Monthly Archives: February 2015

Review: Test Kitchen’s Red Medicine

Tonight I was one of the lucky few to get a reservation to Test Kitchen’s second (of four) night schedule “testing” the menu for Red Medicine, L.A.’s upcoming punk-meets-Vietnamese restaurant. For a little background, Test Kitchen is a new restaurant concept by Bill Chait (Rivera, Spark Woodfire Grill) and Brian Saltsburg (Boyz Night Out Supper Club), giving some of L.A.’s top chefs a temporary space to “test” out dishes in the works for future restaurant projects. It’s a brilliant concept; various chefs rotate through the Test Kitchen and share their potential plates with the palates of Angelenos.

Test Kitchen’s Dining Room
Place Setting

Considering I live about a stone’s throw from Red Medicine, I was very excited to taste Chef Jordan Khan’s creations. Khan has previously described the restaurant’s concept as “punk meets Vietnamese,” while Test Kitchen website dubs it as “contemporary Vietnamese featuring local ingredients and modern cooking techniques.” As a huge aficionado of Vietnamese cuisine, this thrilled me; I love the simple execution but bright, mind-blowing flavors in traditional Vietnamese dishes: homemade pork Banh Mi sandwiches with pickled carrots and cilantro, crisp green papaya salads, chicken meatballs in lettuce cups and glass noodle salads loaded with fragrant mint and basil, salty fish sauce, earthy peanuts and a spritz of tangy lime juice. For me, flavors just don’t get better than that. Not to mention, anyone bold enough to describe their cuisine as punk is bound to have some serious rock star food.

My homemade Banh Mi Sandwich (recipe here)

We arrived right on time at 6pm — Test Kitchen is located in the Pico Boulevard space that previously housed Spark Woodfire Grill — and were immediately escorted to the bar. Matthew Doerr, Red Medicine’s Bar Manager, was mixing up five featured cocktails as well as bespoke/dealer’s choice libations. I ordered a bespoke cocktail — “anything with basil and vodka in it” were my only instructions. The basil turned out to be wonderfully fragrant, with a hint of citrus from grapefruit juice and tartness from the ginger beer. My guest ordered the #5 (Red Medicine doesn’t name their cocktails), made with Plymouth Gin, Lemon, cherry heering, kambucha and sparkling. His reaction? It was ordinary. However, later in the evening he ordered the #3, which was anything but ordinary, made with Redemption Rye 2yr, Luksusowa, pickled peaches, lime, mint and ginger beer. It was fantastic. I am not a whiskey drinker and the combination of the whiskey with the pickled seasonal peaches, hint of mint and lime was great.

Bespoke “Basil” Cocktail | Basil, ginger beer, grapefruit, vodka

The #5: Plymouth Gin, Lemon, cherry heering, kambucha, sparkling

The #3: Redemption Rye 2yr, Luksusowa, Pickled Peaches, Lime, Mint, Ginger Beer

We sat down and the dishes just started coming. The whole idea behind Test Kitchen is that, aside from cocktails, you’re not ordering anything. There are no substitutions, there are no vegetarian options. There is a wave of twelve prix fixe, family-style dishes that just start making their way to your tabletop, ready or not. You’re there as a test subject, not as a decision-making diner; which was just fine with us.

Test Kitchen’s Red Medicine Menu
The servers were incredibly enthusiastic, attentive and for the most part, quite knowledgeable about each of the dishes coming from the kitchen. As you can see from the menu above there was no shortage to the ingredients in each dish, which has the potential to cause problems for both the servers’ memories as well as the execution of the dishes themselves. Which unfortunately ended up being the case; while there were truly some dishes we enjoyed very much — the green papaya salad, chicken dumplings, crispy Brussels sprouts, skirt steak and coconut bavarois were excellent stand-outs — at the end of the day we felt as though Red Medicine was trying a bit too hard to transform Vietnamese food into extremely upscale fare. Which made me sad; any reflection of “punk” in Khan’s Vietnamese cuisine was sadly missing. There is certainly a time and a place for modernizing indigenous cuisine — Rick Bayless has mastered it in his conception of Topolobampo and most recently, L.A.’s very own Red O — but Red Medicine’s menu seemed to sacrifice bold Vietnamese flavors in favor of creative textures and edible, tweezer-appointed flora and fauna. To quote the great Coco Chanel, “Always take off your last accessory you put on.” In my opinion, the same rule should be applied to Red Medicine’s menu: less it more. Use less dehydrated coconut milk, charred friseé and puffed tapioca and more expressions of the bold Vietnamese flavors true fans of the cuisine know and love.

Again, this is only my opinion and there were some lovely dishes. The whole point of Test Kitchen is to gauge the reception of dishes being considered for a future restaurant concept, so I certainly cannot fault them for experimenting. It was clear that the kitchen was full of seasoned professionals, the wait staff was well trained and the owners were very invested in the success of the menu, welcoming us both in and out of the restaurant. But my idea of a true “test” kitchen would be to solicit the feedback of the diners themselves, especially those invested enough to make a reservation for an extremely limited, four-night run. Maybe it’s my marketing research background coming into place, but it’s just a thought.

Radishes | Coco-butter, lime, dried soy
Cured amberjack | Lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint

Brussels sprouts | Caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers

Tomatoes | Marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs

Saigon tartine | Pork belly, pate, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili

Green papaya | Crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts

Caramelized chicken dumplings | Lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce

Baby carrots | Fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon

Bay scallops | Pomelo, young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé

BEEF bavette | Bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame

Peaches | Crème de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk, tonic water sorbet, violet

Coconut bavarois | Coffee ice cream, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory

The Many Uses of a Rental Van – Not Just for Moving

Everyone knows you need to get a truck or a van if you’re moving because you can’t be that dude who tries to move by taking 20 loads in your sedan, no friend will want to help you on that quest, no matter how much beer and pizza you promise them. So there you go, to the moving van rental place, and rent your van for the move. But vans are great vehicles for more than just moving. Don’t waste the opportunity to exploit the many great uses there are for moving vans. Come in and let me show you the world of moving vans!

Getting Free Stuff

One thing you can say about a van: you can put a whole lot of stuff in there. So if you’ve ever browsed CraigsList and wondered who could possibly haul away that piano or giant oversized sofa, the answer is: people with vans can. So that means the only thing preventing you from getting all that free wood or free dirt they offer is having the capacity to bring it. Go to and rent a van for the day and spend the whole time filling it up with stuff and unloading it back at your house. You can refurnish the den, get a winter’s worth of fire wood, and probably lots of old TV’s for the cost of rental and gas. It’ll be a gas!

Feeling like You’re On Tour

If you are in a band and are not on tour but have a local gig, you might want to have some fun with the boys and rent a van to go to the gig in. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of arriving to the venue with the entire band and all your gear in one spot, piling out of the van and checking in with the venue. Want to feel cool? Act and therefore be cool. Get that van and unload it with the swagger of a touring band when you’re really just a local act. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch the bug and want to do it more often. At any rate, driving a van is really fun, and you’ll feel like you’ve struck it big if even just for the evening. Definitely worth splurging on now and then to remind yourself that you’re in it for the fun and don’t take yourselves too seriously.

Dog Walking

Another good use for a big moving van is loading it up with dogs and taking them to the dog park. You can’t get all the dogs you may need to take to the park in your sedan, so rent a van and bring them all at once. If you’re at the level of needing a van, you can definitely afford it and it’ll make your job so much easier. That’s the secret to making money as a dog walker anyway, getting a lot of dogs on the same run at the same time. If you figure that out, you’re well on your way to making millions, and soon you’ll be able to buy your own van anyway.

Perfect Party Dessert: Miniature Fruit Tarts

A few months ago I tried my hand a classic fruit tart. I’m still proud to say it turned out quite amazing, so much so that it’s now one of my go-to desserts. However, hand-making the pastry crust can be a pain (especially if you’re throwing a last minute dinner party) so recently I modified the recipe to made individual fruit tarts, this time using puff pastry as a base. They turned out great and while they still took some time, the flaky, store bought puff pastry was a great alternative to homemade pastry dough. I lined it with chocolate, rich pastry cream and freshly cut berries. Mmmmm!
Mini fruit tarts
Pastry Dough:
  • Store bought puff pastry dough, e.g. Dufour Pastry Kitchens
Pastry Cream:
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 tablespoon liqueur (Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch) (optional)
Fruit Topping:
  • 1 cup mixed fruit, such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.
Make the tart shells: Defrost store bought puff pastry dough for 2-3 hours in refrigerator. On a floured surface, unfold defrosted pastry dough and using a sharp knife or mini tart pans, cut desired tart shape. Mold dough into each tart pan and using a sharp knife (e.g. paring knife), make a small circular indentation into the dough. Make sure not to cut all the way through the dough or else you will end up with a bottomless tart shell. Bake at 375 degrees (or 325 degrees in a convection oven) until thoroughly firm and dry to the touch.
Store bought puff pastry dough from Dufour Pastry Kitchens

Mold puff pastry into each shell & cut a thin circular line into center

Bake at until firm and dry to the touch

Once tart shell is cool, carefully remove the center of each shell (see below). Melt 1/2 cup chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate) and using a pastry brush (or the back of a small spoon, in a pinch) spread the chocolate along the inside the shell. Place in the refrigerator and let dry until chocolate is completely hardened.

Remove center of puff pastry shells

Fill the bottom of each tart shell with a thin layer of chocolate glaze
Let chocolate glaze dry completely, about 20-30 mins

Make the pastry cream: In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a wooden spoon. (Never let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming.) Sift the flour and cornstarch (corn flour) together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste. Set aside.
Sift dry pastry cream ingredients together

Meanwhile, in a saucepan combine the milk and split vanilla bean on medium heat until boiling. The milk will foam up to the top of pan when done, so watch carefully. Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. If you get a few pieces of egg (a result of curdling) in the mixture, pour through a strainer.
Place the egg mixture back into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 – 60 seconds until it becomes very thick and it is hard to stir.

Mix pastry cream over heat until very thick & hard to stir

Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the liqueur (if using). Pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool. If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Beat before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.
Assemble the tarts: Spoon or pipe the pastry cream into the tart, filling about 3/4 full. Level with an offset spatula.
Fill each tart with pastry cream

To decorate the tart you will need 2 to 3 cups of mixed fresh fruit (I used strawberry, raspberry and blueberry). Prepare the fruit by gently washing and drying. De-stem and slice the strawberries from stem to tip, arranging the bigger slices around the edge of the tart. Arrange the strawberry slices around the edge in a circle, until you run out of room. Arrange blueberries and raspberries in middle to cover up remaining pastry cream. If not serving immediately, refrigerate. Take out about 30 minutes before serving to give the fruit and cream a chance to warm up. This fruit tart is best eaten the same day as it is assembled. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers. If there are any!
Finished fruit tarts!

Crumbs of the Day: Tuesday, Jan. 19

Brentwood’s Neighborhood Favorite
Vincente reigns as the local’s choice of Brentwood’s Little Italy. When you go, try their entrees, incredible pastas and wood-fired pizzas. -TastingTableLA
Photo courtesy of
‘Tis the Season at the Farmers Market
Quick tips on buying and cooking with Farmers Market hottest seasonal goods: leeks and blood oranges. -LAWeekly

Photos courtesy of
The Ultimate Mac & Cheese
What I would not give for a bite of Saveur’s Macaroni and Cheese recipe on this stormy day. My Starbucks is not cutting it. -Saveur
Photo courtesy of
Gross Food Gone Good.
Cauliflower, beets, lima beans and other taboo veggies get a makeover in L.A.’s dining scene. -DineLA
Photo courtesy of
Fast Food Slow
Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visits Oinkster in LA’s Eagle Rock. The latest in the “Fast Food Slow” series. -LAWeekly

Photo courtesy of
Hatfield’s Owners Open Up About Reopening
Hatfield’s owners, Karen & Quinn Hatfield, talk about reopening thrills and blogger jitters. -GrubstreetLA
Photo courtesy of

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Stuffings & Dressings

Cornbread, Sausage and Pecan Stuffing
Photo: BonAppetit
I’ve got a confession to make. On Thanksgiving, I’m not a fan of turkey. To me, it’s a necessary evil; a vehicle best used for making rich, moist, carb-o-liscious stuffing. For over twenty years, my mom has been stuffing our turkey with the simplest of stuffing mixes: Original Stove Top Stuffing. It’s not gourmet, it’s not complicated and, let’s be honest, isn’t hugely appealing straight out of the box.

That said, something magical happens when you bake said Stove Top inside a turkey cavity. It becomes moist, fluffy and heavenly; which is exactly why I’ve asked my mom to make it and bring it to the first Thanksgiving Bryan and I are hosting at our home. But new hosts mean new traditions and I’m going gourmet with “my” stuffing. It might be sourdough and sweet Italian sausage, cornbread with roasted fall vegetables or an oldie but a goodie recipe from Gourmet circa 1975. Whatever we choose, we’ll certainly give thanks for recipes old and the new.

Use store-bought or homemade cornbread; Bon Appetit recommends Jiffy mix (you’ll need two boxes).

Roasted carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas add great depth of flavor.

Toasty sourdough, earthy wild mushrooms and bacon. Can it get any better? Actually yes; add some bacon drippings for extra moisture and flavor.

Lemony Mushroom and Pine Nut
Stuffing Muffins

Photo: FoodandWine


A mix of sautéed wild mushrooms adds lots of texture to this stuffing; lemon juice and zest make it tangy (pictured, left). The mushroom stuffing can be made vegetarian-friendly simply by replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock.

A mixture of white bread and cornbread crumbs soak up butter, cream and a variety of herbs. Add in chicken livers and this is the closest to “mom’s” original stuffing recipe you’ll ever find.