gouache

PBJ.LA - Peanut BETTER and Jelly

So by now if you've been following my "adventures in food" series, you'll know that I can't shut up about Grand Central Market. It's weird, fun, hip (maybe a touch hipster), but also brings all walks of the community together. AND! The food! The food is amazing!

It won't be any surprise then that this post is once again about something at GCM. Today's subject is the sleek, ultra fancy-looking PBJ.LA! I know what you're thinking, "Wait doesn't that look like (rhymes with fun-bust-ables)?"

Sure, it may LOOK like that unnamed item from the freezer section that you ate as a kid (or as an adult, I don't judge), but the roundness and crimped edges is where the similarities end.

Enter, the Chocolate Haze.

Enter, the Chocolate Haze.

When I first spied PBJ.LA, I was impressed with their exceptionally slick branding. Fancy logo, purple lights, and white, glossy walls-- it's the works. As a freelance artist, I understand how important branding is, and these. guys. NAILED. IT.

So what do they have to eat? You guessed it-- peanut butter and jelly sammiches! But not just any regular ol' PBJs, these are made fresh from scratch with organic, non-GMO ingredients, and everything except for one item is plant-based. That one item is an optional add-on, and it's a buffalo smoked mozzarella (but there is a vegan cheese option!). Everything is pinched into a cheerful circle, and there's just something intensely satisfying about that to me.

I had already eaten dinner when I approached their stall, so I went straight to the dessert option they had: the Chocolate Haze. It's a house-made chocolate hazelnut spread paired with dark cherry chianti jam. The bread was fluffy, and insides delightfully gooey.

Look at the hazelnut yums seeping through!

Look at the hazelnut yums seeping through!

Instead of the sugar explosion I was expecting (as a lover of Nutella), I was pleasantly surprised to find that their hazelnut spread didn't scream of sweetness. My taste-expedition was complicated, deep, and very flavorful. It included a slightly bitter note of cocoa, the hum of hazelnut, and a mild sweetness from the jam. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this round sandwich knocked my socks off! I immediately wanted to try everything on the menu, but sadly didn't have enough room in my stomach.

And of course, when you eat PBJ, what do you also want? Milk! I can't have regular cow's milk anymore, so I was in luck... their other major offering is an Almond Milk bar. They have Vanilla Almond, Strawberry, Cafe au Lait, and of course the one I tried: Peruvian Cacao. The flavor of the milk was deep, rich, and chocolately-- but again without overwhelming sugar. It made me SO happy to drink.

My experience there was super nice. I met two of the founders, Payvand and Jimmy, and they were open, honest, and really enthusiastic about talking to customers. I love their friendly manner and willingness to answer questions. I was of course concerned about what they do with the discarded crusts-- and it turns out they're developing another great product that will come with your sandwich so nothing is wasted!

Ooey gooey deliciousness...

Ooey gooey deliciousness...

Creating the accompanying illustration to this post was a challenge, as bread is such a delicate subject to render. I wanted to reflect the bright purples of their logo (I don't get to use that marker much in food illustration), but didn't want the shadows to be so cool that they looked moldy. I also wanted to reflect how light and fluffy this bread was without over rendering it-- cue me testing different yellow and brown markers for an hour before I even started!

Also, rendering their logo backward on the paper was a huge pain, but I feel like it added a great visual texture to the illustration.

Anyway, I can't wait to visit GCM again so I can try some of their other sandwiches and almond milks. PBJ.LA, watch out, I'll be back!

Vegan Ramen at Ramen Hood

Vegan Ramen  - Markers, ink, gouache. 8.5" x 5.5"

Vegan Ramen - Markers, ink, gouache. 8.5" x 5.5"

Like I said in my last post about Grand Central Market-- it's amazing and you have GOT to go if you're in the Los Angeles area! Seriously, call a Lyft or hop the train and get there right now. It's jam-packed with market stalls and restaurants that will take you on an epic food journey. Today's subject is the amazing Ramen Hood-- selected by us at random (ramen-dom, hah) because we were feelin' noodle-y.

This place is a counter-based ramen joint, but it can be tough to get a seat at times. It's usually safest to order it "to go" so you can snag a seat elsewhere in the Market's open seating. Also if you're a beer-with-my-ramen type, you'll need to send one member of your party to fetch it from another stall while you order your food and then meet up somewhere in the middle.

21Aug2017_RamenHood_detail01.jpg

So I'm known for being pretty oblivious at times. I decided "Yes, ramen" and waltzed right up to the menu, scanning to try to find something with the least amount of FODMAP triggers* that they had. I somehow blatantly missed that this place was 100% vegan. Not only did I not realize it was vegan when I ordered, I somehow completely missed that what I was eating was vegan until I was halfway through it. 

"Our broth is made by simmering kelp and shiitake mushrooms to extract their maximum umami. Then we roast sunflower seeds with white miso and combine that mixture with the kelp/mushroom stock. Then it is all pressure cooked to release the natural oils and starches from the seeds. What's left is a rich, creamy, broth that rivals it's non-vegan counterparts flavor and texture." - RamenHoodLA.com

Yeah, I'd agree that it rivals its non-vegan counterpart. As a matter of fact, their broth is a lot lighter than most pork-based broths, so I didn't feel like a disgusting, blorpy greaseball afterward!

21Aug2017_RamenHood_detail02.jpg

The thing that surprised me the most was the egg. And just what, pray tell, is a Vegan Egg?? What's it made from?! Clouds and smiles and fairy dreams?

The "egg" is completely vegan, made in two parts. The "white" of the egg starts as locally made, GMO-free soy milk, seasoned with salt and pepper and gelled with agar (a seaweed extract). The "yolk" is a combination of nutritional yeast, back salt and sodium alginate. We spherify the yolk using a little magic and place it in the center of the white. The yolk pops just like the real thing!" - RamenHoodLA.com

Whoa, ok, well there's my answer. See, there IS magic in it, I knew it.

Honestly? I couldn't tell it wasn't an egg, especially when it was mixed in with all the other bright, umami flavors going on. There was something ever-so-slightly different about its yellow and white edges (Uncanny valley, anyone?), but obviously not really enough for me to notice at first.

21Aug2017_RamenHood_detail03.jpg

So the other stuff in the dish is nori (seaweed), scallions, bean sprouts, and chili threads. Threads of chili! What a concept! And delicious. When doing this illustration, it was super serendipitous because I actually had JUST purchased a new pen that was perfect for it! It was a size 0.3 Copic Multiliner in the color "wine." (affiliate link, if you buy this thing I may get a kickback! Yay!)

Actually my entire recent purchase at the local art store was perfect because I filled out the yellow/orange gamut in my marker collection. Turns out a lot of food is yellow/orange. And green. Who knew?

You know what colors you almost never use in food illustration? Purple and blue. Unless you're illustrating that Unicorn Monster from Starbucks.

21Aug2017_RamenHood_detail05.jpg

But I digress. Back to the food! What about those definitely-fried-meat-looking items in your illustration, you may ask? Being that the dish is vegan, one might assume that it's tofu... but one would be wrong. It's actually King Oyster Mushroom**, which has a surprisingly meat-like texture. It worked harmoniously with the dish, and was actually one of my favorite elements in it!

21Aug2017_RamenHood_detail04.jpg

So it took me forever to turn this illustration around, because life, stuff, and things.  At the time, we had a side of Avocado Toast... which may have been the best I've ever had. Sadly, it no longer appears to be available. I get that they probably update their menu with the seasons, but darn it how can we irresponsibly spend all of our disposable income on avocado toast instead of buying houses and diamonds if we can't find any?! ;) Regardless I'm sure their current offerings of side dishes are all great, too.

Anyway, in summary, whether you're vegan or not, if you like ramen, get thee to the Ramen Hood and eat everything you see there.


*Ok, what is this FODMAP thing you keep mentioning in your posts? I'll do a proper post about it sometime, but it's basically different types of carbohydrates found in foods that can cause digestive problems for certain individuals. It's been researched by the Monash University in Australia, and is becoming more widely accepted as a way to prevent and reduce digestive stress.

**But aren't mushrooms high FODMAP? How are you asking this question if you also asked the first question? Your Google Fu must be strong. But yes they are, and I am able to tolerate them. Different people have different trigger combinations, which is why it's important to do extensive testing with your GI doctor or a nutritionist.

Kato Chef Tasting: 3rd Course

You see that fish there? It's so soft that it's like eating straight butter. Oh yeah.

You see that fish there? It's so soft that it's like eating straight butter. Oh yeah.

And we're back with the amazing Course Three in my Kato Chef Tasting Experience. Be sure to read parts One and Two first!

Something that I thought was remarkable about Kato's dining room was how small and minimalist it was. The walls are light, the floor is wood, and there are absolutely no frills. Artwork sprinkled around and a simple tea light on the tables count as the decor. I'd say there are, what, 10 tables total? 15? I find it interesting that they took this approach, and I expect that it's so you can focus on the food. No gaudy decorations or talking animal heads here! (Apologies to lovers of Rainforest Café, heh.)

I suspect that's also why they don't serve any alcohol, and their drink selection is extremely limited. Green tea or sparkling water work just fine when alcohol could detract from your enjoyment of the delicate flavors they're putting in your face. Plus, realtalk, as a restaurant owner I bet it's just easier to get through life when you don't have to worry about booze permits.

So! The delightful third course of the evening was trout with chili and seared cabbage. This dish, seriously. UNG. I almost died when I put it in my mouth. The trout was cooked in a sous vide so it actually burst apart as soon as it left my fork, and the amazing flavors locked inside are the kind you'd write home to mom about. Or... write about on a blog on the internet.

The chili sauce is apparently fermented, and while it has a dash of heat, it uses it subtly to enhance the other flavors. The seared cabbage* is crisp and its strong flavor sticks with you long after this course is over, but in a good way.

Stay tuned for Course 4! "How many courses ARE there?" you ask. The answer is five, plus dessert, plus additional food we ordered at the end to round everything out. In other words, I've got a lot of drawing to do.

* I am definitely not supposed to eat cabbage. That's that FODMAP thing again that I mentioned before. I'll get around to discussing it, one day. I ate it anyway though, in the name of art!

Trader Sam's Passionate Python

Lemony Snake-it's "Series of Unfortunate(ly Empty Cuz I Drank Them) Drinks"

Lemony Snake-it's "Series of Unfortunate(ly Empty Cuz I Drank Them) Drinks"

I went to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland recently, and ordered this delightful drink called The Passionate Python. "Ah," you say, "NOW I get the joke in the caption." Well ssssspotted, Hungry Reader! This drink is described in the menu as "Dark and Aged Rums, Red Passion Fruit and Tropical Juices garnished with an Orange Peel 'Python.'"

I really enjoy drawing drinks-- there's a fun challenge in their simplistic design. Drawing glass and getting the subtle gradients shifts in the liquids just right can be tough, especially with markers. Markers are a rather unforgiving medium, mind you. One small twitch and it's all over.*

This particular illustration was an exercise in playing with layering techniques. I don't like going straight into a piece with my most vibrant marker-- no no! I'd rather layer a saturated color over a less saturated base to keep the color from becoming unnatural (not... that the color of this drink was natural, but I digress).

To achieve this bright red orange without going overboard, I first put down a layer of Goldenrod (PM-69), put Poppy Red (PM-13) on top, and then finished it with hits of Scarlet Lake (PM-5).

"But what about that ghostly lemon peel and the straws in there?" you wonder. There are clearly no pen lines, so how did I do that? I'll tell you in Parseltongue: Ssssssssssss sssssssssasaaasss sassssssssss shhhh sssssss!

You're welcome.

*Note to self and others: Do not attempt to Marker while drinking the subject of this illustration. The results won't go well! Please Marker responsibly.

Kato Chef Tasting: 2nd Course

There is no ham in hamachi

There is no ham in hamachi

Welcome back, hungry reader! This is the second post in a series about my Chef Tasting experience at Kato Restaurant in Santa Monica. If you haven't yet, be sure to read Part One first! Kato is a restaurant that specializes in Chef's Tastings, and is a Californian/Japanese/Taiwanese hybrid. And no, Chef Tasting doesn't meant we ate the chef, in case you were wondering.

Kato itself is hidden in the corner of a strip mall in Santa Monica-- it can actually be quite difficult to spot until you're practically standing on top of it. One might even call it a Room of Requirement-- it's impossible to find unless you're desperate for tasty, well-crafted food. The dining room is terrifically small, so you MUST make reservations... and make them, like, a week out because this place is very popular.

So on to our second course, which was hamachi and cucumber topped with a charred scallion sauce. What are the herbs on top? I'm not entirely sure, as I'm not good at identifying these things by sight yet.* Fennel? Maybe? The dish's flavors were gentle, cool, and seemed slightly pickled. This made an excellent pair against the good punch in the mouth that the charred/smoky flavor of the sauce gave you!

Stay tuned for the 3rd Course coming soon!

*I'm learning, I swear. At least, it's on my "To Learn" list. So I'll get around to it. No really!

Kato Chef Tasting

You can't find delightful piles of fish like this easily

You can't find delightful piles of fish like this easily

Last month we tried out a highly rated restaurant in Santa Monica named Kato, a Californian/Japanese/Taiwanese hybrid chef's tasting restaurant.

Hungry Reader, you may be asking "Um wat?" which is the exact same question I asked myself because I, too, think in memespeak. Luckily for you, I went and found out! A chef tasting is when a restaurant's chef designs a menu that takes customers on what I like to call a food experience. A Foodsperience, if you will. The flavors of each small course are meant to work together like a team to send you to Tasty Town.

It began with what's called an amuse bouche, which is sort of like an appetizer but smaller. It literally means "to amuse your mouth." It was a tapioca snack with roe (fish eggs), and while it was brownie-like, was also very salty. Think "sea salt brownie with heavy emphasis on the sea and possibly as dark as it is because maybe squid ink?" Regardless, it was delightful and I was ready for more!

We then received our first course, which was tuna tartare with eggplant and herbs over crispy rice. Seriously I put this thing in my mouth and the world stopped*. The rice gave it a fantastic crunchy texture that contrasted with the softness of the tuna. The vinaigrette had almost a minty note to it, and the shallots gave the sauce absolute sass. SASS, I say! The dish was very light overall, which, by the end of the meal I learned is the best way to start a Foodsperience so you can build a flavor symphony over time.

But more on that next time with Course 2!

*"The world stopped" is going to be a phrase that I use often in this series with Kato, because spoiler alert: THE FOOD IS REALLY GOOD