Monday, November 26, 2007

Star-Sighting Trifecta

George's mother has been visiting us for the holiday, so we've been showing her around town. This afternoon / evening, we took her to The Grove, a beautifully done shopping center in the Fairfax district that is especially decked out at Christmas time, with a gigantic live tree, Santa's sleigh and reindeer flying across the central court, and occasional flurries of snow generated when the dancing fountain plays "Let It Snow". It's also one of the best places we've found for star-sightings, and this evening we scored a trifecta. First, we saw "All My Children" soap star Cameron Mathison out with his "Dancing With The Stars" partner Edyta Sliwinska. The "Dancing With The Stars" finale was being filmed nearby, and they were out for some drinks after the show. Then we saw one of "The Bachelor" guys from a few seasons ago. We haven't followed that show closely enough to know whether the girl he was with was the one he chose. And then to wrap it up, we saw Paris Hilton come striding in, with a small flurry of camera flashes to greet her arrival. Gave George's Mom a great impression.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

FOOD: 15

Last night, we finally had an occasion to try out the new restaurant right in our neighborhood, simply called "15" (apparently a lucky number for the owners). The place used to be a pupuseria, and we enjoyed the food there, but it was definitely a dive, with uncomfortable plastic picnic-bench-style tables and a couple of video games for ambience. When the pupuseria closed, we wondered what would become of the space, and after a while, we noticed that it had been spruced up, given a nice paint job, and a few simple but nice accents put on the building. When we stepped inside, well, wow, this is so not the pupuseria anymore. The interior space is simple, but elegant, with red teak tables, comfortable black chairs, hardwood floors, and a classic bar along the back. As we perused the menu, I was quite impressed with the sophistication of the choices. There is some simpler family fare here, like mac and cheese, and burgers (though kobe beef with Maytag blue cheese, mind you, or portabello mushroom). But there was also quail stuffed with pears, salmon on a white bean puree, pork loin on turnip mash, and more. The meal that ensued lived up to the promise of the menu, in quality of ingredients (lots of fresh local produce here), skill of preparation, and class of service.

The proceedings started with a small thing that impressed me greatly. I asked about their whisky offerings, of which they had five or six, the usual popular choices, including Macallan and the Glenlivet single malts. When I asked for a glass of Macallan, our server asked if I wanted it neat, which I affirmed. I then overhead him discussing with the barman how a single malt is properly taken neat, and shouldn't be marred by ice. That’s absolutely correct, and yet so many places assume that you'll be wanting ice in your scotch. And then, as if I weren't already impressed enough, he brings with the glass of whisky a small pitcher of water, as he said, "for manners". True whisky connoisseurs know that just a little splash of water can improve the drink, not to water it down, but just enough to open up the oils. None of this was pretentiously done, it was just a simple touch, yet in my mind, this put them a notch above even the venerable Dining Room at the Huntington Ritz as far as knowing their whisky.

Both George and I were drawn to a roasted beet salad for our starter, a lovely plate of arrugula lightly dressed, with pieces of red and gold beets, topped with toasted goat cheese. The beets were delicately seasoned with a touch of citrus (ponzu?), something I'd never heard of before, but it worked perfectly. The goat cheese was coated in panko crumbs, and toasted, so it had a bit of crunch on the outside, but was very soft on the inside. (The panko didn't work for George's gluten allergy, but they were able to redo the salad for him with feta cheese.)

For mains, I went for the quail, which was absolutely delicious. The bird was perfectly cooked, with a nice crisp on the skin, moist meat, and the mild game flavor nicely complimented by the pear stuffing. The quail was partly filleted, "airline" cut, giving the nice presentation of a nearly-whole bird (as is customary with smaller game birds), but with surprisingly few bones to fuss with. (A truly whole game bird can require surgical dexterity with knife and fork.) It was served with a lovely smattering of lightly sauteed fresh vegetables, including baby asparagus, green and yellow summer squash, and brussels sprouts. George seemed similarly pleased with his pan-grilled salmon on white bean puree (which was but one of many gluten-free options he had to choose from).

We didn't get a chance to stay for dessert, as we were heading off to the theatre, but we definitely look forward to returning to 15 again. It has a comfortable neighborhood feel: we saw other neighbors in there, and we saw other diners recognizing other people who came in, giving it that very neighborhood feel (enhanced by being a single space, where most tables are in view of most other tables). The service was professional and classy without being at all stiff or pretentious. And the prices on the menu were very reasonable, especially for the quality being served. (Many entrees were $12-16, and we had a two-course meal for two with drinks for $60.) We're delighted to see a place like this come into Echo Park, and doing well. (15 is found at 1320 Echo Park Ave., just a half block north of Sunset.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Moral Capital

I was sorry to read that the Senate went ahead and confirmed a man for Attorney General who equivocates on whether torture is legal. That should be unequivocal, and it's a sorry state of affairs when people find that the least bit acceptable. The Democrats tried to take a stand on this point, but six of them (including one of mine -- shame on you, Senator Feinstein) joined with 47 Republicans in voting to confirm Mukasey. Alas, of the 40 Democrats who voted against confirmation, none of them felt strongly enough to raise a filibuster (which would have done it in, as the approval margin was nowhere near filibuster-proof).

At the start of President Bush's current term, he used to talk about all the "political capital" that he had. It's too bad that his administration wasn't more concerned with the moral capital that the United States used to have, before Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, before our Constitution was dismantled at the altar of the omnipotent war powers of the President to fight the nebulous and unending "war on terror", before we became a country that endorsed and practiced torture. One might say that our current administration lacks a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. While Bush 43 proudly wields a reckless cowboy attitude about the rest of the world, I'm sure Bush 41 could tell his son a thing or two about the value of moral capital. In the First Gulf War, when we first started crossing the border into Iraq, hordes of Iraqi soldiers were willing to drop their arms and surrender to the Americans, confident in the knowledge that the Americans would treat them decently. That was when we had a well-earned reputation in the world for being the good guys. That was before Bush 43 (ill-advised by Cheney and his cabal) saw fit to throw our reputation away, to tarnish the shining city on the hill. Now our enemies won't be so willing to surrender, if the treatment they can expect from us is to be disappeared to Guantanamo, sleep-deprived and waterboarded.

Glad to see the Senate is doing their patriotic duty to restore the lost moral capital of our great nation. Senators, you're doing a heckuva job. Too bad you couldn't have brought this vote in time for Guy Fawkes Day.