May 6, 2015

Aroma Coffee and Tea Company

When visiting LA, nostalgia always hits me as arrive to LAX and I start to walk under the sky and palm trees of Southern California where I was born and raised. It builds as I get stuck in the never-ending traffic, see an ever busy In ‘n Out, and catch a glimpse of my first set of Mickey ears. But LA is large and sprawling, and depending on your current location and mode of transport, finding good food can be a challenge. Take my most recent stay as an example. I’m in Universal City at a boutique hotel and not much is around without a long Uber ride. My family and I are in a hurry and the only thing looking reasonable for breakfast is a local coffee house. Little did we know the gem of a restaurant we be walking into.

Aroma Coffee and Tea Company located on Tujunga Avenue was a brisk walk from our hotel but as the blue, cloudless sky was calling our name, what better way to work up an appetite then under the So Cal sun?  The neighborhood was quant and typical LA; boutique shops abound, updated 70’s style homes line the curbs and $3,000-a-month apartments rise up from the ground. Plenty of parking street side and near the adjacent abodes are there for the taking free of charge.

When one first strolls up to Aroma, you can’t help but take notice of it’s controlled confusion with relation to its vibe and decor. Eclectic doesn’t even cover it; French, Spanish, rustic American, Creole… It was fun to tour the different sitting areas and rooms, many outside under umbrellas and down quant corridors to find knick-knacks and themed art. We settled in one such corridor with water fountains and plenty of shade after ordering our food.





Picking your dish is another adventure of its own as their menu is as varied and all encompassing as their establishment. Outside of the typical LA fare (healthy, vegan and bursting with color), the plates were egg heavy with sandwiches, omelets and scrambles galore but I quickly zeroed in on their bueños dias los angelos section. Lo and behold, my wife, often much quicker on the draw had beaten me to the punch and already selected their Classic Burrito so I settled for their Mexican inspired Chipotle Steak Benedict. My son didn’t disappoint with his safe and loyal order of their version of a County Breakfast. Ordering takes place in the centrally located coffee and pastry bar (kitchen wasn’t of the open variety per my preference) but it was lively and colorful. We settled in for the meal.



Coffee was served tableside and didn’t disappoint. Herbaceous, dark and richly bitter my only complaint was their cavernously large bowls they were served in. As a firefighter, one never has to look too far to reach for fresh, hot coffee at the firehouse and it’s a tradition I’ve made permanent at home. So it seems sacrilegious to have anything below steaming Jo for me now. This may just be my snobbery bubbling to the surface (pun intended) but anything with too much surface-to-air contact let’s all the wonderful heat and aroma (pun unintended) escape too easily and one is soon left with luke warm flavored water. But I digress…
















The Chipotle Steak Benedict was everything it was labeled to be, equal part luxury and spice. Perfectly poached eggs, aggressively seasoned steak and a warm, spicy chipotle hollandaise sauce over a toasted ciabatta bun, it was the perfect start. Portion size was on par and a bowl to rival the coffee filled with seasonal fruit that rounded out the plate. A solid entry into my Benedict experience.


My wife’s Classic Burrito was a refresher course on surf side street fare from way back when; scrambled eggs, black beans, smoked bacon, roasted peppers, pico de gallo, guacamole, and plenty of cheese wrapped in a hand-made flour tortilla. The power of food has been well chronicled and experienced by many but nothing tops its ability to transport one to fond memories. Years can pass, friends can come and go, but food has the ability to remind us what we’ve had and can always reclaim. My wife seemed lost in thought (or ignoring me as that’s always in play), high praise.


The Country Breakfast was workmanlike in its approach in both presentation and size and hit all the requisite points for my ever-growing son and his bottomless stomach. Eggs properly cooked, bacon rendered and buttermilk pancakes fluffy, he devoured it all without complaint or playing with his food (huge points), well done Aroma.

Service was standard and expectedly slow with such a large layout and the on slot of the Saturday morning breakfast crowd swooping in just after our arrival. Our coffee was never refreshed and they were a tad slow on clearing the table as we enjoyed the ambiance and refreshing climate. Get here early for breakfast, as this place is a local hot spot with all the dog walkers and near by hoteliers. 

As we left the restaurant, we all grabbed some of their baked items; sticky bun, blueberry scone and plum tart. All were solid and worthy grab-and-go pastries for those on the rush.


Overall, Aroma Coffee and Tea Company was a hit. More experience then just dining; come to get lost in the varied, fun vibe, swimming pool size coffee, and well portioned and memory inducing food. A strong recommend.


Date: May 2015


3 ALARMS

Aroma Coffee & Tea on Urbanspoon

Feb 6, 2015

Spicy Hot Chocolate

There is no more an appealing concoction during the cold months of the year then a rich, hot cup of cocoa. But I have taken my connoisseur devotion of all thing hot chocolate to the level of adding spices, herbs and on occasion, an adult beverage (off shift mind you). So I give you a recipe that should start you down the road to experimenting with your generic hot cocoa mix by adding the subtle heat of cayenne pepper. It's not overwhelming (my kids will drink it) nor the dominating flavor, but it somehow enhances the chocolate. Indulge!

*This makes one serving

Fuel

Chocolate mix (whatever your heart desires)
8-10 ounces Whole Milk
1-3 ounce(s) dark chocolate chopped
½ tsp. Vanilla
¼ tsp. Coffee grounds or Espresso powder
¼ tsp. Salt
tsp. Cayenne Pepper

Tools

Blender (immersion or standard)
Saucepan

Tactics

Place the saucepan over medium heat.

Using a stand-alone blender, add all ingredients sans the chopped chocolate and blend till fully combined, 60-90 seconds. I like to see a bit of foam as it creates a more luscious mouth feel and I know all the powder has been properly mixed. Add the chocolate mix and chopped chocolate to the saucepan and gently warm ensuring not to boil the milk.

Alternately, with an immersion blender, add al the ingredients sans the chopped chocolate into the saucepan and spin using the low setting till it’s thoroughly combined and layer of foam sits on top. Add the hopped chocolate and then gently warm your mixture ensuring not to boil the milk.

Serve immediately or store in a warmed thermos.


A few after the fire critiques: The higher quality chocolate you use, the better. I also gave the recipe some leeway with the amount of chopped chocolate to add. Some like chocolate less then others, crazy, I know. I my opinion, hot chocolate isn’t something to skimp on, please splurge. I often enjoy highlighting the hot chocolate with spices as you can tell with the inclusion of cayenne pepper: nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, to name but a few are others to consider. Lastly, consider adding some marshmallows. Hit the link as I have a recipe for fresh ones. They’re quite good. Indulge.


Aug 17, 2014

CHAMPIONS!

The winning team and judges!
The 4th annual SafePath Cooking Competition took place this past Thursday night in front of estimated 1,000 people as the local public safety departments took place in a battle royal for the coveted Lodge cast iron pan trophy. Having tasted victory in this Chopped style competition before, I was eager to lead my team of victory back to the promised land. With three local, prestigious chefs (one cooks for the Georgia Governor, another, the owner/chef of the most respected Indian restaurant in Atlanta, Chai Pani, and the owner/chef behind Canoe, Aria and the new St. Regis Hotel restaurant, Atlas) judging our dishes, I was anxious to prove that we firefighters are culinary sages in our own right. With one dish being a soup, salad or appetizer and then an entree with the requirements both chicken, steak, a starch and vegetable be on the dish, we decided collectively to pursue a South Western theme. A soup was decided as the appetizer, Chicken Tortilla soup, and the main dish held three offerings: Tequila Lime Skirt Steak over Pepper Jack Grits topped with Chiptole Cream sauce, Blue Corn Pancakes topped with Spiced Black Beans, Avocado Crema and Quick Pickled Mexican Radish and Corn Esquites (street style). With five firefighters and 45 minutes to complete the dishes, I always go above and beyond and create a dessert, this year to follow with the theme, I made Buñuelos, a Columbian style donut, spice with a Cinnamon Espresso Sugar and a Brown Sugar Crema sauce. Quite a menu! 

But the hosts threw us a 4 secret ingredient curve ball: fresh garbonzo beans, lychees, pecan oil and a rutabaga. I worked the garbonzo beans into the soup (first blanching then deep frying them in a lite batter), added the lychees to the Brown Sugar Cream sauce (and placed into the carved out sheel of the lychee), baked the tortilla chips with the pecan oil and quick pickled the rutabaga with the Mexican radish. The judges seemed impressed with the way we worked the secret ingredients into the dishes as they exclaimed that the entire menu "exploded with flavor"! We were humbled and honored to reclaim our championship and look forward to defending it next year. Until then, stay low and stay safe, my friends!
R


Explaining our dishes to the judges.
Many lights and cameras... 
The crew is watching the menu be dissected.
Best Selfie Ever. 

Aug 14, 2014

Good Eatin' Great Cause Event Tonight!


Tonight, I'll be making my third appearance in the SafePath Good Eatin' Great Cause event representing my fire department in a Chopped style cooking competition. This fantastic event is a fundraiser for the SafePath Children's Advocacy Center, a foundation who's worthy aim is to support those exposed to child abuse. By my side are four other firefighters as we take battle in the festivity's highlight on stage under the lights and cameras. We have 45 minutes to develop our dishes whilst incorporating two secret ingredients before we offer them up to the judges. I've lead the team to one championship but lost out last year so redemption in on the menu! Wish us luck.


Jul 26, 2014

Tactical (Restaurant) Review: Eat

Cutting edge training as a first responder has the opportunity to take a firefighter all over our great nation. Whether to learn about explosive ordinance (New Mexico), chemical/biological weapons (Alabama), or my latest adventure, nuclear/radiological awareness, which had me jet setting to one of the world’s food meccas, Las Vegas. Oh, what’s a hungry firefighter to do with so much to choose from?

Las Vegas’s well-chronicled transformation from ‘sin city’ to a culinary destination has caught the attention of all.  Many a foodie, celebrity chef and TV personality has leant their take on Vegas, so when Anthony Bourdain paid a recent visit, I took notice of where he went. Often he’ll make a conscious choice to sample some of the local’s selection, outside the hustle and bustle of all the lights and high prices. One of his selections peaked my interests, a place called EAT.

South of the strip, where only the locals and lost gamblers stumble too is where the restaurant is located. Directly off the street, plenty of paid parking lines the sidewalk if you get there early enough. As I meet my parents in Vegas (they still live in Southern California), I was looking forward to treating them to some quality breakfast. This place seemed to fit the bill.



The atmosphere was appropriately en vogue with an open kitchen, computer bar, hanging light bulbs and black and white art, very much now but so not Vegas, a nice touch. The crowd was also not about the show, locals these people were and they were focused on the food and conversation. Service was generally good with an attentive wait staff that was both knowledgeable and good-natured.


As I was officially done with my training and the Air Force food from the air base I was sequestered at, I told the waitress that I’d need two, count them, TWO full plates. Something sweet and savory seemed in order so to get a baseline of their fare, I started with their Golden Brown Pancakes. Appropriately fluffy and with a hint of brown sugar, they were solid. (note that I used some of the strawberry compote from the cinnamon biscuits which helped to elevate these flap jacks)


I went to the waitress and asked her for favorite dish and she lite up and offered up the Truffled Egg Sandwich, which incidentally enough was the restaurants most demanded. These were perfectly scrambled eggs (not an easy skill) lightly touched with truffle oil over an open face buttered brioche baguette topped with thick bacon. Wow. The skillet potatoes on the side were there as well, but come on, the sandwich was where it was at. This was a 4-Alarm dish for me and well worth the drive alone.


Because the pancakes and sandwich may not have been enough, I ordered us some Cinnamon Biscuits. Why? Living in the south, I’m been keen to try regional biscuits to experience the nuisances. These were not layered like I prefer, but well seasoned and browned nicely. The strawberry compote (made daily) was the balanced sweet to the butter.


Shrimp and grits were the order for my Mom, seemingly to remind her of her southern upbringing. The power of food… Anyways, after the obligatory ‘there not as good as yours’, she admitted they were well seasoned with bursts of heat, silkiness from the poached egg and bite from the shrimp. The grits themselves were slightly overcooked (and hence congealed) but the taste was on point. Well done.

My dad had eggs and toast. He always has eggs and toast. Breakfast for my dad = eggs and toast. He said they were fine, but then he said the same thing after a root canal. Life is short; please learn to live a little.

Overall, the price was right for the food delivered. Nice atmosphere, solid service, good conversation and a food memory for life. These Vegas locals know their food, value their time and have found a home at EAT. I tip my hat to you Mr. Bourdain, nice recon for the masses, I ATE well. A solid recommend.

Date: May 2014

3.25 ALARMS

Eat on Urbanspoon

Jul 4, 2014


Happy 4th of July Y'all!

Stay full, my friends!

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