Grand Central Market (Los Angeles, July/August 2014)

Grand Central Market, Los AngelesGrand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles received a major (ongoing) facelift a little over a year ago, consonant with the ongoing gentrification of downtown in general. The entire area has been transformed utterly from what it was when I first arrived in Los Angeles in 1993, right after the riots. Then, the “fortress” of the financial district, as Mike Davis memorably describes it in City of Quartz, was largely deserted after the close of business, and the experience of the rest of downtown was in stark contrast to the gleaming skyscrapers and business hotels that had been constructed in the middle of it, a “self-referential hyperstructure”, to once again use Davis’s language. Continue reading

Si Hai/Four Sea (Los Angeles, July/August 2014)

Four Sea ExteriorThis is the penultimate food report from our recent Los Angeles trip. This meal slot was to have been occupied by a return to one of our old favourites, Chung King, but after the havoc wreaked on our system earlier in the week by lunches at two Thai restaurants, Chengdu Taste and Hunan Mao (not to mention leftovers at night) we decided to go for something milder. And so we washed up at the San Gabriel outpost of Four Sea/Si Hai for Taiwanese breakfast (the original is in Hacienda Heights).

(By the way, I’d noted in my review of Chung King last year that they didn’t seem to have a lot of business at weekday lunch and had speculated that they must be doing much better at dinner and on weekends, given the high rate of turnover in the SGV for places that aren’t popular. For what it’s worth as we drove by Chung King on the way to Si Hai at noon on a Saturday there didn’t appear to be any more action there (no one outside, not many cars in the adjoining parking). Can anyone who’s been recently comment?)

Continue reading

Blog Migration, Working out the Kinks

Today I migrated the blog from its old home to WordPress.com. Basically, my modest traffic and non-existent ambitions did not merit the cost and hassle of a self-hosted blog. Shared hosting was cheap but unreliable and the VPS I was on for the last year, in addition to being expensive, required greater technical knowledge than I have to keep it running optimally.

So here I am on WordPress.com—which is actually where I started out for a few days last year before making the blog live to the world. Hopefully, this will be a more stable/reliable home. The new look will take a bit of getting used to for me, but I do like some of the features included in WordPress.com, especially for images. Speaking of which….

I’m still working out some kinks from the move, but I’d appreciate it if you could leave a comment here or on any post where you come across wonky formatting or anything broken.

Thanks!

The Famous Grouse

The Famous GrouseI’ve reviewed the Black Grouse but not the member of the family that makes all the money: the original Famous Grouse. Until now.

The Famous Grouse is reportedly the most popular whisky in Scotland, at least in terms of sales. You must remember, of course, that Budweiser is similarly the most popular beer in the US, and McDonald’s the makers of the most popular hamburger. That said, I will admit there are occasions when I enjoy a cold Bud—mostly at sporting events where the other options are Corona or Miller—and I have also occasionally enjoyed the Famous Grouse, with ice and water. Hot on the heels of my very positive review of the very popular Johnnie Walker Black Label, therefore, in a continuing attempt to become the Blogger of the People, here is a review of the Famous Grouse. Will it reward close attention the way the Black Label did or will its flaws be all the more apparent? Continue reading

Koreatown and Elsewhere (Los Angeles, July/August 2014)

I noted earlier that our recent trip to Los Angeles was unusual in that we ate a number of Thai meals and none of them was at Jitlada. It was also a bit unusual in that we didn’t eat out in Koreatown very much. My wife is Korean and most of her extended family lives in Koreatown and that’s where we’re based when in L.A. In general, we tend to eat other cuisines at lunch and do Korean restaurant meals at dinner, both because being close at hand they’re easier with the boys and because we’re usually accompanied by some extended family members or the other. My wife’s family are first generation immigrants—she was 10 when they arrived in the US—and many of her older relatives don’t speak any English and are generally not interested in eating anything other than Korean food. As such, it is usually a given that we will eat a bunch of Korean meals out and so I don’t plan them specifically. On this occasion, however, my wife and the kids had been in LA for a month previous and had already done most of the extended family meet and greets, and it turned out that we did the rest mostly at people’s homes. So there was almost no Koreatown eating out for us. Continue reading

Molly Shannon / Year of the Dog

Year of the DoA little bit of Molly Shannon convergence for me today. The AV Club did their 11 Questions thing with her today. And that reminded me to check how she did in Grantland’s latest pointless “Best of…” pop culture bracket: this time to rank the “best” SNL cast-members of all time. Predictably enough, the women are not doing so well. Predictable not because many of the women on SNL over the years weren’t great but because both Grantland’s writers and its readers are mostly men. It’s not just that Gilda Radner “lost” to Bill Murray, it’s how many fewer votes she got (7,739 to 23,036); it’s also that Chris Farley is in the final eight for some reason and that Jan Hooks went out to goddamned Rob Schneider. Anyway, despite all this I’m not surprised or upset that Molly Shannon went out early (though it shouldn’t have been to that putz Jimmy Fallon)—there is something about the blend of essential sweetness and discomfiting, off-kilter commitment in many of her characters that I always enjoyed but I didn’t always enjoy all of the sketches they were in . Continue reading

Brora 30, 6th Release

Brora 30, 6th ReleaseLet us go from Black Label to Brora.

There’s nothing left for someone like me to say about Brora. Let me quickly bemoan the passing of the time when Diageo’s special releases hung around for years, and even the 6th release of Brora 30 could be found easily for another 3-4 years for less than $300, and then let’s get right to it.

Brora 30, 6th Release (55.7%; 2007 release; from my own bottle)

Nose: Minerally, very slightly farmy peat with a hint of gunpowder. Softer, sweeter notes waft up from below: toffee, apricot, marmalade, plum—all married with that flinty note. A little bit of shortbread, a little bit of gingerbread—basically, I’m getting slightly spicy baked goods. With more time there’s some dried orange peel and some leather and a bit of mustard. Gets more briny as well. With water there’s some almond oil but also a faint butyric note. Continue reading

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Black LabelJohnnie Walker Black Label, which was Christopher Hitchens’ favourite whisky, is one of the most famous spirits in the world; among Scotch whiskies its name-recognition is probably surpassed only by its younger sibling, the Red Label (which is nobody’s favourite whisky). And at 12 years old it proclaims an age that more and more single malts cannot. Most blends are made for drinking with ice and/or water/soda but I’ve always enjoyed the Black Label straight and so I am going to review it as I would any other whisky.

Johnnie Walker Black Label (43%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Prickly, minerally peat, some orange, raisins and brine. Not a lot of grainy notes—not at first anyway. And frankly not at second either. After a while there’s a bit of burnt toast and a very faint rubberiness. Not much change after that. Okay, let’s add water: the sweetness expands and there’s some toffee too now. Continue reading

Blair Athol 25, 1988 (Van Wees)

Blair Athol 25, 1988, Van WeesThis Blair Athol 25 is the last of three whiskies being simul-reviewed this month with Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls. We agreed on our notes and score for the Bruichladdich Organic, and diverged a fair bit on the Caol Ila 12, 1999 from G&M. How will we fare here? (The link to Michael’s review will be posted here later in the morning. And here it is.)

Blair Athol is a relatively obscure distillery and Van Wees is known for their budget-friendly bottlings. This might seem like a bad combination on paper, but I’ve actually had pretty good luck with the Van Wees bottles I’ve tried. And, indeed, the lower recognition/reputation of the names of distilleries such as Blair Athol probably allows better iterations of their malts to be bottled for relatively less money by the non-boutique indies. At any rate, more casks of 1988 Blair Athol seem to be coming on the market—Signatory also has a sibling cask in their CS series. Continue reading

Caol Ila 12, 1999 (G&M)

Caol Ila 1999, G&MThe last sherry matured Caol Ila of similar age from Gordon & Macphail I reviewed was a bit of a sulphur bomb. This one, I am happy to report, is much better—I opened it for our local group’s July tasting and it was very well received. I am intrigued to see what effect three weeks or so in the open bottle may have had on it. Let’s get right to it.

Oh yes, this is the second of two simul-reviews along with Michael Kravitz at Diving for Pearls. As always, we will only see each other’s notes once the reviews have been published. (And here is Michael’s review.)

Caol Ila 12, 1999 (61.6%; Gordon & Macphail; first fill sherry butt #305326; from my own bottle)

Nose: A big phenolic welcome along with a bit of rubbery sweetness which transitions to raisins. A fair bit of salt too and some citrus (lime). With more time there’s quite a bit of kalamata olive and brine. Some cereally notes after a few more minutes and a touch of ham too and then the rubber seems to come back (but it’s nice rubber). Okay, time to add water. The rubber turns to ink and graphite and there’s more of the ham. Continue reading