Monday, March 29, 2010

Hatchi - Burning Sensation - Kuniko Yagi @ Breadbar

Breadbar Century City hosted the latest edition of its Hatchi series of guest chef pop-up dinners last Thursday night with Kuniko Yagi, the chef de cuisine at Sona, David Myers acclaimed flagship restaurant (which is due to close soon), for a dinner themed and titled as Burning Sensation.

The meal offered 6 savory courses and 2 dessert courses (by Sona pastry chef Ramon Perez) for $8 each. Guests were required to purchase a minimum of 4 courses or 3 courses + a drink, per person. The idea behind the Hatchi series is laudable - offer a chef the opportunity to cook whatever they want, and at the same time provide a wider public access to these chef's cuisine, at an approachable price point. The "one night only" nature of the events have frequently led to full houses and chefs being more experimental.

My dining companion and I tried all the dishes, with the exception of #4, as we do not eat clam.

The menu was:

1. New Zealand Spinach Creme, Almost Burnt Caramel, Cauliflower
2. Yellowfin Tuna, Smoked Eggplant Puree, Mitsuba Sauce
3. Yogurt Marinated Chicken, Burnt Shishito Puree, Maitake Mushroom
4. Geoduck Clam and Charred Veggie Salad, 3 Kinds of Grains
5. Harissa Marinated Cod, Sunchoke Puree, Crispy Pigs Feet
6. Miso Marinated Hangar Steak, Miso Marinated Soubise, Chino Radish
7. Burnt Orange Consomme, Meyer Lemon Creme, Sushi Rice Sorbet
8. Soft Chocolate, Charred Pineapple, Alpine Strawberry, Burnt Milk Ice cream


The first dish was a disc of new zealand spinach, much less aggressively flavored than the usual variety formed into a dish with a creme brulee like consistency, only slightly more solid. Not so jiggly. The dish was garnished with flowers and hazelnuts. Beautiful presentation, a hallmark of the evening and of Sona's dishes in general.

The harissa marinated cod had a hint of spice/heat. The waitress had warned us that it was the spiciest dish. No need to worry, Jitlada this was not. We had this dish without the pigs trotters. The sauce had penetrated the chicken and it was flavorful. This was also the most sizeable dish. Most were tasting menu portioned if that - delicate morsels.

Least favorite:

The yellowfin tuna dish was bland. The sushi quality tuna was served seared but did not have much flavor. Presented attractively.

Overall the meal was enjoyable but as a calling card did not compel me to make a reservation at Sona for a return visit. My last visit to the restaurant was nearly 3 years ago. The Sona style has a large degree of emphasis on presentation, almost like in a Japanese kaiseki meal. Much of the meal felt very ephemeral in nature, like it could float away.

Chef Yagi is charming and she is off to Japan and then to Europe once Sona shutters in the next couple of months. I look forward to trying the next iteration of her cooking.

Photos (in descending order) are of: Breadbar, Chef Yagi, Spinach Brulee, Tuna, Chocolate Dessert

Rivera's Spring Cocktail launch

On Thursday Rivera's superstar bartender Julian Cox launched his Spring cocktail list of 13 new libations with a special launch night price of $6 each.

The bar and lounge area was packed with cocktail aficionados, bloggers, and fans of Julian's delicious drinks. Recent DonQ cocktail competition champion Kristina Howald (pictured at left), who is usually only behind the bar on Fridays & Saturdays, was there to help with the onslaught.

I got to meet several people in person for the first time including the Amateur Enthusiast and LA/OC Foodie.

I sampled three beverages over the course of the evening in two sessions (had to decamp to the Rooftop Bar @ The Standard for a reunion of another sort in the middle).

Began with the Widow's Kiss - Rye Whiskey, Calvados, Yellow Chartreuse.

Followed up with Sexy Thyme - Gin, Aperol, Orgeat, Golden Raspberries, Thyme

Last drink (round 2) was the Smoked Manhattan - Rye, Amaro Cio Ciaro, Smoked Rosemary, Angostura

My favorite of the cocktails I tried was the Sexy Thyme. Very balanced, not too sweet but easy to drink. I was a bit hesitant to order it as I have had a few unsuccessful cocktails with Aperol, but Sexy Thyme has removed the Aperol jinx from me. I also love the great ice served with this drink.

The smoked manhattan involves lighting the rosemary on fire to smoke it and impart some of the smoky scent to the drink. Enjoyable to watch and it adds another flavor component to the drink without overwhelming it.

The evening was so successful that when I came back for round 2, the bar had run out of several of the fresh ingredients, which I take as a very good sign. Rivera's classics will continue to be available.

Blogger ThirstyinLA has helpfully posted the full list of Spring cocktails here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cart for a Cause: Nobu Edition

Tuesday March 23rd was the first day of operation of Cart for a Cause. This is a temporary gourmet truck that will operate on Tuesdays and serve gourmet lunches from shnazzy chefs for $10. The beneficiary of the cause is St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels, a Catholic charity based in downtown LA which brings meals to the housebound. According to LA Weekly's SquidInk Blog, $6.50 of each meal goes to the charity.

Nobu Los Angeles was the first restaurant/chef up and they will be returning this coming Tuesday as well. The location was behind the UTA building on Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills, the same building as the Niketown, just off Rodeo Drive.

There were three options: sushi with black cod, sushi with chicken skewers, and a field green salad with shrimp. All the lunches also came with a drink, either bottled water or one of the pomegranate beverages from Pom, who is one of the sponsors. (Pom corporate sibling Fiji Water and Lexus are also sponsors). I opted for the sushi with chicken skewers. The skewers came with two types of sauce, a red sauce that was mildly spicy and a darker one that reminded me of teriyaki sauce.

It was incongrous to see a nun hanging out at a food truck. But she was there to represent the cause. A reasonably sized line had developed by the 12:30 launch time and after a suitable number of photo ops, the food distribution began. They only had 150 portions and sold out within an hour. I was told by a friend who went by too late that by the time he got there only the shrimp salad was left.

The sushi was 3 pieces of spicy tuna roll and 3 pieces of salmon and avocado maki. According to the Cart for a Cause facebook page, the two sauces/skewers were anticucho & kushiyaki.

After next week's Nobu round 2, other chefs will be taking weekly turns. They will apparently be using other locations to park the cart in future weeks as well. Note: the best parking option is to park in Via Rodeo's underground valet parking lot. They have 2 hour free parking, no validation required, and the only cost is the valet tip. It is less than a 5 minute walk to the UTA driveway from there.

Food Fight Screening & Discussion Panel

Last night there was a screening of the documentary Food Fight, at the Crest Theater in Westwood, followed by a discussion panel. Panelists included Chris Taylor, the director, Suzanne Goin, chef/owner of Lucques/AOC/Tavern, Evan Kleiman, chef/owner of Angeli Caffe and host of Good Food on KCRW, and Russ Parsons, author and editor of the Los Angeles Times food section.

The 2008 film is about the shift to mass produced industrial foods which deliver cheap calories and the movement which began as the fight of a few passionate people to look for a better alternative. The rise of the green markets / farmers markets, the role of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse in both educating the public and building a supply chain of local producers where none had existed before and the incentives of government subsidies in pushing packaged calorie dense and nutritionally questionable foods.

Goin and Parsons both appeared in the film. The theater auditorium was mostly full and the audience applauded at several points. The panel discussion was somewhat interesting although few of the questions were actually questions. Most questioners wanted to make a statement or talk about an organization that they were involved with. Rather than end with a question mark, most audience questions ended with the statement, go to yadayadayada.ORG to learn more.

Homegirl Cafe provided mini tastes of their food in the lobby for free and the theater sells both organic and regular popcorn. I did my part for sustainability by choosing the organic popcorn and by walking to the movie theater.

DonQ USBG LA Regional Competition at Caña @the Doheny

On March 23rd the Los Angeles chapter of the US Bartenders Guild (USBG) held the regional competition sponsored by DonQ rum, in which the winner received a free trip to New York to compete in the nationals against bartenders from across the country at the 1st ever Manhattan Cocktail Classic.

Each participant had 10 minutes to set up their station and then 7 minutes to make their original cocktail. Twelve bartenders from many of the top cocktail & mixology bars competed. A sampling of the bars represented included The Varnish, The Tar Pit, Malo, La Descarga and Rivera. Competitors had to be members of the Los Angeles branch of the USBG.

The three judges included the manager of The Varnish (Eric Alperin), the manager of Caña (John) and Jonathan Gold, the pulitzer prize winning LA Weekly food critic. Each drink was judged solely on taste and appearance. After much deliberation and doublechecking of scores, the winner was declared: Kristina Howald, who bartends at both Rivera and La Descarga.

She will be joining a large Los Angeles delegation attending the MCC in May. Congratulations Kristina! Take home the national trophy for Los Angeles!

The event was held at Caña @the Doheny, the recently relaunched rum bar owned by Cedd Moses. It had previously required a 4 figure initiation and annual dues. Now not only have annual dues been reduced to $20 (which goes to charity), but the focus has been shifted to rum drinks and the decor has been updated to match.

Above photos of Chris Bostick of the Varnish, and Rachel Shaw of Malo during the competition.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ludo Fried Chicken @ Akasha

Chef Ludo Lefebvre has been popping up all over town the past few months, at Royal T Salon in Culver City in December, in a truck at the Los Angeles Street Food Festival on February 13th, at the Gold Standard event at the Petersen Automotive Museum on February 28th, at The Foundry on Melrose on March 2nd, and most recently at Akasha Restaurant on Monday night March 22nd. His upcoming 6 week run at Gram & Papas in downtown LA sold out in one day.

Before his series of pop-ups, he was the chef at Bastide in West Hollywood, where his adventurous and playful cuisine challenged many Angelenos conceptions of fine dining, especially those of LA Times reviewer S. Irene Virbila who demoted the restaurant to a single star. He has perhaps achieved his widest fame for appearing on Top Chef Masters, the upcoming season of which he is also competing in.

In his pop-ups, his signature item has been Ludo Fried Chicken. That was the only item he featured at the Street Food Fest and the recent dinners at The Foundry and Akasha. His fried chicken balls are boneless meat shaped into spheres and fried with rosemary.

On Monday night, the dinner at Akasha sold out within hours and the evening was filled with food bloggers and Ludo-fans. The Ludo Fried Chicken was $18 per person and was served in a portion of 3 balls of chicken, with your choice of 2 of the 4 sides (mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, cole slaw, or kale.)

The chicken arrived to the table piping hot and was as delicious as I had remembered it from prior events. The chicken on my plate appeared to be dark meat and was juicy and flavorful all on its own. The dipping sauces were tried, but I did not find them necessary. The sweet potato fries were nice and crunchy but not too sweet (a good thing). I tried the coleslaw which went really well with the chicken.

Our table also ordered the macaroni and cheese, which was wonderful - on par with the great mac & cheese at Church & State. One of my tablemates liked it almost as much as their favorite at Lou on Vine. It was not too liquidy and had some strong cheese flavor.

We also ordered the buttermilk biscuits and bacon corn bread. The biscuits had sugar sprinkled on the top to combine savory and sweet one bite. I confess I did not enjoy these as much as my friends, as I will choose savory or salty over sweet any day. I did not sample the corn bread because I do not eat pork. My dining companions also ordered the pulled pork sandwich and raved about it. It came in an order of two sliders, generously portioned.

Now that I have been able to try the LFC at the street fest, at Foundry and at Akasha, I can say that it is remarkably consistent, and consistently good.

The kumquat mojito cocktail that I had was refreshing while the hibiscus drink one of my friends ordered was poorly conceived. Service was friendly. The only mixup was that our table repeatedly received items destined for another table, but these things happen when there is a full house and a special event on.

Until I had tried Bakesale Betty's in Oakland for their fried chicken sandwiches, I did not believe that great fried chicken could be boneless. Ludo Fried Chicken further underscores that point.

The next iteration of Ludobites is coming up next month but has been sold out. Apparently a waiting list will be developed, so follow Ludo's wife Krissy's twitter stream for updates.

This event came about because Ludo and Eric Greenspan of the Foundry were discussing his LFC on Twitter and Eric invited him to cook at his restaurant but didn't have a spare fryer and Akasha jumped in and offered one of hers. Then the adventure continued when Ludo continued the collaboration by cooking on site at Akasha's namesake restaurant.

Akasha Restaurant is located at 9543 Culver Blvd (corner of Watseka Avenue) in Culver City. Phone: (310) 845-1700. Website:

Parking: There is a free two hour city lot on Watseka directly next to Akasha restaurant. Could not be more convenient.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Korean Fried Chicken - Bon Chon vs Kyochon

I had been eagerly awaiting the Ludo Fried Chicken fest last night at Akasha but when I got an email from Simon from the UK blog Los Dos Hermanos this weekend wanting to know if I wanted to join in on a Bon Chon lunch on Monday the only answer was yes, and to make it even more of a fried chicken day we decided to do a Bon Chon vs Kyochon double header taste test.

We met at Bon Chon Chicken on 6th St. in Koreatown and began by ordering rice sticks followed by the spicy chicken wings and drumsticks.

A free salad was brought to the table along with two mysterious circular tablets that looked like alka seltzer. After consulting with the waitress we found out that these were actually mini towelettes that expanded when put into a little bowl of water, kind of like those sponges you may have received that when you put them in water turned into animal shapes. We could see the towels soaking up the water and lowering the waterline in the dish.

The rice sticks came on skewers and dipped in sauce. The consistency was chewy. Not my favorite food as it didn't have enough flavor and the mouthfeel was not to my taste.

The food is cooked to order so prepare for a wait for your chicken. We got the rice sticks both to tide us over and to try something different. Next the Bon Chon fried chicken wings and legs arrived, along with a dish of pickled radish. The chicken had a nice spicy sauce. The chicken was good, had crunch and was not heavy like southern fried chicken. The picked radish was a nice contrast / palate cleanser, but kind of boring. If I want something pickled in a korean restaurant, I want kimchi.

We then went down the street to Kyochon, which is located in a minimall about 8 blocks west of Bon Chon. Kyochon also has waiter service but it took a few tries to get the servers attention. We ordered the spicy chicken, to be comparable to Bon Chon, and got both legs and wings, as before. Kyochon offered the ability to order by the piece in increments of two, an option we did not see on the Bon Chon menu. Pickled radish was available, but for $1. As we had not eaten much radish at the first place, we passed on ordering it here.

Like at Bon Chon, the meal began with a complimentary salad at Kyochon. The salad was more appealing and less like slaw. When we ordered the spicy chicken the waitress asked if we really wanted the spicy version. We did. I assumed that was because we were not Korean and that it wouldn't be very spicy. I was wrong. It had some really nice heat. Not overwhelming, but legit spiciness. It snuck up on me over the course of a couple of chicken wings. Now this was something good.

The Kyochon korean fried chicken was the clear winner hands down. The spicy flavor and the generally tastier chicken put it ahead. Plus the salad was more to my taste and the bonus was as we were walking out, the waitress chased us down to offer us each some chocolate ice cream / yogurt in a small paper cup. A great way to end the meal with just a little sweetness. Both chickens were delicious, it is just that the Kyochon was better. Each meal was ~$10 per person.

Bon Chon is located at 3407 West 6th Street (corner of Catalina Street). Phone: (213) 487-7878. Website:

Kyochon is located at 3833 West 6th Street (corner of Serrano Avenue). Phone: (213) 739-9292. Website:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Brent's Deli

Los Angeles is blessed with many Jewish style delis and each has its own partisans. Nate & Als, Juniors, Canters, Factors, and Langers in particular all have their supporters. Brent's in the West San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Northridge has long been one of the top delis in the greater LA area. They opened a second successful outpost in Westlake Village in the far west Valley in 2006.

Brent's has been open for 40+ years, an eternity in restaurant in years in Los Angeles. Restaurant years are like dog years - if you make it to 10 years in this town that is a big deal. 40+ years is a rarity, a Methuselah in a land of babies (although many of the surviving Jewish style delis in Los Angeles have also been around for decades).

It is located in a bland strip mall in Northridge, next door to a dive bar called the Stovepiper Lounge. Driving down Parthenia Street it is easy to overlook the Brent's sign. They have two green and white striped umbrellas outside the entrance. Business was booming on the recent Sunday I visited. The waiting area was crowded with patrons waiting for their taste of corned beef, pastrami, matzoh ball soup or bagels and lox.

I opted for my traditional Jewish deli favorite, a hot corned beef on rye. It came with a side and I opted for apple sauce in lieu of cole slaw. Some steak fries were also on my order. Seating is in comfortable booths and service was fast and efficient. A menu was brought to the table immediately upon being seated and my order was taken within a few minutes. While I was waiting for my sandwich the waitress brought over some sliced pickles. The pickles were good but not as good as those at Nate & Al's in Beverly Hills. They were cut more thinly - into quarters rather than halves, and were also all of one type.

The sandwich arrived and it was worth waiting for. The corned beef was delicious and generously portioned in the sandwich. I briefly considered eating only half and saving the other half for dinner. That thought did not last long for soon I found myself digging into the second half of the sandwich. The meat was thinly sliced and there was not too much fat, but enough to give it flavor. The rye bread was a little too soft but that was not a fatal flaw. The steak fries (additional charge) were great - soft inside but not mushy. The Heinz's ketchup was sweeter than it usually is. I'm not sure as to why that was, but I am not a fan of too sweet ketchup so stuck to salt as my condiment of choice for the side of fries.

The meal was approximately $20 and a fair value. When in the Valley and the deli itch strikes, scratch it at Brent's. The shlep is worth it.

Brent's Deli is located at 19565 Parthenia Street between Tampa and Corbin Avenues. Phone: (818) 886-5679. Website:

Martino's Bakery

Martino's Bakery is known for their signature tea cakes. They are small square cupcake like confections and are made with buttermilk and have a hard glaze on top flavored with vanilla.

Martino's is located in Burbank and apparently distributes their tea cakes to other restaurants/locations in addition to selling them at their retail bakery. I was turned onto these delicious treats by family members who fondly remembered similar tea cakes from Grace's Pastries, which went out of business many years ago.

A variety of pastries were available but the tea cakes come in boxes of half a dozen or a dozen. I was on a mission so purchased a box of half a dozen ($4.50) of the classic buttermilk variety. Blueberry and cranberry were also available but were not as good as the plain buttermilk.

The tea cakes are lighter, fluffier and moister than cupcakes. The cake portion is light brown and the glaze is sweet but not in that sickly sugar rush kinda ways that so many cupcake frostings are. The size of the tea cakes are also smaller than most cupcakes are these days. (Is it me or have cupcakes been supersized since we were kids?)

Apparently this latest incarnation of Martino's does not share history/ownership with prior versions but has the rights to the name and acquired the recipe. I make no judgments about the people behind the operation - just about the six pack of square tea cakes, and they were indeed delicious. Rich, one was perfect for dessert, and they also make a nice component to breakfast, not that I would know anything about eating dessert as my breakfast...

Martino's is located at 335 N Victory Blvd. near the intersection with Magnolia Blvd, in Burbank. Just a few minutes drive Northeast of the Walt Disney Studios lot. Phone: (818) 842-0715. Website: Closed on Sundays.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stone's Market

Continuing on my quest for goat, I visited Stone's Market, a small takeout operation attached to a Jamaican grocery in Inglewood near the intersection of Crenshaw and Florence. The market is pictured and the restaurant is in a shack to the left.

The menu consisted of 5 items: fish brown style, jerk chicken, oxtail, curry goat, and brown style chicken. Beef, chicken and veggie patties were also available.

I believe the food is prepared in large batches in the kitchen as my food was delivered in a to-go container within 5 minutes.

Portions were large so I got a small order of goat curry and some beef patties. The patties were good but not as flaky as those at Naturaliart, which continues to be my pinnacle for Jamaican cuisine in Los Angeles.

The goat was plentiful and was served with rice and beans, plantains, salad and a banana. Some of the goat curry was on the bone and some was off the bone. The curry gave the rice a savory flavor.

Overall recommended if in the area but as mentioned above, Naturaliart is the superior option overall both due to the quality of the food and the availability of tables to eat at. Centinela Park is located nearby and has picnic tables, so is a good spot to eat takeout from Stone's Market.