palm tree. This state improves with a tiki drink in your hand. With a little luck, a mug with an ornate, slightly grotesque Polynesian-inspired carving holds the liquid. A flower or an umbrella sticking out the top may also be happening, which is encouraged even if you’re the kind that prefers burly drinks that kick your throat before giving your insides a warm embrace.

Without the passionate work of Sven Kirsten, the mental state that stems from tiki culture might have developed dementia. Everything about tiki – the drinks, the fashion, the paraphernalia, was headed to the island of forgotten trends before the German-born author and tiki historian literally wrote the book on the subject. His 2000 tome The Book of Tiki became the blueprint to the aesthetic’s resurrection. Eighteen years later, the movement’s exploded from niche subculture to a widely recognized expression of cool that’s easy to celebrate anyplace, anywhere – even in an office warehouse in some nondescript industrial complex.

The Orange County chapter of the U.S. Bartender’s Guild demonstrated this at their October meeting October 22; a celebration of Kirsten’s work, the tiki culture he curated, and the joys of tiki drinks – specifically, potent potables made with Plantation Rum. When it came time to host their fete on October 22, they chose a San Clemente, CA warehouse with a boxy white exterior, surrounded by other warehouses with boxy white exteriors. If I’m being honest, I didn’t realize the shindig was going to be at a corporate park when I got the invite. Not that this mattered when I found out. By that time, I knew the host property was a place called Tiki Farm. I was in regardless of setting because of the name, which is a thoroughly justified moniker. It turns out the business specializes in creating all kinds of tiki memorabilia. A walk through the place’s compact showrooms prior to the event showcases their prowess.  I’m surrounded in each room by floor-to-ceiling displays of colorful, funky tiki mugs that would look groovy in my admittedly meager tiki collection.  The name of the business may set the relaxed tone of the evening – there is that much power in the word “tiki” – but these mugs reinforce the feeling of chill.

The evening progresses and the notion of being in a warehouse gradually disappears. The Plantation rum-based cocktails expertly made by the team from The Blind Rabbit in Anaheim help to erase the setting, but such growing ignorance of physical envelopment isn’t because the drinks are strong. All are easy-drinking and delightful. More importantly, they capture a proper sense of place. It just so happens that place is somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, right around the area where the old-time cartographers would draw lurking sea creatures. It’s the state of mind needed after a long, busy day, and it’s one made possible by the event’s main draw.

More than half of the slides Sven shares in his presentation evoke a personal response, mostly gasps of air where phrases like “That’s so damn awesome!” would normally be. Other slides evoke oohs and aahs, and a few leave pause for sighs of lament (RIP Don the Beachcomber). There’s also plenty of tiki cocktail history to be seen, and Sven covers the scene’s drinkable lore from its early Hollywood roots to its Mid-Century Modern heyday. More cocktails get distributed as he talks. They were good before, but somehow, they taste better with Sven dropping knowledge.

Sven, ever the purist, shares concerns about tiki culture’s growing resurgence eventually turning into market oversaturation after the presentation wraps. Yet this isn’t something dwelled upon too much, and rightfully so. The future is seldom contemplated while clutching a tiki drink. Relaxing in the here and now, immersed in the tiki state of mind, is all that matters. We may have been in a basic office complex, but Sven’s wisdom and Plantation’s rum beverages set our minds to island time.

The Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival is Great for Food Geeks

Annual food events in their fifth year seldom look like their first. Tweaks are made. Kinks are ironed out. When these happen, the true spirit of the event emerges. This certainly happened with the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival. Since it launched in 2014, it’s evolved from a nondescript culinary fete to a fun festival where serious food and drink fans like myself can gather and nerd out. Their most recent festival was no exception. Going to the second half of their two-day Grand Tasting event afforded me the chance to hobnob with Hubert Keller, sample a couple versions of cult whiskey Whistle Pig, indulge in lumpia crafted by Terrace by Mix Mix‘s brilliant chef Ross Pangilinan, and talk viticultural history with seminal California winery Chateau Montelena. Even though I was at the event on assignment, rest assured these cool encounters weren’t influenced by credentials. Anyone in attendance could have taken the exact same path. It’s why the event is worth attending every year.

Now, about that assignment. I put together a recap of the event for the good folks at Sauté Magazine, which can be read here. As you read it, and if you’re the kind of person that geeks out over eating and drinking, don’t view it as an opportunity missed. Rather, take it as a call to attend the event in 2019.

Remembering Ernest Miller

Ernest Miller left us last week. The name may not sound familiar even if you profess to be a Southern California foodie. However, if you’ve ever gone to the OC Fair and spent time in the hangar-like OC Promenade, you saw his face. It was hard to miss, because it was always beaming. When you did see it, you also saw a careful arrangement of jars and cans filled with jellies, pickles, briny veggies, and other foods nearby. This was his handiwork. His forte at the fair was food preservation, and he was a master of his craft. But they were more than curated cylinders of food. They were starting points to larger, enriching conversations about the history and science behind what we eat.

They were great conversations, and they continued with great fluidity whenever I was asked to come by the fair to judge a culinary event. Oftentimes, the chance to catch up with Ernie – if you knew him well, you knew him as Ernie – outclassed the judging experience. There was always something new and fresh happening in the world of food science for him to share with me, and there was always a piece of local culinary history for me to learn about. Not once did he let his knowledge make him sound superior or condescending. He knew I loved and understood food, and he anchored everything he shared with me with that in mind. His words always left me fulfilled after the judging session was over.

It was also a pleasure to watch him work the fair, whether he was surrounded by his jars of preserved excellence, or on the OC Pavilion stage as a presenter or as a fellow judge. He brought a certain vibrancy to whatever he was doing, but it wasn’t the energy of a carnival barker or a PR pitchman. It came from a place of dude-you-gotta-see-this level of excitement, like a teenager sharing a viral video with his buddy for the first time. His passion was infectious. You may not have known anything about food preservation before sitting in on one his sessions, but you’d leave an invested believer.

When a person goes, those left behind contemplate which moments to hold dearest. When I learned that Ernie had passed at the way-too-young age of 51, one moment instantly emerged, and it’s been kicking around my bean for days. It was 2014, and I was at the OC Fair with my family. I had just finished judging an open-to-the-public food competition, and I was ready to spend the rest of the day fawning over barnyard animals and riding rides with our daughters. We stopped by Ernie’s booth before we embarked on the rest of the night. Our kids – particularly our youngest – was fascinated by the preservation process.

A little context here: My wife and I had adopted our girls in 2012. They were 8 and 9 when they moved in with us through the foster system, and they lived the McDonald’s lifestyle before they came to us. They knew about pickling thanks to their love of kosher dills, but for the most part, Ernie’s canned and preserved foods practically came from alien lands. I had previously told Ernie they were adopted, but I didn’t go into detail about their limited food exposure. I didn’t have to – Ernie picked up on that swiftly and organically. He spent the next 20 minutes explaining the importance of food preservation, the science behind fermentation, and how jelly was made, all while sneaking the girls a few choice bites of goodness. This was the first time our girls had truly been exposed to food science, and Ernie’s patient, kind lesson made it easier for us as parents to close a few culinary holes that years of excessive Happy Meal consumption had created.

I’m very grateful I was able to share the importance of that moment the next time I saw him. Now that he’s gone, I’m just very grateful that our paths crossed as often as they did. RIP, Ernie. You’ll be missed terribly.

The Start of Something Cool – Fork & Glass

If you visit my site with any amount of frequency, you probably know I contribute to a wide range of publications. If you do, it’s because I have a tendency to share my handiwork here, possibly in some vain attempt to convince you I’m not a hack. Hopefully, my nefarious strategy has worked, and will continue to do so.

I say this because I have another link to share with you today. However, this is a rather unique link, because it’s not a connection to a magazine. Rather, it’s a link to another website that you may find relevant to your interests – very relevant. The website is Fork & Glass, and it’s a site designed to promote several Orange County journalists that cover food and drink in various capacities. The stuff I post on this here site is on there, as are restaurant reviews, recipes, local food news, and the occasional podcast. Even if I wasn’t part of the site, I’d still be promoting it, just because the concept of bringing a bunch of local voices together in the name of eating and drinking is just flat-out cool.

Feel free to add Fork & Glass to your daily Internet habit (along with my website, natch). I think you’ll be very pleased with that decision.

Radio, Radio – My Guest Stint on the SoCal Restaurant Show

As you probably know by now, I like to use this dog and pony show to share articles and stories I’ve written for various publications. I’ve been doing the journalism thing for some time now, so I’m typically mellow about seeing my byline in print. Still, there are occasional moments that cause me to geek out, where I have to take a step back, acknowledge that something really cool happened, and revel in the moment in a state of giddiness.

I had one of those moments September 15. That’s when the good folks behind the SoCal Restaurant Show graciously had be on their program.  By “good folks,” I specifically mean program host Andy Harris, who invited me to come on to talk about some of the articles I’d recently written for Sauté magazine. This was rather humbling. Andy is one of the most astute observers of food and drink I’ve met during my career, and the show’s worth tuning into just to hear him do his thing. It’s a thrill knowing that he thinks enough of my ramblings to have me get behind the mic.

My segments are archived on the show’s website, and can be accessed here and here in case you missed tuning into AM 830 the first time. Please enjoy, and see if you can spot the moment where I nearly get Little Tokyo mixed up with Koreatown.

Let’s All Stop Panicking About Taco Bell

Last week, the results of survey produced by The Harris Poll proclaimed Taco Bell to be the favorite Mexican restaurant in the country. Predictably, people freaked out. Even people that haven’t shared a food photo in their social media lives posted with angry blood on my social media feeds. The general sentiment could be succinctly surmised with one word:  “Really?”

No, not really. Those that feel compelled to defend the honor of hole-in-the-wall taquerias everywhere can slow their roll. The poll isn’t worth getting worked up over. It’s not even worth commenting about the assumed ignorance of the pollsters, even if it’s tempting to shake your head at them in disgust.  The Harris poll that allegedly crowned Taco Bell king was brand-driven popularity contest designed to yield generic, vanilla results. Unfortunately, The Harris Poll – and subsequently, news outlets everywhere – did a terrible job of conveying this message.

The poll that caused so much fuss is the corporation’s EquiTrend poll. It’s main purpose is to gauge a known brand’s health, which is done by asking randomly chosen people questions concerning a brand familiarity, quality, and future regard. The survey’s 3,000 brands, which represent more than just food, are selected by The Harris Poll and arbitrarily whittled down to groups of forty before being presented to the survey-takers. The poll’s Mexican food category pitted Taco Bell up against chains like Chipotle, Baja Fresh, and Del Taco. None of these metrics provide indicators of the poll being an arbiter of culinary excellence. All it really does is highlight the preferred fast-casual joint to grab something when you’re in a pinch.

Besides, the poll only solicited the opinion of roughly 77,000 people nationwide. That’s a small sample size to determine an epicurean beat-all in any category regardless of how the poll was designed. It’s also safe to assume some of the pollsters that comprised this meager collective live in places where Mexican food choices are a combination of scant and lousy. Taco Bell may be the best Mexican food option for someone living in, say, southern Indiana. This may be tough for a Southern California resident to reconcile, but such a thing is possible, if not probable.

If you’re going to be upset at anyone or anything over the poll results, be upset at The Harris Poll and the news outlets for breathlessly turning the results in a vehicle to bait foodies into shuddering at perceived American culinary ignorance. Since it was a poll to measure brand vitality, all of the drummed-up ire could have been diffused by emphasizing the restaurant’s branding aspect. If the agencies simply would have tacked on the word “brand” to their headlines, people would have probably shrugged their shoulders and moved on with their day instead of frantically cobbling together Facebook posts declaring the writers of the film “Demolition Man” to be semi-prophetic, among other things.

But that didn’t happen, probably because sensationalism sells. Based on all of the social media grousing that cropped up in the story’s wake, there were plenty of buyers. To that end, what else can be said other than caveat emptor?

Let’s Talk About Texas Wine

I had my first taste of Texas wine about a year ago in New York City. The geographic formula alone was worth writing about, but I quickly discovered the wines were worthy of discussion regardless of location. I was inspired to learn more about the region Lone Star State residents dub Texas Hill Country. Since Texas wines aren’t really distributed in California, my wife and I ended up paying the region a visit in July to quench my educational thirst.

There was plenty to absorb through our Texan excursion, and the good folks at Sauté Magazine allowed me to share quite a few observations via an online article. It’s a long read, but that’s mainly because there’s a lot to talk about. I hope you have as much fun going through it as I had putting it together. At the very least, I hope you enjoy my wife’s pretty photos.