Monday, January 3, 2011

Scavenger Hunt Potluck - Part I

It's not often that I could talk about dishes from multiple restaurants in one sitting, especially if these restaurants span the radius of twenty plus miles. Last Sunday night was one of my best friend Christine's big birthday bash. She had contemplated for a while where she would be dining with all her friends that night. But because there were over twenty guests many of which are rolling in at different times of the night, it was difficult for her to find a restaurant to accommodate the situation. Instead she decided to have each of her guest in leu of bringing a present, to bring a specific dish from a specific restaurant and have a potluck at her house instead. Well some of us brought a present anyways. She provided the drinks including alcohol and the utensils.

(Brodard Restaurant - Pork Spring Rolls In Dipping Sauce)

A little over a week before the party, she sent out a rather comprehensive list of a wide variety of dishes she wanted to have for the night. Thematically speaking the dishes didn't link together in the traditional sense. It was her birthday so the theme was literally anything the birthday girl wanted. It turned out to be a rather festive and fun way to have a dinning experience.

(Lunas Restaurant - Stuffed Mushrooms) 

The guests rolled in at various hours of the night mostly between 6pm and 8pm. Being one of her best friends, I was among first to arrive. I signed up for a dish that was local to where I live since I didn't want to drive somewhere far to pick up food and then return. Lunas Restaurant in San Gabriel was the closest restaurant to my home, and the item desired was the stuffed mushroom appetizer.

I called in and placed my order ahead of time. In fact I called in a week ago to make sure they were open on the 26th and also to confirm the price for the dish. Christine tried to get all the dishes to be around $25 so that we would all spend about the same amount. But of course nothing in life is truly fair. My mushrooms were slightly over $30. Nevertheless I told the woman on the phone that I would pick up the order in thirty minutes. I was on time. Being an actor had made me punctual for the most part. When I arrived thirty minutes after the call, the woman on the phone was there at the podium and my order was ready. It's always great to have my orders ready on time. The woman, who was probably the owner, was happy that I was right on time to pick it up and pay for it.

(To Go Boxes)

We decided to put all the food onto nice serving plates. The key to making a potluck buffet look, feel and taste less like a potluck was to have the food served on fine china. It instantly made the meal felt more elegant and expensive. The food were not the cheapest around to begin with, so eating them out of the box would simply have cheapen the experience and do the food injustice.

The mushrooms came with rice, chips and salsa. The drawback to this kind of potluck was that the foods weren't at their hottest when they were served since there was a lag time for takeout. Despite that, the mushrooms were still very appetizing at room temperature. The portion at Lunas was generous; three orders were enough to appease the entire group. The mushrooms were creamy, juicy and popping with flavors. It certainly would have been better if they were hotter, but that's the tradeoff in having a potluck style buffet with foods from across the county and beyond.

(California Pizza Kitchen - Spinach Artichoke Dip & Hummus)

It was still early so only a few other dishes had arrived, among them were the spinach and artichoke dip and hummus and pita bread from California Pizza Kitchen. Christine actually only asked for the spinach and artichoke dip so the hummus was actually a bonus, and a delightful one. Personally I much prefer hummus and pita over chips with spinach and artichoke dip. Especially in a potluck situation, hummus is great at room temperature; I prefer really hot spinach and artichoke dip. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad at room temperature, I just have a strong preference on the temperature on this dip. Generally when I eat this at a restaurant, I loose interest after the first ten minutes once the dip is no longer hot. The pita bread was also nice and soft and was just the perfect carbs to have at a mostly carb-less potluck.

(Ruen Pair Restaurant - House Special Raw Blue Crab Papaya Salad)

Next was an amazing house special raw blue crab papaya salad from Ruen Pair Restaurant in Hollywood. I had actually never heard of this Thai restaurant. But then there were so many amazing little places in Los Angeles, it wasn't a surprise that I didn't know. The salad was provided in a few separate boxes to keep the salad from getting soggy, so we had to toss it ourselves. This dish was beautifully balanced. It actually has been a very long time since I had blue crab as it's not readily available at most local markets in Los Angeles. I much prefer blue crabs then dungeon crab. But this was the first time I had them raw and they were devine. The meat just melted in my mouth as it was sucked out of the shell. The sweetness of the crab mixed elegantly with the lightly spiced papaya salad, a perfect combination.

(Brodard Restaurant - Pork Spring Rolls)

(Brodard Restaurant - Pork Spring Rolls Dip)

The last couple of weeks, I've had a ton of spring rolls at various parties. I am a big fan of spring rolls and I can eat a ton of them in one night. They were generally light and leaned on the healthier side of the food spectrum. Of course I refrained myself from gorging down spring rolls at this party because I wanted to eat everything else. I was just happy to be having spring rolls from a restaurant I had never tried. I was told beforehand that the spring rolls from Brodard Restaurant were the best. After trying them, these spring rolls were the best only because the sauce was amazing. The spring rolls themselves were good and well made but not the best if they stood alone.

Although it may not be the most environmentally friendly practice to wrap each individual spring roll in plastic wrap, it was necessary to keep the rolls from sticking to one another. The rolls were wrapped with pork and crispy egg roll skin inside along with a few other condiments. Personally I much prefer rice noodle and shrimp in my rolls, but these were still very delicious. The sauce was what made the big difference. It was a lightly sweetened tomato based medium thick sauce with egg flowers in it. When the rolls were smothered with the sauce, the complexity between the juicy sauce, the elastic tapioca skin, the chewy pork and the crunchy egg roll skin made a beautiful little symphony of textures inside my mouth. These were definitely fantastically fun spring rolls to have at a party.

(Blair's Restaurant - Truffled Mac & Cheese)

(Blair's Restaurant - Bread and Butter)

The final piece to the appetizer menu of the evening was the truffled mac and cheese from Blair's Restaurant. The portion was very small so I tried not to take too much and give everyone else a chance to try it. When the box with the mac and cheese was first opened, the aroma of the truffles came whooshing out. That by itself was well worth the money. Of course as the mac and cheese sat and cooled down, it was hard to smell the fragrant of the truffles. That is really the only reason to get this dish, without which it's just good mac and cheese. But good mac and cheese is still just mac and cheese. The truth is if you can't smell the truffles anymore, it's not much of a party.

Continue to Part II...


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