Monday, January 30, 2012
Torrance and Koreatown may be the two neighborhoods/cities in Southern California with the greatest concentration of specialist restaurants due to their concentration of Japanese and Korean restaurants and the popularity of such restaurants in those cultures. Kagura in Torrance is arguably the preeminent Katsu specialist; in addition to pork katsu, there is chicken katsu and a millefeuille pork katsu, which like the pastry has layer upon layer within the breading, only in this case layers of sliced black pork loin cutlet, not pastry. If you prefer your fried food in seafood form, oyster cutlets, salmon cutlets and crab cream croquette are all available to be fried to order.
I recently had the Chicken Oroshi Katsu Gozen lunch ($12.95) which is a deep fried free range chicken cutlet served with a radish ponzu sauce. The accompaniments are sliced cabbage, steamed grain rice, pickled vegetables, tofu and another veggie. A pork miso soup was also included but was not sampled.
The cutlet itself was a thing of beauty. Lightly fried, the cutlet arrived on a metal grate, so that the breading would not separate from the chicken cutlet due to steam and to facilitate saucing. The breading was nice and crispy and remarkably free of grease. The radish ponzu sauce added to the salty crunchy flavor by adding another layer of taste as well as cooling the piping hot katsu. The cutlet itself is quite large; this is not a light lunch, more the type of meal you want to come home and take a nap after eating.
Service was friendly and efficient and everyone in the restaurant seemed to be eating katsu of some form or another. Toyko Katsu is written on the sign above the name of the restaurant, in case you were wondering what to order.
Kagura: 1652 Cabrillo Avenue @ Carson St, Torrance. 310.787.0227 | Kagura Website
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Winter at the beach in Los Angeles doesn't quite evoke the need for warm fireplaces when you sit in the shadow of palm trees, but in the evening the temperature drops in Venice and hearty winter fare comes to mind. Perhaps something like the goose pâté served with warm toast and huckleberries pictured above? Chef Brendan Collins of Waterloo and City has brought his love for charcuterie to Larry's and the terrines and pâtés have traveled well from Culver City to the Venice boardwalk.
The dish is simple with the sugar and acid of the huckleberries cutting the rich fattiness of the pâté. Spread some on the warm toast and you are in business. Best of all, this dish is included in the Dine LA Restaurant Week menu, so if you get to Larry's soon, you get an even better deal.
Larry's: 24 Winward Ave., Venice.| 310.399.2700 | larrysvenice.com
Mezze, Micah Wexler's Mediterranean restaurant on La Cienega, recently launched a Sunday night only special menu of matzo ball soup and pastrami sandwich. The regular menu is also available on Sunday evenings, but these two Jewish deli classics are hard to resist. Fortunately for Dine LA fans, they are both on the Mezze Restaurant Week menu if you eat at Mezze on a Sunday.
The Matzo Ball soup ($10) was excellent. The matzo ball was light and fluffy and the broth was intense and rich and sprinkled with chicken cracklings. Large chunks of chicken meat, carrots, celery and onions all lurk beneath the surface of the broth. This is not a dish you are going to want to share.
The Pastrami Sandwich ($15) was also quite good, although the bread was too soft for my taste. The pastrami meat was well seasoned but mild if eaten alone. It is the house-made mustard that truly gives the sandwich a kick. The combination of the sliced pastrami, the mustard and the bread does form a wonderful sandwich. If they had bread from Langer's, it would be a true home run. The meat is thickly sliced and the portion is filling without being huge. Good stuff. Perhaps Chef Wexler should consider opening up a deli as a spinoff and give Canter's a run for its money in the neighborhood. With Langer's not open for business in the evening, the matzoh ball soup and sandwich is the best Jewish deli for miles around, if only for one night a week.
Mezze: 401 N. La Cienega Blvd, Mid City. | 310.657.4103 | mezzela.com
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Beijing Pie House in Monterey Park is known for their signature dish of meat pies. The Lamb Meat Pies may be the ultimate dish here and they come come four to an order for $7. Picture a hockey puck shaped dumpling filled with a savory lamb patty and scalding hot lamb jus. The dumplings are dangerous in that the soup they contain is both extremely flavorful and extremely hot. Prepare for the jus to squirt when you bite into one or pierce one with your chopstick.
This is not dainty food; prepare for a mess and you will see that it is worth the effort. The lamb soup and lamb patty that lie within the dough combine to make one of the perfect bites of Los Angeles. As a lamb fan, this dish is irresistible although I have yet to determine the optimal method of eating the pies without the hot jus running down my fingers.
What better way to enhance your lamb experience at Beijing Pie House than by adding the Lamb Noodle Soup ($6.29) to the order. The soup is served in a large bowl and the broth is imbued with the lamb meat flavor. Unlike some restaurants where the broth in the soup seems like a sauce for the noodles; here it takes center stage and is served in an ample sized portion relative to the noodles and lamb. The noodles are nicely chewy and the soup is the perfect thing on a chilly day or evening.
Please note that Beijing Pie House is cash only. There are several other types of meat pies available but the lamb ones are so enticing, I have never made it further than that dish on the menu.
Beijing Pie House: 846 E. Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park. | 626.288.3818
Golden Road Brewery debuted two new ventures this month: The Pub at Golden Road Brewery and the launch of their beer in cans. The brewery is located just north of Atwater Village alongside the train tracks on San Fernando Road. The pub is now open 7 days a week from 11 am - 11 pm and features 10-12 proprietary beers as well as 10-12 guest taps from other brewers that Golden Road respects. The project is the latest venture from Tony Yanow, who is well known in the Los Angeles craft beer community for his other ventures Tony's Dart's Away and Mohawk Bend. For Golden Road, he partnered with Meg Gill, who at 26 is already a veteran of the craft beer movement.
Both of Golden Road's two flagship beers are available in cans: Point the Way IPA and Golden Road Hefeweizen. The six packs are $12. At the brewery, several limited releases are available on tap. These include Burning Bush IPA, EL Hefe Anejo (tequila barrel aged Hefeweizen infused with agave and mesquite honey), Festivus Cinnamon Bitter and Rye on the Palate. On the day I visited they were already out of the Hefe Anejo and the Lost its Way IPA. I was able to try the Rye on the Palate, which is pictured at the top of this page. The Rye on the Palate was delicious; it is lightly hoppy, and the rye gives it that wonderful bready smell (though it can't substitute for a load from Langer's.
The menu at the pub is gastropub meets vegan, as Yanow is well known for his vegan offerings at Tony's Dart's Away and Mohawk Bend. Customers order at the bar and are given a buzzer that goes off when their food is ready. I tried the Sloppy Joseph, a grown-up take on the classic Sloppy Joe, which is made with stout braised beef short-ribs, fried shallots and house-made bbq sauce. The sandwich appeared on the small side but it turned out to be quite filling as well as well seasoned. The flavorful short ribs were overflowing the bun and I opted for the addition of the coleslaw ($3) which was light and a good companion to the sandwich as it was mayonnaise free (and vegan). I saw several pretzels go out and they are huge.
The setting is comfortable in casual as the interior seating and bar itself are located in a warehouse style building that has been built out. Concrete floors and a ceiling high enough to play basketball in are signature elements of the space. Simple dark wood chairs and tables, including several communal tables fill out the interior. There is also a retail area selling six packs of the beer cans and other assorted merchandise.
On my visit the Golden Road Brews beer menu was as follows:
Burning Bush IPA - $6
Either Side of the Hill - American Strong Ale - $6
El Hefe Anejo - tequila barrel aged Hefeweizen - $6
Festivus Cinnamon Bitter - $6
Golden Road Hefeweizen - $4/$5
Get Up Offa that Brown - $5/$6
Lost its Way IPA - $5
Point the Way IPA - $4/$5
Rye on the Palate - $6
Schwartz Stout - $5/$6
Several of the beers are available in small and large sizes.
On a warm day, the patio is the place to be as you can relax outdoors without being too far from the bar for the inevitable refill of liquid refreshment and with no waiters, you don't have to worry about getting anyone's attention.
I recommend heading over to Atwater Village and hoisting a pint yourself to check it out. The craft beer movement in Los Angeles is truly coming into its own and it is exciting to have another solid brewery right in our own backyard. I feel sorry for the folks who go by on the trains alongside Golden Road as they have to watch happy customers enjoying beers outside while they are trapped in slow moving tin cans with mass market brews, if they are fortunate to have any beer at all.
Golden Road Brewery & Pub: 5410 West San Fernando Road. | 213.373.4677 | goldenroad.la
Monday, January 23, 2012
Recently even The Tasting Kitchen in Venice got in on the act, with Chef Casey Lane adding a special of Goat Schnitzel with pickled onion and brown butter to the menu.
In the DTLA Arts District, across the street from Church & State Bistro, Little Bear opened earlier this month in the former home of Royal Clayton's Pub. The Belgian Beer specialist is a bar and cafe and has sixteen selections on tap as well as an extensive bottle list. The food menu tends toward gastropub options.
One of the signature food items is the gougeres which come with either sous-vide pork belly, duck confit or fried oysters inside a gourgere, sandwich-style. They come three to an order and are different than any gougere I have ever seen before. Expect to find sandwiches as well as dishes like duck confit and the Belgian classic of waterzooi on the menu.
I enjoyed several of the draught beers but the best beer I sampled was the Jandrain-Jandrenouille VI Saison, which is available by the bottle. Ryan Sweeney of Verdugo Bar and Surly Goat curated the beer list. Sweeney is one of the best beer-men in Southern California and has relationships with breweries such as Russian River that are loath to take on additional accounts, so he brings access as well as expertise to the table at Little Bear. The list is a mix of beers from Belgium and Belgian-style beers from California breweries such as The Bruery (their Wanderer is pictured below) and North Coast. The most interesting selections are on the bottle list, so bring some friends and try a few large format bottles.
The bar has been busy thus far, so plan on a wait for a seat unless you arrive on the early side.
Little Bear: 1855 Industrial Street, DTLA. 213.622.8100 | littlebearla.com
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Follow the sign to Sunny Spot, the latest partnership between Dave Reiss and Chef Roy Choi who previously collaborated at A-Frame and the Alibi Room. Sunny Spot occupies the former home of Beachwood, where Abbot Kinney spills into Washington Blvd. Choi has excised any ghosts of chefs past, including Jamie Lauren, with his new Caribbean menu. Brian Butler created the cocktail list and has also curated the largest selection of rum on the Westside. The restaurant website describes Sunny Spot as "that place where everyday is a holiday and food makes you smile."
If you begin your visit with a cocktail, and you should, the Chilcano Bay is an excellent way to start. It is made with Pisco, lime juice, ginger, lemongrass and Fernet Branca.
The Yuca Fries ($4) are wonderfully crunchy and are served with a tangy spicy sauce "banana thai basil ketchup." We began eating them before this photo was taken as we were hungry and they looked so appetizing.
Enjoyable but not as stellar as the yuca fries, the Sweet and Salty Fried Plantains are smaller than the yuca fries, crispy and a little sweet. These are also only $4, so why choose, get both. The pricing at Sunny Spot is very accessible and makes ordering many plates to share a reasonable strategy both from a variety and a budgetary perspective.
The "What a Jerk Wings" are double coated and double fried chicken wings. They are a little too crunchy, for chicken wings.
Perhaps the best item on the menu may be the Whole Snapper ($35), which is known on the menu as "Yeah, I'm Staring Atchu Fish." The fish is served whole with ginger oil, lime and chili vinegar. The snapper was perfectly cooked and each bite had so much flavor our dining party fought over the choicest bits including the cheeks; the fish bones were picked clean when we were done.
I found the broiled Hamachi Collar ($14) to be a little spicy. It was prepared with garlic thyme butter, lime, and a banana chili glaze. While enjoyable it paled in comparison to the whole snapper which preceded it; I prefer the version found at traditional Japanese restaurants.
The Bijou with rum is one of my favorite cocktails I have had of late. Typically made with gin, vermouth and chartreuse, Butler substituted rum for the gin and a great cocktail got even better. The Bijou is boozy, has layers of flavor and is highly recommended.
Yellow Salty Rice doesn't sound very interesting yet we ordered seconds. There is something addictive about this yellow rice that beckons for just one more spoonful. If it makes you thirsty for another of Butler's cocktails, that is just an added bonus.
Slow Roasted Goat ($15) is described as the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) on the menu and while it may not quite deserve that moniker, it is well worth ordering. The tasty goat is served with pickled mango and would be a good introduction to the meat for goat-virgins.
All of the interior and exterior spaces have been redone. Below, the firepits that used to be outside have gone and the patio is now more of a comfortable and casual seating area.
In the main dining room, which is known as the Rum Den, a wall was removed, which really opens up the space. This room contains a bar dedicated to sipping rums and a table in the corner referred to as the "Bird Cage". My favorite of the three dining areas is the "Front Room", perhaps for its proximity to the bar as well as for the communal tables, which have a lot of room; perfect for sharing tons of small plates.
Only the Rum Den takes reservations so two thirds of Sunny Spot is for walk-ins, which makes it easy to stop by and have a drink or a whole meal, depending on your mood and not worry about waiting hours for a seat to open up. I recommend trying several of the sipping rums as well. The Rhum Barbancourt 15 year from Haiti is something special, but there are tons of gems on the menu. So check it our for yourself and see if the experience "makes you smile."
Sunny Spot: 822 Washington Blvd @ Abbot Kinney. Phone: 310.448.8884 | http://sunnyspotvenice.com/
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Kris Morningstar has been a highly regarded chef for over half a decade in Los Angeles, but he may have been better known for his itinerant ways than for the food on his plates; until now. In the past few years Morningstar was the chef at District, CASA and Blue Velvet but he has finally found a match between chef and restaurant where each is perfectly suited for the other at Ray's, the restaurant part of the new Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA. The restaurant has achieved acclaim including a coveted spot on Esquire Magazine's Best New Restaurants list.
I was recently invited to try the tasting menu, paired with wine by sommelier Paul Sanguinetti. The setting is comfortable modern, a cross between the Jetson's and something out of 2001 A Space Odyssey. The meal begins on a fun note as the placesettings are hidden in a drawer under the table in front of each diner.
The meal started with an amuse of Cauliflower with caper and raisin puree and Italian flat leaf parsley. The combination of sweet and savory welcomed our taste buds to the food and wine that was to follow.
The first course was Kanpachi with pineapple guava, serrano chiles and mint. I found the fish to be on the bland side with the only flavor coming from the salt and the chiles. The sashimi was accompanied by a Habit Wine Company chenin blanc, a New World chenin blanc from Santa Barbara.
The second course was a Foie Gras and Pheasant Terrine with apple and onion compote and frisee, roasted pecan and sunchoke salad. The foie and pheasant was a luxurious winter game terrine that packed the flavor I had missed in the prior course. The rich terrine paired well with the sweet compote and the salad served as a suitable palate cleanser in between bites. This dish was paired with an Old World chenin blanc, which was an interesting "pendant" to the New World wine served with the sashimi.
The third course was Sweet Corn Agnolotti with hen of the woods mushrooms and pine nuts. This was the most successful dish of the evening, a really delicious combination of savory mushrooms and sweet corn. If you see Agnolotti on the menu, order them. The pasta was paired with Bouregard chardonnay from Santa Cruz hills which was aged in oak barrels which gave it a deep flavor which played off the mushrooms.
The fourth course was Wild Salmon, served with elephant mushrooms and a roasted beet puree. The salmon had a delightfully crispy skin that added a pleasing textural element to the dish. The wine paired with the fish was a Dolcetto de Dogliani , a smoky Italian red.
For our fifth course and final savory course, Morningstar prepared a Dry Aged Hanger Steak served with forest mushrooms, black vinegar sauce and cream of leek. The intense black vinegar sauce brought the dish together and again the mushrooms were outstanding. The paired negrette was earthy and a good match to the well aged steak and the mushrooms.
The meal concluded with two dessert courses: Chocolate Mousse (above) and the Sticky Toffee Pudding (below) with seared figs, goats milk ice cream and English toffee. The toffee pudding was the winner, a sweet and salty conclusion to the meal that sent us out into the night on a high note.
LACMA finally has a worthy dining destination and Morningstar has a kitchen where he can execute his artistic vision. I look forward to seeing how this marriage evolves. I have a feeling we'll be seeing Morningstar's menus at Ray's for years to come. After you have finished up your dinner, where better to walk off your meal than Urban Light, Chris Burden's sculpture of two hundred cast-iron lampposts? Take advantage of Ray's LACMA setting to truly make an evening of it. There are few such dramatic restaurant settings in the whole city.
All photos courtesy of TreasureLA
Ray's & Stark Bar: 5905 Wilshire Blvd (LACMA), Mid City. 323.857.6180. | Website
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
When I was invited to try brunch at Mohawk Bend, the craft beer bar and restaurant which opened last fall to much buzz, I was very intrigued. Brunch service just began and I was curious to see what owner Tony Yanow had in mind as his establishments are known for their extensive vegan options.
In addition to several dozen taps of local craft beer, Mohawk Bend has a full bar and cocktail program and a Pisco Sour is an excellent way to begin a morning meal. It is made with frothy egg-whites and Pisco, so you could consider it a meal in a glass. Who doesn't enjoy eggs at breakfast? The Pisco Sour was well executed, not too sweet or tart and appropriately frothy.
Sorry vegans, but Huevos Divorciados is the must order item at brunch. It is made with fried eggs, chilaquiles, red & green salsas, queso fresco and crème fraiche. The fried corn tortillas were at that perfect stage between nicely crispy and soggy and the salsas were piquant and flavorful.
The Vegan Scrapple was a pleasant surprise as the dish is usually made with pork leftover bits (scraps, hence the name scrapple) and cornmeal before being combined and fried. This version includes vegan sausage and was served on a bed of tomato sauce. It was reminiscent of polenta cakes and rather tasty. I have never had the pork version, but this is a filling dish that while not evoking meat, was satisfying as it is. The other ingredients in the scrapple include broccolini, rappini, spinach, onions, scallions, pasilla chiles, thyme, sage, soy milk, organic polenta, and house made veggie stock. Just like the traditional version, the chef uses the leftover scraps of what is available in the kitchen, although in this case that means veggies not bacon bits. The tomato sauce had a nice slight kick from garlic and chile de arbol.
Elvis French Toast is a tribute to The King: french toast sandwiches with bananas and bacon and served with peanut butter syrup. I was not a fan of this dish which was served cut-up in four pieces. I had a version without the bacon and it likely doesn't work as well as the bacon can aid the flavors in coming together. The bacon-fiends I was with enjoyed this dish significantly more than I did.
Sera's Signature Waffle is both vegan and gluten free. The waffle is served with a choice of peanut butter, maple or pecan syrup. If you are not a vegan, I do not recommend this dish as it doesn't capture the essence of a waffle as it lacks the eggs which help provide texture and consistency.
It never hurts to add a bit of greens to a meal, especially when the JJ Kale salad is on offer. It is a wilted salad of kale seared with garlic and chili, topped with julienned jicama. The jicama is sweet and refreshing and has a wonderful crunch and the seared kale also provides some crunch and pow from the garlic and chili. A healthy accompaniment to the Huevos Divorciados or the Scrapple.
Best of all should you want to have a brew with your brunch, the full selection is available. Beer, it's what's for breakfast. Plus, Mohawk Bend now takes reservations.
Mohawk Bend: 2141 W. Sunset Blvd, Echo Park. Phone: 213.483.2337 | mohawk.la
Monday, January 16, 2012
2012 looks to continue one of the biggest LA restaurant trends of 2011: gourmet pizza, especially in the Neapolitan style. The first contender to open is 800 Degrees, from Adam Fleischman, the owner/founder of Umami Burger. I was invited to try the pizza just before it opened and I think Fleischman will have another hit on his hands. The pizza is good, but moreover it is an amazing value. The ability to have a handmade Margherita pizza for only $6 is mind boggling.
Customers enter the line near the entrance and are offered their choice of three base pizzas: Margherita ($6) with crushed tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, olive oil and basil; Bianca ($5, white pie) with fresh mozzarella, garlic, oregano, olive oil and sea salt; or a Marinara ($5, sauce but no cheese) with crushed tomato sauce, garlic oregano and olive oil. Oregano, chiles and garlic are all available as free add-ons.
Once they select their base pie, patrons have a choice of about 30 toppings, most of which are $1, including a variety of proteins, cheeses and vegetables. Note that rock shrimp, proscuitto, truffle cheese and artichokes are $3.
We began our sampling with two variations on the Margherita pie. Above just garlic was added. Below, with cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and carmelized onions. Both were enjoyable and were prepared speedily. In case you were wondering, 800 Degrees is the temperature of the pizza oven, and due to the high heat, the pizzas cook in only one to two minutes. By the time you are through the line after customizing your pie and perhaps getting a salad to go with it and paying, your pizza will be ready. It is that fast. Everything about a meal at 800 Degrees is easy - a few choices which can be customized any way you like (this is not one of those no substitutions, no changes, no exceptions joints), fast service and reasonable prices. Even the soda machine can mix and match literally hundreds of flavors, depending on your mood.
As mentioned above, the toppings are incredibly reasonably priced. Below is the Bianca with meatballs (beef), which are broken up into small bits once you order, and an additional cheese. I will certainly be back to try more variations as the convenience factor, price point and quality are an impressive combination. Pizza, toppings and a beverage for $10? You could pay more in a mall food court for a far inferior product. 800 Degrees is using ingredients from good producers; even the eggs are from organic free-range chickens.
For dessert there is Gelato from LA Creamery. The pistachio flavor was the hit of our group, although the cookies and cream was rather popular too. The gelato is also only $2.50 per scoop.
Below, the literal Ferrari of soda fountains, produces endless varieties of beverages. Vanilla root beer is my recommendation.
Another bonus is that 800 Degrees does both take-out and delivery in addition to dine-in and you can order online on their website. Quality, convenience and value and most importantly a good tasting pizza? Watch out Westwood Village.
800 Degrees: 10889 Lindbrook Drive @ Westwood Blvd, Westwood Village. | 424.239.5010 | 800degreespizza.com