Camino, Oakland. From Farm to Fire.

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Talk about being late to the party – five years late! I just learned about Camino in Oakland last year from our friends Kayoko and Yoko of Umami Mart and our friend, Honolulu-based gourmand, Reid of Ono Kine Grindz. It’s the kind of restaurant that makes me ask myself, “Where in the world have I been?”. Camino is Chef Russell Moore’s first restaurant. Recently, Moore had committed 21 years of his professional culinary career at Chez Panisse under Chef David Tanis. My discovery of this restaurant could not have come at a better time. The food I was eating of late was just seemingly complicated. Dishes that were basically edible forms of a United Nations meeting. Uni from here, fish from here, vegetables from here, etc. When I finally had the chance to eat at Camino, I was taken back by so many things. I was yearning for simplicity, something fundamental. As I looked at the ten-item savory menu, I suddenly became very excited. For once, I didn’t have to spend time deciding what to pick off the 50+ item menu. I’m all for places that only do a few dishes but do them very well. Why is it that street food is so appealing to many people? It’s because it’s usually from a vendor selling no more than 1 or 2 items. They’ve been so used doing the same thing over and over again, until perfection is achieved instinctively. Too many dishes on a menu, you’re bound to have more misses than hits. At Camino, you won’t see foam, brushed sauces or food contraptions – you’re going to see simple, yet flavorful food on a white plate. In addition to a focused menu, the secret to Chef Russell Moore’s style of food is knowing exactly who the purveyors of meat, fish and produce are – and the magical wood fire-powered hearth that he calls his kitchen. This is Camino.

Walking in and seeing the black wrought-iron ring chandeliers, candles and dark wooden furniture, I got a sense of medieval meets modern. With the hearth in the center of the restaurant and chefs behind the wooden counter, it was almost set up like an old school theater. I already knew the food would be delicious just from walking into this warm restaurant.

Chef Moore uses almond and cherry wood to power the hearth. In the middle of the hearth is a 2′ wide grill. Flanking the grill are various “grill stations” equipped with cast iron pots/skillets and clay cooking pots from Spain/Latin America called cazuelas. When we were in Argentina, we ate various meat and fish stews cooked in cazuelas. This type of material stores heat at higher temperatures for longer periods of time, allowing another level of flavoring to occur than your standard metal pot.

This write-up combines my meals from four different occasions within 2 months. On my first visit, I lucked out during crab season but did not make it for Crab Mondays which I hear gets incredibly packed. Poor crustaceans.


A Stroll through London’s Borough Market.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Our first experience in London wasn’t as ideal as we thought it would be. Flying from Los Angeles, we had a stop-over in Philadelphia. Due to airplane malfunction, we were left on the tarmac for nearly 4.5 hours without the air vents on. Fortunately they didn’t put on any Katherine Heigl movies to entertain us. Upon arriving at Heathrow, we were welcomed by London’s biggest asshole who happened to be dressed in a wrinkled customs officer uniform. Probably due to the fact that we were Americans (I guess I don’t blame him) and not of the same skin color as him, he decided to interrogate for us nearly ten minutes for the shits and giggles. Even delving into how much we had in our checking and savings. The weather was also colder than we had also expected, even raining and snowing a little during the evening – horribly freezing! We took to the cocktail lounges and drank away all that happened during the day. But the next day would completely redeem everything.

For us, things can change from crappy to happy the second we smell something delicious being cooked, or see steam rising from a grill or table top. Our friends Warren and Laurie took us to the Borough Market as soon as we could wake up. They knew that this would make up for everything and it sure did. We ended up coming back once more before departing to Paris.

Founded in 1756 and located in the Southwark (Suth-erck) neighborhood, the Borough Market runs from 2 am – 8 am for wholesale companies and shortly after to the public. If you could only eat one “restaurant” in London, I’d suggest checking out the market for the “food court” approach. Or if you plan on taking the Eurorail elsewhere, pack your lunch here for the long train ride and make everyone else around you jealous. The Borough Market finely curates some of England’s best food vendors and purveyors – from meat, seafood to artisanal goodies. I had heard that the selection process to become a vendor here is quite difficult and that the committee at anytime may ask a vendor to leave if they aren’t performing to standards. Sorry Los Angeles, but the Borough Market makes the Fairfax Farmer’s Market look like a Food 4 Less. Although the market itself isn’t that large, the appeal was that of a kid’s first visit to Disneyland. (English accent)… shall we?

According to this cow map, the Borough Market is accurately divided into three main sections. But one should not ignore the fine establishments near the neck, brisket or belly. They are just as tasty.


The Hart + The Hunter. Southern Comfort Right in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

With the popularity of Instagram, it seems like Twitter, blogs and even websites are objects of antiquity. This digital age has really shown that people are responding to all things visual. People have become more “A.D.D.” and are yearning for instant gratification. Instagram in my opinion is the new blog – people don’t have time to write anymore nor do they want to devote any more time on it. I myself have cut down the many hours I used to spend producing a blog posting. A simple Instagram not only shows you what a user is up to, but tells you a lot about his/her personality and lifestyle. When you follow someone and “like” their photo, you are in part, letting them know that you trust their taste and judgment. Particularly with the food I eat, my goal is to encourage people to try the food I enjoy. And vice versa. That is how we are brought to the newly opened, The Hart + The Hunter. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen Instagram photos of The Hart + The Hunter almost daily from people I follow – epicureans I trust! There’s something in the water and it’s time to see what it was all about…

The Hart + The Hunter is a sophomore collaboration between two chefs, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga. Brian came from Hugh Acheson’s Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia and has also worked at Michael Cimarusti’s Providence and AXE on Abbot Kinney. Kris came from L’Espalier in Boston. Both are veterans of Joe’s on Abbot Kinney, which was a recipient of a Michelin star a few years back. From there they left and opened a wildly successful pop-up restaurant named Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. It is obvious that they have an affinity for Aesop’s fables/nostalgic children’s stories and it seems restaurants like The Walrus & The Carpenter (based on Alice in Wonderland) and How to Cook a Wolf by Ethan Stowell in Seattle, do as well. Jeni and I decided we’d try both lunch and dinner because we heard they were both delicious, yet very different.

Walking into the Pali Hotel, we were immediately drawn to the mood and ambiance of the place. The Hart + The Hunter restaurant is beautifully decorated with wooden tables, paintings of various wildlife/old people and blue ceramic tile. If you grew up during the Civil War, you’ll love the gorgeous plates they use here. I deeply regret not responding to all those old-school infomercials for Time/LIFE Civil War memorabilia dishware. Apparently one of the chefs found them driving through Oklahoma! I imagine every place in Charleston, South Carolina must look like this. A bit of tasteful wildlife chic, without an overdose of taxidermy, Bon Iver and handlebar-mustached staff. As the theme suggests, the menu does draw influence from the South with a humble, chef twist. Southern style food isn’t new in Los Angeles, with the majority of solid BBQ and Cajun/Creole-style food in South/South-Central Los Angeles. But there’s something about The Hart + The Hunter that is just notably different and unique.

We were helped out this day by the really chill and down-to-earth staff: Brandon, Kailani the GM and Nicely, of Handsome Coffee Roasters. Kailani was also part of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing pop-up and Nicely helped open the Intelligentsia Venice store. For those that do come here for breakfast, Chef Dunsmoor and Chef Tominaga partnered up with Handsome Coffee Roasters to offer a solid 1-2 punch with their pastries and coffee. I don’t drink much coffee, but I do enjoy the taste of Handsome Coffee’s beans. When the staff is cool, you can ask them anything, as you should. Jeni and I rarely go with our gut instinct anymore. We let the staff know exactly what we’re in the mood for, which is usually something light, veggie and seafood-esque.  We’ve been over the heavy-hitting dishes for a while. Here’s what The Hart + The Hunter lunch crew suggested.

Smoked Trout Toast
At $7, this is a generous serving of house-smoked trout, avocado, pickled onions, dill and chives. The bread they use is awesome – just the right amount of crunch. I accidentally left Jeni with one bite of this. In addition to the smoked trout, they also offer avocado, pimenton cheese, hazelnut + nutella and maple/honeybutter toasts. If you’re indecisive, you can always see if they’ll make you an all-of-the-above toast for X amount of dollars.

Roasted Cauliflower + Brussel Sprout Salad
I love anything with cauliflower, so I enjoyed this. The veggies are pickled and mixed with what seems to be a mustard.  Because it is slightly sour, I’d definitely recommend this if you’re going to eat something a bit more meaty like the following Warm Steak Bowl and Black Eyed Peas + Ham Hock Stew. The acidity will balance out perfectly.

Warm Steak Bowl
I really enjoyed this as well – very homey! I liked the Chimichurri sauce over the steak. This is actually quite filling with the amount of hanger steak, veggies and farro you get.

Black Eyed Peas, Collard Greens + Ham Hock Soup
Braised with a mushroom stock, this is more of a tasty stew than it is a soup. Although slightly rich, this was my second favorite dish after the Smoked Trout Toast. Having this stew, I could tell the chefs were about making tasty, home-style food, not just something shiny and pretty on a white plate. I tasted the South with each bite of the stew and toast. This was really comforting, and in my opinion, one of Brian and Kris’s signature dishes.

Apple Dumpling with Melted Hook’s Cheddar
You can opt to eat the apple dumpling with ice cream for a sweet approach or you can keep it sexy and savory with some melted Red Hook cheddar. And I’m glad we went for the second option because it was awesome. Not much else I have to say about a pastry covered in tasty, melted cheese.

Chef Brian Dunsmoor + Chef Kris Tominaga
It’s a smart move by the chefs to offer two different menus each day. They’ve laid the bait during lunch and are reeling you in for the kill during dinner. A few of the dishes like the Smoked Trout Toast and Black Eyed Peas + Ham Hock make the dinner menu cut, but for the most part, everything was brand new to us. And this time, you can actually see Brian and Kris in action right at the counter. They are super-friendly/humble and do not bite!

Biscuits + Condiments
We completely missed these during lunch and were lucky that they offered them for dinner. You get three biscuits and a dollop of the Pimenton cheese, house-made jam and butter. The biscuits served with this are fall-off-the-bone tender and the house-made jam makes total sense.

Pimenton Cheese
We enjoyed the cheese from the biscuit appetizer so much we had to order the cheese again. The jarred cheese is made with red peppers and it is fantastic. Reminds me of artisanal spray can cheese, in a good way! Hmm, if only they can find a way to sell this in canned form – I’d buy it for sure.

Chicken Cracklins with Hot Pepper Vinegar
This is one of the many reasons God put Brian and Kris on this Earth. This dish is genius and immorally delicious. I love chicken skin in all forms – peeled off Southern-style fried chicken, grilled on a skewer with Japanese sea salt or even on top of a deviled egg. So there’s no way I wouldn’t appreciate this. It appears to me that they flatten out big strips of chicken skin between two baking sheets and let it ride in the oven. The key to enjoying this is the house-made hot pepper vinegar. I’m glad they didn’t get lazy and slap a bottle of Sriracha down.

Mushroom Polenta Cakes
This dish comes in time for the fall. If you enjoy mushrooms and polenta, this is for you. The chefs sauté three types of mushrooms: trumpets, shiitakes and buttons, and serve it upon a moist piece of pan-seared polenta with shaved Parmesan and fresh parsley.

Shrimp Boil
We were most excited about this dish because it reminded us of New Orleans. The shrimp was boiled perfectly, with maximum crunch. To me a sign of a good chef is his/her attention to cooking things like shrimp. It’s a good dish overall and I would recommend sharing this with a group larger than just two people. Don’t forget to hit this with some of the hot pepper vinegar sauce too!

We are glad Chef Brian Dunsmoor and Chef Kris Tominaga and the friendly staff really do understand what it takes to keep Los Angeles diner’s happy and interested. The food reminds us of a lot of great Southern-style food we had recently in Brooklyn. Their take on Southern food is authentic, yet not overdone. And I can’t wait to see what else they have up their sleeves at H+H. My only request for them is that they never take the chicken skin dish off the menu or risk seeing overturned cars and rioting crowds on the streets of Los Angeles. Thanks for reading and limit yourself to one chicken skin order per table please.

The Hart + The Hunter
7950 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 424-3055