The Last Bites of Summer

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Raw Brussels Sprouts By The Pool.

We're definitely at a moment when the Instagrammability of food matters more than how it actually tastes. How else do you explain the crudités that they serve at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs? We were there this weekend on a spontaneous trip (more on that later) and though we were staying at the Arrive Hotel, we skipped over to the Ace to have drinks by the pool. Craig ordered a gin and tonic, I ordered a frozen watermelon margarita (so good), and then a platter of raw vegetables to snack on. Here's what came out:

Sure, it's pretty, but do you see what's actually in there? Raw Brussels sprouts. Raw purple cauliflower. Watermelon radishes. These are all vegetables that have big Instagram-potential but in terms of how they taste sitting by a pool? When was the last time that you went swimming and thought, "You know, I could really go for a raw Brussels sprout right about now!"?

Needless to say, we ate most of the pita and a few cherry tomatoes, and left almost all of the cruciferous vegetables on the platter. (Sorry, but if I'd actually eaten them, I wouldn't have been a very fun person to be sitting next to for the rest of the day). Anyway, note to chefs: I get that you want the likes, but maybe focus on how it tastes first?

End rant! Now on to happier subjects...

What I've Been Cooking:

1. Corn Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Purple Basil.

One of my favorite stores in L.A. is called Cookbook; there's one in Echo Park and one in Highland Park, I go to the one in Echo. It's basically a farmer's market in a store. And when I run out of farmer's market tomatoes or corn or peaches in summer, I hop over to Cookbook and fill my basket to the brim.

On this particular night, we were having our friend Antonio Marziale over for dinner (you may recall him as Elliott in Craig's Netflix movie, Alex Strangelove). So I decided to make a corn salad, a spatchcocked chicken, and to serve that imported French Camembert with grapes and crackers for dessert.

The salad couldn't be easier. The trick (which comes from Ina) is to boil the corn for three minutes in salted water and then to shock it in ice water so that you cook out the starch, but it still tastes fresh. Once you do that, you simply cut the corn off the cob (use a sharp knife):

I tossed that with the cherry tomatoes, lots of olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and then shredded basil and served it with chicken.

Here's Antonio and Craig with the Camembert for dessert which we enjoyed while watching Thelma & Louise (an amazing movie, that feels just as relevant today, if not more).

2. Bacon, Tomato, and Corn Hash.

Believe it or not, that next morning I had some of that corn salad left over and also some more heirloom cherry tomatoes from Cookbook. I decided to improvise a breakfast with some of the bacon I happened to have in the fridge.

So I started with four pieces of bacon that I snipped with scissors into lardons in my non-stick skillet. I cooked that with a splash of olive oil until it gave off its fat and then poured some of it out, before adding the tomatoes.

I let those cook for a bit and when the tomatoes started to pop and give up their juices, I added the corn.

I cooked that all together until it looked pretty amazing, then spooned it into bowls.

In that same skillet, I fried a few eggs and put them on top of the hash, but I did such a bad job of it, you won't see that picture. Suffice it to say: this was a delicious summer breakfast.

3. Pasta with Bacon and Tomatoes.

Are you detecting a theme here? Yes, in summer, I cook with lots of tomatoes. And bacon too, apparently.

Only the tomatoes here weren't from the farmer's market, they were from a can. I bought fancy tomatoes and fancy pasta recently (either at Monsieur Marcel in the Grove, McCall's Meat & Fish in Los Feliz, or Cookbook, I forget what comes from where):

I posted Instagram stories of me making this on Sunday night (if you're not following me on there, you're missing out on lots of cooking videos and show tunes!) and got many requests for the recipe.

It really wasn't a recipe, though. It's just a technique: in a large pan, render a few strips of bacon cut into lardons with a splash of olive oil. Once it's sizzling, but not crisp yet, push the bacon aside and to the hot oil/bacon fat, add five cloves of sliced garlic, a big pinch of red chili flakes, a tablespoon of tomato paste, and toast that all in the oil until the garlic is just taking on color. Stir it all together, then add a can of tomatoes that you've crushed by hand. It'll all sizzle and spurt. Add a pinch of salt, keep the heat on high, and cook until it reduces into a tasty sauce.

Meanwhile, boil your pasta with lots of salted water and when it's super al dente (taste to know), lift it out of the water and add it to the pan with the tomato sauce. If the pan is dry at this point, add a ladleful of pasta cooking water. Cook it all together until the sauce gets sucked into the pasta. Turn off the heat and add a big handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Heaven.

Where I've Been Eating:

1. Palm Springs!

One of the best things about living in L.A. is that you can hop in your car, and two hours later, be in an isolated desert oasis by a pool drinking an Aperol Spritz, listening to Burt Bacharach, and feeling like the most glamorous movie star from the 1960's.

Now that we have a dog, we didn't know if we could get away for Labor Day, but our friend Matt stepped up to dog-sit, so we booked two nights at the Arrive Hotel and got there super fast on Friday. It's a super cute place; here's what our room looked like:

(And for the record, they do accept dogs there, but we didn't want to have to worry about leaving him in the room when we went out at night.)

On our first night, we checked out a restaurant that received lots of acclaim on Eater LA and in the hotel's room guide: Rooster and the Pig.

Apparently, locals love this spot and I can see why. When we got there, a crowd had formed (they don't take reservations). So we put our name on a list and in thirty minutes, we were at a table in the charming room.

The food was easily the best food I've had in Palm Springs. There were so many highlights, but the best dish of all was clearly their signature panko-crusted chicken rice ball in a yellow curry.

The next morning, we visited the essential Cheeky's where there's always a little wait, but it's not so bad, especially since they text you when your table's ready.

I ordered the huevos rancheros, which were pretty good, but I got their corn pancake as a side and that was really a highlight:

That day, we went antiquing, which is so funny because I remember when I was growing up, watching sitcoms, the gay characters were always "going antiquing." Now that's something that I do? But really, I don't care about antiques, I care about vintage dinnerware! And at the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, I hit upon some real treasures.

First up, a vintage Italian coffee pot that was used in the air force in 1955.

I bought it and when I brought it home, the inside was really disgusting. Like green and gunky, so not sure how I'm going to clean that. (Craig thinks I should take it to a professional.)

But I'm much more excited about my new vintage cookie jar:

My hashtag #lifegoal is to become the kind of person who always keeps that jar full of homemade cookies. So far, it's sitting empty on my cookbook shelf, but I've got time.

Finally, on Sunday we went back to the Ace for brunch before heading off. Their fish tacos were great, so I don't want to completely throw them under the bus for their crudités.

2. HomeState

As stated in the last newsletter, my main criteria for restaurants these days is: "Can we bring Winston?"

So on Monday (Labor Day), we brought Winston to HomeState, a Tex-Mex joint on Hollywood Blvd. next to Bar Covell that I had only ever experienced via PostMates. It's pretty wonderful, I gotta say; especially if you love breakfast tacos (which Craig ordered) and migas (which I ordered), plus a side of "cowboy beans" (Pintos with pickled jalapenos, guacamole, and coleslaw).

Winston thought it was OK, but much preferred his experience at the Silverlake dog park where he gnawed a dirty, old, tennis ball.

3. Tesse

On Monday night, I met up with my friend Billy at Tesse on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.

The place was pretty busy and smart-looking. There's a boutique wine shop attached to it and, as the server explained, the restaurant is a "Delicatesse," meaning they make their own charcuterie. So of course, that's the first thing that we ordered.

As for the rest of the meal, my favorite dishes were the lobster sausage with duck fat fries...

...and the chocolate dessert that tasted like a Snickers bar.

But the pasta with pork belly was a real miss; totally under-seasoned (which is a criminal offense when it comes to pasta).

And the "Epigramme of Lamb" conjured images of vintage French cookbooks and had a beautiful presentation, but it was incredibly hard to cut and even harder to eat.

But let me show you that chocolate dessert so we can end on a positive note. It really was excellent.

Links and Things:
* Why David Chang Matters, The New York Times
In Defense of The Smith, NYC's Most Unfairly Maligned Restaurant, Eater NY (Craig sent this to me because he ate there a bunch when he was making his last movie)
* La Vie on the Wharf Is So Bad, I'm Only Writing About It As A Warning, The Washington Post (for those who enjoy the occasional scathing restaurant review)
* Interview with Ina about her new cookbook, Cook Like A Pro, Eater
* Renee Erickson’s new nautical-themed bar in Seattle seems pretty sweet, Eater Seattle
* Intriguing Cacio e Pepe technique from Deb, Smitten Kitchen
* I have to make Melissa Clark’s plum tart with honey and cinnamon before it’s too late, New York Times
* Dorie Greenspan interprets Mokonuts’ Rye-Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies (I have to make these too), New York Times Magazine
* Ottolenghi’s Corn Recipes, The Guardian
* Kenny Shopsin, Brash Owner of a Quirky Restaurant, Dead at 76, New York Times (Very sad about this; I loved Shopsin's.)

In terms of what we're consuming around here culturally, we're still doing American Crime Story: Versace and the episode that we watched last night ("House By The Lake") was riveting and horrifying and kept me up half the night, but I'm so glad that I watched it. We tempered it with the new Great British Baking Show season that just appeared on Netflix (I'm warming up to the new hosts and the new Mary Berry). While in Palm Springs, I struggled to read 1Q84, I'm about 150 pages in, but I may give up on it. Instead, I've been loving David Sedaris's Calypso, which really does feel like his most personal book. And on the drive there, I made Craig start listening to Famous Father Girl, which I raved about last week, and he loved it so much, he wants to download the book himself so he can enjoy it in his own car.

OK, folks, that's all for this week's newsletter. If you enjoyed reading it, please forward it to a friend and tell them to sign up! Here's the , just in case.

Until next time....

Your friend,
Adam (The Amateur Gourmet)