Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Fiesta Martin

Yes, that fish still has its head

So my husband and I moved last fall, and in our old neighborhood we had an amazing sushi place. It was so good that we went about once a week. We always lamented though, "Gosh, we really wish we had a good Mexican place around here."

Lo and behold, our new neighborhood has a dearth of sushi (sigh), but has the exact sort of Mexican place we asked for: Fiesta Martin at 1330 N La Brea. We've been here quite a few times, and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. The service can be a little slow, but it never lacks for friendliness. I think we've had the exact same waiter every time, and this dude is just the nicest. Is he the Martin that likes to Fiesta? I can't say.

The menu here is nothing short of huge-- there's an array of house specials, seafood, caldos (soup), and appetizers. Their tacos are tasty, the fajitas phenomenal, and the burritos boat-sized. For me, a win is that they have chimichangas. I know that they may be a cross-cultural invention... but I just happen to like them. Also, their salsa is of particular interest to me, as it doesn't have many onions/the onion chunks are large enough that I can pick them out.*

A repeat dish I've ordered is the mojarro frita, which is an entire tilapia, deep-fried. Yes, with the head on. It's crispy, light, and is seasoned well. There are also plenty of things that are more traditional like the Milanesa (A+!), and then some truly this-is-a-bad-idea-but-it-looks-so-good dishes such as the Camarones Costa Azul (A+ for clogging ones' arteries!).

The chili powder on the rim was a... surprise

The drink menu is staggering as well-- they've got standard margaritas, and then complex, frankly ridiculous-looking cocktails that feature sidecars and upside down beer bottles that seem to defy the laws of gravity.

My favorite drink, however, is called the Cantarito and it originates from Jalisco, Mexico. It's served in a clay pot, has tequila, grapefruit soda, various fruit juices, and then has bits of fruit floating on the top. Plus, the drink is less than $8. As a previous graduate student, that is the perfect price to get a bit fancy, especially here in Los Angeles.

So is the food good? 4 out of 5 tacos!
Expensive? Nope
It's LA, what's the parking like? Meh, there's a tiny parking lot out back, and some street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
Good for groups? Yes
Reservation required? Nope!
Is it QUIET? No, but especially no when there's some sportsball game going on.
Final verdict: YUM. Fiesta on, Martin. Fiesta on.

*No, I don't hate onions. I actually rather like them, but I have to keep my diet fairly low FODMAP, which I will get into at a later date on this blog. Feel free to Google it now if you like though. Go on, you know you're curious.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Petit Fours from Valerie Confectionary

Tiny ovens, anyone?

If you're an LA local and you haven't visited the Grand Central Market downtown yet, get thee a Lyft and go. Right now. I'll wait. No, really.

Back yet? Or maybe you're at work and can't leave your desk. Alright fine, I'll just tell you about it instead. The Grand Central Market is a magical wonderland that brings together various LA cuisines and cultures in a delicious way, and each time I go my definition of "YUM" gets redefined.

We went this past Saturday evening, and we happened to catch Valerie Confections when it was open. The first time we went to the market it was closed, and I spent a good 15 minutes trying to lick the chocolates through the display case.

We were able to sample their petit fours in two flavors: Earl Grey and Champagne. I haven't mentioned this yet here on my blog, but my favorite dessert? Cake. And cake dipped in chocolate is an upgrade to an already perfect dessert, especially when said chocolate is named "the best chocolate in LA" by Los Angeles Magazine. So.

The Earl Grey petit four had a very strong bergamot flavor to it, but was light and airy.* The lemon ganache on the outside was extremely complementary, and I was left feeling refreshed. There was a tiny silver fleck on top, and I suspect it may have been silver lustre dust.

The Champagne honestly didn't taste like champagne at all, but I didn't mind. I loved that it had dark, bittersweet chocolate, and the buttery cake inside really broke up the flavor before it became overwhelming. The tiny bit of edible gold on the top was a nice touch. "But what does gold taste like?" you ask. I... don't think it's meant to have a flavor. But I'm still learning, so maybe it was just too subtle for me to have noticed.

The end verdict: I can't wait to try more from Valerie's. Besides the petit fours they've got chocolates, truffles, toffees, cakes, coffees, and more, so if you like sweet things you're probably covered. Go try it!

*As an aside, I'm a weirdo and have always maintained that bergamot has echoes of a Froot Loops flavor. I am apparently not the only person who has this opinion, but maybe the rest of you may think I'm insane. Doesn't matter, because it's my favorite tea thank you very much.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sous Vide Pork

You really can't lose when you have mashed potatoes

Have you seen the new cooking craze, Sous Vide? Well, it's not new-new-- the technique has been around since 1799 and was "rediscovered" and refined in the 60s and 70s. It's basically where food is put inside a vacuum pouch and cooked at a steady temperature by water or steam.

It's "new" in that now it can be achieved with a fancy kitchen gadget that is finally affordable for the average consumer. It is an electronic stick that you put in a pot of water with your vacuum-pouched-food, set the temperature, and let 'er fly.

My husband and I got one for Christmas, and let me tell you-- it makes AMAZING meat. We've used it to cook steaks a few times, and in this case we cooked up a pork tenderloin that turned out phenomenally. It was mouth-wateringly moist, and the salt and pepper we put on the outside really brought out the flavor of the meat.

Did YOU know that pork tasted like something? I mean, bacon notwithstanding. Pork actually has a flavor. I used to not be a huge fan of pork, and I'm wondering if I just kept having overcooked meat all the time. That's understandable, since there was that whole trichinosis scare back in the day. I'm pretty sure I cooked my porkchops into a pile of ash out of fear.

Now they say it's really not that much of a threat anymore. And thank goodness for that! Our pork was perfectly medium-well all the way throughout, and exceptionally juicy. We paired it with some mashed potatoes (frozen, yes I know... travesty, but they work in a pinch!) and some steamed spinach.

Have you tried the sous vide technique? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Heeeey Margarita!

There aren't many uses for this lime green color marker... besides this.

So this "drawing my food thing" began with me just sketching various things I ate for lunch. After a few goes at it, I found another simple and easy object to practice drawing-- drinks. I have frequent access* to them and they're visually interesting, so it seemed like an easy fit. This and the last drawing in particular were the first time I'd attempted to add some color into the mix with my old pals: Prismacolor Markers.

In undergrad in 2007, I did an entire semester of independent study with markers, so I own over 100 of the things. I know, I know. Sacrifice food for the expensive art supplies, I know.

Anyway, I spent three months finding only two books on the subject out in the wide, wide world, and one cost $70. $70! Do you know how many bottles of very cheap wine that is? Or alternately, it's about 20 markers.

I instead made my own book that was a glorious 60 pages of swatches, technique trial and error, and my first set of fully-rendered marker pieces. Where is that book now, you may ask? No clue. I may have chucked it at one point, once I went to grad school and was told that digital art was the way of the future. What a letdown, am I right?

Fast forward ten years, and I'm finally using them again.** I still love and need my computer to maintain an income, but it feels SO GOOD to get away from that glowing screen and make something with my hands again.

*I mean, I AM an artist. Writers have this same thing too, I hear.
**Can we talk about how amazing it is that they haven't dried out in all this time??

Monday, January 9, 2017

Wine o' Clock

When you want some wine, but all you have in your pocket is $2

Who doesn't love a good drink after work? I used to hate wine, but became a huge fan of it when I was in grad school; I was living in the wine-centric city of San Francisco at the time. Sonoma and Napa are just two hours north, after all!

I even remember my first lesson about wine types outside of just knowing them as "red" or "white." I was invited to a dinner at my friend Maggie's house, and she told me to "bring a cab." In confusion, I showed my ignorance by asking if she meant I should use a cab to get to her house.

"Oh... um. No, it's a wine. Look for a sign in the grocery store that reads Cabernet Sauvignon."

My friends in San Francisco were exceptionally patient with me. I still laugh to this day about some of the dumb questions I asked them!

That evening was my introduction to what would end up becoming my favorite type of red wine even to this day. I really enjoy the dry "punch you in the mouth" flavors that Cabs typically have.

That said, wine is also expensive, especially for an at-the-time graduate student. How does one solve this problem? Why Two Buck Chuck, of course! I learned it was easy to budget for $2/bottle every now and then, and so "Wine O' Clock" (also known as "Sunday Wineday") was born.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hello, I'm Hungry

I'm a sissy and can only handle literally three drops of hotsauce on my avocado. And that's AFTER training for it!

Ladies and Gents, Ready Your Forks 

My name is Joie Foster, and welcome to Refining My Palette, my shiny new blog all about food and food illustration. Yes, it's a food pun. Deal with it, there will be plenty of those here.

I'm a Los Angeles-based illustrator, and I work in a variety of industries including comics, animation, and tabletop games. I've always been a food lover and wanted to learn more about it, but focusing on making my art career work has pretty much taken over my life.

I went to art school, and predictably it was a lesson in "what's the cheapest and fastest ways to eat?" I spent my entire undergrad breathing and bleeding art... and eating a ton of ramen. Or Hot Pockets. Lean Cuisine. Tiny Costco pizzas... Wendy's value menu. You get the picture.

Graduate school brought me a whole new dilemma-- I'd learned a bit about cooking and food, but now had absolutely zero money in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the world. I legitimately could not afford to buy or cook meat in my postage stamp sized apartment, so I had to get creative with vegetarian meals I could cook en masse and eat the leftovers for two weeks. So, you know. Rice. Lots and lots of rice.

One of my more creative attempts at using up my Thanksgiving  leftovers this past year.

So now I'm an "Adult." Or so says my driver's license. I've since learned at least some basic-plus (that's when you're one step past basic, but definitely not intermediate) cooking skills, and have come to appreciate better food than my academic career might indicate. I've also entered an age decade that begins with "3" and just gotten married. That's about the most adultiest-adult thing you can do besides paying taxes.

We got tons of great kitchen gear from our amazing family and friends, and as I was reading the very complicated instructions on how to season our new wok I thought, "Wow, I really wish I knew more about food so I feel like I can do this thing justice."

And thus was born this new little side project of mine: refining my palate. Learning to cook better, learning to define tastes better. What spices can I use besides just basil, salt, and pepper? What sort of flavor goes well with another? What IS the best way to cook a steak? Why is it that you have to tie a turkey's legs together?* Only, as I'm an artist, it isn't just going to be a side hobby-- no. It'll also be an illustration expedition as well. So Refining My Palette it is!

So welcome, please feel free to subscribe and follow me on social media and stuff. I can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. If you're curious about seeing more of my comics and illustration work, please feel free to check out  my portfolio website!

*Oh yes hungry reader, I, along with my husband, was in charge of cooking the 23 pound turkey for Thanksgiving this year. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing... but somehow the thing turned out delicious and no one died from undercooked poulty. Whew. Skin of our teeth on that one...