Ultimate Pizza – The Comeback

After long hiatus, Ultimate Pizza is back (click the think for posts on the components). We’ve brewed up a new batch of dough, and called up some friends and family.

For those of you who don’t know, Ultimate Pizza is our super homemade pizza where we make everything from scratch. In the past I’ve written separate articles detailing elements such as the Dough, Sauce, Pesto, and Toppings.


Every dough batch is different. For more on making it, see here. After three days cold fermenting in the fridge this batch had a weird spiderwebby quality and was very sticky. But that wasn’t anything a little dusting of flour didn’t solve. And baked, it tasted great as always.


This 1997 Barolo served as a good opener, warming up the palette.


The first pizza on the block. Starts with basic totally fresh raw tomato sauce made with Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella.


Then some parmesan, basil.


Mushrooms.


Figs, marcona almonds.


And after baking. They aren’t always pretty, but they are good!


I “found” this 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothchild in my cellar and figured it wasn’t getting any better.

Parker says: “Except for the 1966 and 1870 vintages of Lafite-Rothschild, these wines were poured on virgin territory on my palate. Isn’t it ironic that the most disappointing wine (forgetting the spoiled 1875 Lafite-Rothschild, which had frightful levels of volatile acidity) was the youngest wine, the 1966 Lafite. With a light to medium ruby/garnet color, this wine exhibited a classy, weedy, herbal, Cabernet-dominated nose, soft, washed-out flavors, and little body and length. It is also beginning to dry out. I suppose if one were to taste a 30-year old Cabernet from Monterey County, California, it might reveal similar characteristics. The 1966 Lafite-Rothschild has consistently been a major disappointment from what is an irregular, but very good vintage.”

But we had good luck with this bottle, and it was actually rather wonderful.


The next pizza. Fairly similar, but no sauce.


Finished with balsamic glaze.


Then a cheesier mushroom one.


Finished.

Then my special salmon pizza, which I do just with olive oil and rosemary (picked from the garden).


Then add a mixture of creme fraiche (detail on that here), dill, and chives, plus capers and onions.


And lox. Yum!


The 2004 il Cocco riserva. Only one barrel made!


Another fairly normal pizza, with figs and mushrooms.


My “famous” tikka masala pizza. Masala sauce instead of tomato. Corn, cilantro, goat cheese, mozzarella balls, morel mushrooms, almonds, scallions.


Cooked. This is an amazing (and strong flavored) pizza.


Mirella (one of our frequent pizza chefs) likes to make unique pizzas. This “Lebanese Pizza” began with her homemade muhammara sauce, which is a Lebanese sauce made from peppers, walnuts, olive oil and various other things. She baked it fairly simple.


Then added amazing fresh burrata on top and fresh mint. This was also fantastic.


Another tomato sauce based pizza, with parmesan, figs, goat cheese (a slightly aged chevre from an artisan California dairy), marcona almonds, scallions.


Baked.

And as the last pizza of the evening, my Formaggio Maximus. Olive oil, a little pesto. Fresh chanterelle and lobster mushrooms. Corn, figs, almonds, a little basil, and nearly every type of cheese I have: parmesan, mozzarella, pecorino, goat, and gorgonzola dulce.


Baked.

Then key to the FM is a big blog of burrata and an olive oil and balsamic drizzle.


Dessert time. A giant raspberry macaroon.


And a sinful red velvet, chocolate, and cream-cheese icing cake. Oh the suffering. The worst thing about this cake is that half was left over and I personally ate all of it over the next four days.


The next day for lunch we whipped up a few more pizzas. Here another variant of my tikka masala pizza.


On the stone.


And finished. I do so love this pizza.


Then a green pesto and salad pizza. The greens are arugala tossed with black pepper and fresh meyer lemon juice.


Baked.


Two buns in the oven.


An even greener pizza.


Which we left in about 1 minute too long.


And my special “tuna salad” pizza. Tomato sauce, fresh chunk Italian tuna, parmesan, pecorino, capers, red onions, and arugala salad.


Baked.

That sure was a good amount of pizza!

For more Ultimate Pizza posts, click here.

Memorial Day Pig

One of my friends always throws a “hog wild” Memorial Day BBQ.


The beginnings of the spread.


Pulled pork! This stuff was mouth watering good.


Baked beans cooked in molasses.


BBQ. This was a little sweet for my taste, even the hot.


BBQ turkey.


All this needed some wine from my cellar.

The shafer had enough age to be really nice, although I had cork problems. Parker gave it 90, “The Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap District has jumped in quality as John Shafer‘s son, Doug Shafer, abandoned sterile filters in favor of no fining and only a polishing, coarse filtration at bottling. That, plus less acidification, giving the wines a higher PH, has resulted in a more revealing and beautiful expression of the gorgeous fruit obtained from the Stag’s Leap District vineyards. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap includes 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot. It offers a wonderfully pure cassis nose, a velvety texture, plenty of ripeness, and some structure and tannin in the medium to full-bodied finish. It should drink well for 10-15 years. This winery continues to build on their fine reputation, pushing the quality to higher and higher levels. Shafer’s 50-acre estate vineyard, located in the heart of the Stag’s Leap District, is supplemented by an additional 70 acres in Carneros. The winery continues to be innovative, offering a very good Sangiovese called Firebreak that has a small percentage (usually less than 20%) of Cabernet Sauvignon included in the blend for color and bulk.”

The 2001 Beaucastel is wonderful as always, 96 points. “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2025.”

And the Brunello also 96, although it needed a few more years. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli emerges from the glass with masses of scorched earth, leather, tar, licorice, menthol and dark fruit. The Riserva shows a touch more inner sweetness, richness and depth in its fruit than the regular bottling, plus a bit more French oak as well. For now, the Riserva is quite reticent and requires air, but with time its awesome richness and power come through in spades. This dark, brooding and authoritative Riserva from Il Poggione is simply gorgeous. Readers who don’t want to pay the premium for the Riserva in 2004 need not worry; I tasted the 2004 regular bottling (twice!) while preparing this article and it is every bit as promising as my review last year suggested. In 2004 the Paganelli vineyard was harvested on the 13th of October, quite late for this estate. Anticipated maturity: 2019-2039.”


Salmon for those who aren’t into pig!


And spicey hot links!


Then the desserts start to come.


Fruit tart, pie, cupcakes for the kiddies.


This yummy red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting.


And ice cream from Sweet Rose Creamery. Mint, salted carmel, vanilla, caffe luxxe coffee, strawberry etc.

An Evening at Malibu Wines

It was my brother-in-law’s birthday, and a warm California Friday in late may, so his wife organized a little get together in the Santa Monica mountains at Malibu Wines. Now, I’m not super partial to California wines in general (too mechanical and over-oaked) or SoCal ones in particular (just not as good as their NorCal counterparts). But this little place in the mountains has a pretty good gig going with regard to spending an evening with friends.


We’ve had a lot of rain this year and the mountains were beautiful, the air hovering just under 80. The vineyard basically has a big green with tables that you can bring whatever food or non alcoholic drinks you want. They play live music on weekends (with dancing) and sell you their wines at the tasting room bar. There is no cover.


The stage. It gets pretty crowded and there was actually a good amount of dancing later in the evening.


We mostly stuck to this central coast 2002 Cabernet. It wasn’t bad, maybe 90 points. The couple years has taken the edge off the oak and it was certainly well made, if a little by the numbers.


But what is a wine picnic without cheese?  I stopped before hand at the local cheese shop, Andrew’s Cheese Shop. On the left is Abbaye de Bel’loc and the right a soft goat cheese from France.


In the front we have Epoisses (gooey washed rind fun), on the right Stichelton, a beautiful rich English blue cheese, and on the left a Spanish sheep milk cheese.


And sense this wasn’t in the house, some pate. Goose and duck liver with truffles on the left and French Country Pate on the right. Both intensely meaty. Andrew’s not only sells cheeses and condiments, but a few meats as well.


Someone else brought some grape leaves stuffed with rice (Greek style). There was a lot of other food I didn’t photo too.


Some more condiments from Andrew’s. Various crackers. They have really good crackers — albiet expensive.


Quince paste (the orange jelly stuff), conveniently chopped into cubes. You add it to your cracker and cheese for some extra punch.


My sister-in-law makes a yummy spinach dip.


And this being a birthday we had a rather jumbo cake to finish out the evening.

Son of Saam – Actually more Bazaar

Restaurant: Saam [1, 2]

Location: 465 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. 310.246.5555

Date: February 10, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish influenced Molecular Gastronomy

Rating: Awesome, even better than The Bazaar.

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I’ve been to The Bazaar (REVIEW HERE) about 8-10 times. For the last four or so of these I’ve been trying to get into Saam, which is their “secret” prix fixe only room. Mostly because it’s only open Thurs-Sat it took me a while to manage it. So made it the destination of our fifth official Foodie Club outing.

For those who don’t know, Saam and the Bazaar are the children of Jose Andres, perhaps America’s leading practitioner of  my favorite culinary style: Spanish Molecular Gastronomy. This school of cooking, a radical interpretation of the preparation of food, was begun at El Bulli outside of Barcellona. Jose Andres cooked and studied there with master chef Ferran Adrià. I first encountered Jose’s cooking in Washington DC at Cafe Atlantico, and it’s own restaurant within a restaurant, Minibar.

I’ve eaten molecular a number of times in Spain, for example at Calima and La Terraza. The Bazaar and Saam brought molecular style to LA, and now Jose also has a new and very tempting pair of restaurants in Vegas. My colleague at Kevin Eats was lucky enough to make that pilgrimage.

Saam is a separate room, offering only a single continuously evolving prix fixe. They do however adapt very adeptly to dietary restrictions, as we shall see in a moment. But like most molecular prix fixes it begins with a specialty cocktail. In this case a champagne sherry concoction.

The sherry.

Some of our fellows kicking off the evening.

“The Golden Boy.” If you zoom in you can see the little golden speckles. It tasted like sherry and champagne.

Tonight’s menu. Click to embiggen.

“Lotus Root Chip.” Star Anise dusting. Like a very salty potato chip with a slight licorice flavor.


The first of my wines. The only beef I had with this otherwise perfect restaurant is extremely steep $50 corkage! Very displeasing. And they have a 3-4 bottle max, plus the Bazaar recently raised it’s corkage from $20 to $35. Contrast that with the Bistro LQ FREE corkage where we opened 8 bottles! I really despise these steep corkages.

Parker 97, “The 2004 Reserva, according to Remirez is “a great vintage, a lot of nerve, like 1994, that needed a long aging period”. Opaque purple in color, it offers up a splendid bouquet of sandalwood, incense, Asian spices, balsamic, and black cherry. Layered, opulent, and impeccably balanced, it is a monumental effort.”

“Tuna Handroll 2009.” Like the typical tuna tartar on a potato crisp — but a cooler shape.

“Bagel & Lox Steam Bun.” The dim sum style steam bun topped with salmon roe. Inside must have been some cream cheese or similar. Very interesting interplays of texture and taste.

“Olive Oil Bonbon.” Spanish extra virgin olive oil, coated in sugar and dusted with sumac and Maldon sea salt. Pretty amazing, a bit of candied crunch and pure olive oil is released. Very candy like.

“Black Olives Ferran Adria.” Instructions on how to make these can be found here. The pureed juice of the olives is coated in a thin gel. They are colored black with squid ink.

The olive bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness into the mouth.

Spherified green olives. The “olives” are after spherizing marinated with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and orange. This is the first of many Vegetarian Substitutions (VS), as the squid ink in the black olives isn’t exactly veggie.

“Jose’s Combination.” Jamón Ibérico de Bellota with a blob of real caviar. This ham is regarded as the best in Spain, and among the best in the world. They are fed on acorns. Salt on salt here. A very savory combination.


“Jicama wrapped Guacamole.” Micro cilantro, corn chips. The VS for above.

“Pastrami Saul.” Crunchy potato taquito filled with veal “pastrami.” Crunchy, salty, meaty.


“Tortilla de Patatas ‘New Way’.” Potato foam, egg 63, caramelized onions. The VS for above. This is a fairly radical reinterpretation of the classic Spanish Torilla de Patatas (what we might think of as a potato omelet). Egg is mixed with a potato foam and micro chives and caramelized onions.

“Buffalo Wing.” Looks like fried chicken (and it is), but Wow. Boneless, with a dab of spicy sauce and a blue cheese aioli. An explosion of flavor.

Just like it’s more plebeian cousin, it leaves a good grease stain.

“Ottoman Carrot fritter.” Apricots, pistachio sauce. VS for the chicken. A deep fried ball of flavor, with a very exotic taste.

“Not Your Everyday Caprese.” The mozzarella has been through the same sphere process as the olives above, then we have a peeled cherry tomato, tomato seeds, a bit of basil, sea salt, little crackers, and a very fine house made pesto genovese (with extra virgin olive oil). I’m not even a raw tomato fan and this is delectable. The pesto cheese combo really makes it. This pesto is as good as mine (recipe here).

“Crispy Nigiri.” A bit of red snapper on a blob of crispy Spanish rice.

“Chipirones en su Tinta.” More or less a classic Spanish dish, octopus in it’s own ink. Plus some squid ink chips. Very soft and tender meat, complemented by the sweetness of the ink.

Ink art. A tradition with me.

“Zucchini with Zucchini air.” VS for the octopus.


Parker 94. “The 2007 Laurel, a blend of 65% Garnacha and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, is deep purple-colored with a bouquet of wet stone, Asian spices, black cherry compote, and incense. Dense and sweet on the palate with tons of spice, it is super-concentrated, rich, and smooth-textured. Give this lengthy effort 2-3 years of additional cellaring and drink it from 2013 to 2027.”

This is an amazing wine, deep grape.

“Hot and Cold Foie Soup with Corn.” The top is a delicious foam that tastes like sweet corn soup, underneath is the salty rich foie soup. I first had a variant of this dish at Cafe Atlantico. I’m very fond of these rich little soups.

“Traditional Gazpacho.” Not only is it pretty, but it’s a nice example of the classic.

“Banh Mi.” A brioche bun with wagyu beef, tofu, cilantro, pickles, pickled carrots, and a kind of mayo. Tasty tasty sandwich. A mix of soft and crunchy too, but the pickles give it a very distinct tang.

“Banh Mi, vegetarian.” VS, same as above, no meat.

“Linguini and Clams.” Another reinterpreted dish. A very sweet and sour, dishy and salty thing going on. Soft textures.

“Cauliflower ‘cous cous’.” VS for clams.

“Kurobuta Pork Belly.” Massively flavorful bacon chunk, with a spanish cheese infused turnip mouse and little carrots. Yum yum, heart stop heart stop.

“Brussel Sprout Leaves.” Lemon purée, apricots, grapes, lemon air. No hint of bitterness, and the fruit tangs nicely zest up the sprouts.

“Black truffle risotto.” This was an optional supplemental dish. Instead of the normal Italian risotto rice it used a premium Spanish one, calasparra bomba, and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Very tasty, but as the first truffle dish I’d had since our crazy 27 course Truffle Night, it gave me funny flashbacks.

“Philly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef. This is on the Bazaar menu, but it’s so damn good. The crispy bread is filled with liquid cheddar goodness.

“Hilly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, mushrooms. The VS version of above. Monkey man will get you!


We move on to a sweet wine as we approach the end of the savory courses.

Parker 94. “The auction lot of Prum 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese A.P. #22 differs from the “regular” Auslese in a manner analogous to the relationship between the two corresponding Spatlesen, the most striking aspect of the present cuvee being its uncanny sense of near-weightless delicacy. “This came from a good but not absolutely top-class parcel,” notes Manfred Prum, “but one that got quite a bit of botrytis which we permitted to develop and then selected-out very late.” Given that description, one has to say this was the noblest of rot, so subtle and positive was the flavor concentration and creamy textural allure it engendered, while in no way freighting the wine or lending a taste of botrytis per se. Indeed, this strikes me as the finer of the two non-gold capsule Sonnenuhr Auslesen I tasted, incorporating underlying nut paste richness and a cloud-like sense of wafting sweet floral perfume. Furthermore, this introduces a salinity that renders the finish saliva-inducing and compulsively swallow-able. It should dazzle for 30-40 years.”

“Japanese Baby Peaches.” Burrata, hazelnuts, arugula.Really interesting. The peaches were so tart off the trees that they were soaked in simple syrup. Paired with the blobs of burrata (a favorite of mine), the nuts, and arugala it was pretty divine.

“Dragon’s breath popcorn.” The pre dessert. A gimmick, but neat.

Carmel corn “boiled” in liquid nitrogen.

It tastes like… carmel corn, but you can exhale it through your nose for a dragon-like effect.

Mutant lamp in the room.

“Rose Clementine.” Clementine ice cream, shards of extruded sugar, and rose water ice cream and foam. I really like the exotic taste of rosewater, reminding me as it does of Istanbul and Persian weddings.

“Chocolate Eucalyptus.” Extruded chocolate ganache with a peppermint meringue and eucalyptus ice cream. Very nice and creamy chocolate band, with a soft mouse-like texture. The ice cream is the eucalyptus, which went well but makes me think of spa steam rooms.

Video of one of us breathing the dragon.

“Birthday spun sugar.” Tastes… sweet.

“Sexy Little Sweets.” Passion fruit and raspberry pate-fruits. Mint white chocolate, regular chocolate, and various bonbons. The passion fruit pate was my favorite.

“Crown of Sugar.”

The room itself.
The Bazaar is great, and Saam is even greater. The presentation is nicer, and it has more experimental dishes. I’d wish they’d go even wilder. This is exciting food with strong combinations of flavors and unexpected textures.
As I said earlier my only beef is with their agressive corkage policy. I know restaurants make a good share of profit on their wines, but I like to pick my own.

Food as Art: Sam’s by the Beach

Restaurant: Sam’s by the Beach [1, 2, 3]

Location: 108 W. Channel Rd.(PCH)Santa Monica, CA 90402. 310-230-9100

Date: Nov 7, 2010

Cuisine: Cal French International

Rating: Stellar food and unparalleled service.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

We’ve been regulars at Sam’s for about a decade and it never disappoints. First of all, Sam himself is perhaps the friendliest and most hospital restauranteur in the city. I was impressed when I first went there a single time in 1999, and then about two years later returned. He not only remembered me, but exactly what I’d ordered. Sam is originally from Syria, but his cooking could loosely be called French. However, this isn’t traditional old-fashioned French, but blends a very modern palette of flavors in a particular way that can only be called Californian. There are Syrian influences, but also Japanese, and other more eclectic tastes. A lot of seasonal and other high quality ingredients are used, and through and though, there is the balanced touch of a very refined chef. The place itself is small and quirky, with a charming intimacy. We bring our two year old, who is treated like a prince, but it’s also suitable for an elegant yet intimate occasion.

The space, quiet at 5pm sharp avec toddler. But the time we left an hour and change later it was full.

From my cellar comes the Caymus 1992. Parker gives it an 89 (which seems too low). Right now, it’s matured into a fantastic bordeaux-like wine, although with a tiny touch of bitterness on the finish. “Caymus has one of the most enviable track records of any California winery. Having followed their Cabernet Sauvignons since the early seventies, I find it remarkable that this winery has never gone through a slump. Not many wineries, anywhere in the world, can match the Wagner family’s consistent record of success. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits gobs of toasty oak and cassis fruit in a ripe, opulent, full-bodied, round, generous style that is ideal for drinking over the next decade.”

Le menu de jour.

Sam has very good bread, served with an olive-oil sesame dip.

Our 2 year-old got a special course of penne pomodoro. Not the house specialty, but better than he required.

A seasonal butternut squash soup, chunky style, with olives.

“Roasted beet salad, mixed with onions, tomato in aged balsamic dressing, with Feta Cheese croquet.”

“Grilled Japanese Calamari, strips of Calamari grilled with green onions and dry spices served with Mediterranean cous-cous.” The squid was tender, and flavored with a very exotic palette of eastern spices. The cous-cous had a bit of fire to it.

Special risotto with pear and pomegranates, topped with fresh Santa Barara Uni (Sea Urchin). I love this dish. The risotto itself is not made with a lot of butter like a standalone Italian risotto, but when paired with the richness of the Uni and the sweetness of the fruit is lovely. One of the best “western style” Uni dishes I’ve had.

Special “pumpkin mouse” ravioli in a cream, butter, and sage sauce.

“Lamb Chorizo Risotto, Carnaroli rice prepared with lamb sausage, fresh spinach, feta cheese, in meyer lemon broth.” This isn’t your typical Italian Risotto either, but it’s spectacular, and much lighter. There is a lovely tang from the lemon, and the sharp goat cheese, and the sausage is to die for.

Special rack of Lamb in a dijon mustard vinaigrette. The lamb was tender. The sauce has a fantastic vinegary tone, bright with the mustard, but not overpowering. I had to sop it up with bread afterward. Served with various vegetables and ratatouille.

Sam makes spectacular traditional French desserts. These profiteroles are perfect, modernized only by the substitution of ginger ice cream.

His creme brulee is straight up traditional, and it’s the second best I’ve ever had in the world (there was this one in Avignon…).

My personal favorite, the bread pudding. Topped with a creme anglais, it is warm, rich, and soft, with a chocolate botom.

Peak down at that goodness!

Year after year Sam keeps us coming back with a winning combination of personal service, and a unique style of very high quality cooking.

A second review of Sam’s can be found here.