Categories: Cuisines (by Region), African, American, Argentine, Armenian, Brazilian, Chilean, Chinese, Cuban, Ecuadorian, English/UK, Filipino, French, Greek, Hawaiian/Oceania, Indian, Indonesian/Malaysian, Israeli/Kosher, Italian, Jamaican, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Persian, Peruvian, Polish, Thai, Vietnamese
There's a strip of Hollywood Boulevard, before it dies at Hillhurst east of Vermont, that is slowly gathering personality. A few trendy stores, an American Apparel, Vacation Records, the smaller location of Maya, and Yuca's crowd nearby.
In this space, the eastern branch of Cobras & Matadors came and went, not quite belonging. The decor isn't too different--dark and wood and rust--but it's a little more approachable, attended by willowy people in white shirts with varying degrees of confidence.
Umami. You've heard of this fifth taste by now, the savory flavor that the traditional Western sweet/sour/salty/bitter compass doesn't quite grok. The burgers here are very concerned with exploring, or exploiting, or exploding, this fifth sense.
The Umami x6 is their primary beast, a fist-sized, calculated mess, seared hard to be slightly crunchy outside and alarmingly tomato-pink on the inside (a waiter politely confirmed that medium rare is preferred for maximum flavor, with which I agree... but I had misgivings about whether this was actually medium rare). A small pile of onions are done to a cool blanket atop, while a crispy doily of shredded cheese provides crunch. The experience is toothsome, serious, and thought-provoking, and makes me a little sad that it isn't larger, or that there aren't two of them.
The original La Brea location is smaller, cramped actually, its tables surrounded by wooden slats and fireplace bricks. Only at this location can you get the Triple Pork Burger.
Under the butter-wet bun and a single humorless leaf of lettuce is a thick, sordid entity of porcine grandeur. Ground pork, chorizo, applewood smoked bacon (which disappears somehow--I mean, how can you have bacon in a burger and it doesn't stand out?), all lie together like lions with the lamb of melting manchego cheese* swelling from the edges. A pimento aioli sauce drips redly over the side.
Remind me, many long years from now, to have my casket lined with chorizo.
Lots of restaurants throw a green chile or some salsa on something and call it Latin, but their Latin Turkey Burger, available only at the Hollywood location, is inspired and very carefully considered.
A spicy guava glaze like a hot chutney has the most influence here, leaving little room for the chile-lime cucumber sauce and a cool, chunky avocado relish. The effect is warm, lush, tropical, comforting, and more than merely umami, hitting all the corners of the mouth like a rampant jai-alai ball.
The fries aren't too numerous, but they're heavy. Hand cut and triple-cooked, they are salt-encrusted, heat-retaining beams that would get a sunburn if left out on a hot day.
The dipping sauces really make their living here, especially the house spread, which is like thousand island dressing but more well-read. I like the roasted garlic aioli, mayo-thick and creamy white, but then I always like a roasted garlic aioli.
The Sweet Potato Fries are thinly sliced and dusted with what I would swear is raw sugar, and which I'm told also has cinnamon in it, and somehow the effect works. The sweetness of the fries' namesake is drawn out, and the best dipping sauce with this is Umami's ketchup, which is practically a sweet marinara sauce.
I am not a fan of onion rings. I cannot refuse, though, a name like Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings. Presented with the sweet ketchup, each pale golden torus is airy, light and paints the fingers with a sheen of salt and light oil. A hint of malt liquor remains.
The original La Brea joint is open until ten, while Hollywood shrugs and stays open until midnight. A new "Urban" location on Cahuenge is now open.
* Spanish Manchego is, as you may know depending on how long you've been reading this blog, my very favorite cheese. So you know what my bribery price is.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
This is the original joint owned by the family that runs Melody's over on Reseda. They have similar color schemes, in that just about every color is present, especially an electric blue on the walls and enough smiling porcelain sun-god faces to wonder if you're being spied upon.
Las Fuentes is bigger in every respect, but possesses a tighter heavy-duty production assembly. There is an area to order, an area to pick up your drinks and baskets of warm chips, an area to pick up your food, a time to every purpose, under Heaven, etc. Once they call your order in English and Spanish through the loudspeaker, wade through the sea of shuffling people bearing trays and tubs of salsa.
I'm unsure how they accomplish this, considering the high volume of customers, but I'd say Las Fuentes is the better kitchen. This lovely tortilla-cloaked example has no red sauce on it; it's skin-on, wonderfully grilled chicken, and nothing else. No onions (although you put some on from the salsa bar), no cilantro (although you put some on from the salsa bar), and no salsa (etc.). It is glorious and textured, like a crackly mouthful of chicharron.
Not to be outdone, the writhing, violently colored mass that is the Taco de Machaca has enough content to force you to use a fork until it is half gone, at which time you can safely pick it up. The tender, tomato-reddened stew meat seems almost too good for the two poor corn tortillas.
And, oh. This. Another taco you want to try, if only once, is the Taco de Carne con Queso, a thing of savory, explosive beauty. It's cubed steak with tomatoes, with white cheese melted over it, and you aren't sure whether to eat it or pull it up to your shoulders and take a cozy nap under it. A schmear of beans rests underneath for traction. This will cure your hangover... or really, your desire to do anything afterwards.
Whatever meat you order with the Burrito Especial will be deluged with a mass of tasty refried beans and thick slices of avocado. I crave the Al Pastor with its moodily seasoned demeanor and its crispy edges. You can get them Gringo Style, which means there's ranchera sauce and melted cheese over it. The quesadillas, too, are piled high and startle you with the sheer amount of food they hook you up with.
I am very sad at being so full. I have, intentionally and with malice aforethought, eaten too much Las Fuentes, and it is all the fault of my dear friend Doug R. I blame friend Erik H., too, because they used to come here all the time after the clubs closed and I never knew about it.
Las Fuentes is open every day at eight in the morning, so you can get your Huevos al Gusto or your Papas con Chorizo, until 11 at night. A claustrophobic strip along the building serves as a parking lot, for both the restaurant and the folkloric art gallery next door.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, The Valley )
The Burbankian stretch of the 5 Freeway is a haven for chain restaurants*. Despite the small-town-street stylings of San Fernando Blvd., they've jammed a world of consumer-oriented enterprises to make Orange County jealous.
Burbank does have its hidden spots, though, after you've stumbled out of the AMC Theater blinking in the sunlight and looking for lunch. A sign outside Tomo boasts a large vegetarian menu, which brings us inside; we smile at the hundreds upon hundreds of one dollar bills taped to the walls, each decorated by patrons. This is not a precise, minimalist, tightly zen sushi establishment, but is fast and loose, creative and casual without delving into the embarrassing world of sake bombs and setting-sun headbands.
The man behind the counter is Tom, who greets people enthusiastically. Locals know and love this place, caring nothing for the fact that Tom happens to be Chinese, for he obviously loves his craft, putting together unusual combinations which he urges you to try.
The cut rolls here are futomaki style, thick and unwieldy and put together oh-so-fast, many wrapped in ghostly soy paper instead of nori. He is a little heavier on the anointments--shoyu and wasabi--than typical.
His signature piece is the Tomo Roll, a combination of crab, unagi, shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado that works unexpectedly well, wrapped in soy paper and dusted with sesame seeds. The warm, sauce-brushed eel smolders in the center, contrasting with the cold shreds of crab.
We normally shy from casually titled dishes, but the One Night Stand Roll has sinful personality, like an angel descended from Heaven and made you forget your earrings on his/her nightstand. Shrimp tempura and crab meat cohabitate again, but with an orange shock of spicy tuna, making for an energetic mouthful. Again, coolness rubs against the warmth of the shrimp tempura, and the result fairly shines with flavor.
The Futomaki Roll is a nicely mellow in-between piece. Gobo (Japanese carrot) mixes with avocado, strips of fried tofu, cucumber, and shrimp. Tamago (sweet egg) lends a yellow friendliness. This is one of the few rolls encased in the conventional nori instead of soy paper.
The Happy Family Roll is an absurd semicircle of crunchy sweetness; a snappy pile of tempura shavings lies atop more of Tom's smoothly spicy tuna; tempura shrimp tails grin from either end. The interplay of temperature and texture is astounding. The face is drawn with careful squirts from a bottle of sriracha hot sauce.
The ono is something you need to try. Most elegantly presented on the Snow White Roll, the milk-white tuna is draped over a crabmeat-filled roll. It has a quiet intensity to it, worthy of contemplation yet not something in which you overindulge. It is the dot on the exclamation point.
Tom will often prompt you in his booming voice, eliciting your approval with mackerel from Japan (melty), Japanese scallops (sliced like half dollars and incredibly soft). He may finish with a tiny square of nori, on which is an entire clove of Japanese garlic, which pops like a light cashew and has no garlicky reek at all; or, he may throw some spicy tuna, crabmeat and cucumber stick onto stiff fried wonton wrappers and drizzle eel sauce on top for a curious sweetness. Many of these things will be on the house. Before you recover from this epiphany, you will have orange slices and even some Strawberry Pocky.
* Off the top of my head, within potato-gun range: Kabuki, P.F. Chang's, Fuddrucker's, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, BJ's Brewhouse, Hooters, Chevy's Fresh Mex. This does not include the Swedish meatballs at Ikea.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Vegetarian/Vegan, Burbank/North Hollywood, Seafood )
Already I am pleased. The walls are painted an electric Tiffany blue, and there is a massive chalkboard menu with skillfully sketched portraits of, for unknown reasons, Bruce Lee, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart and Barack Obama, plus what may be some family members of this restaurant.
The people here are amazingly nice and helpful, gently admonishing you not to wait too long until you return.
A carafe of cucumber-infused water is brought to you, of which you will drink all. All the utensils and condiments are on your table in neat modern containers, including a brownish green hot sauce that is instantly vigorous but flavorful, and which returns again and again to visit you and remind you to drink all your water.
We have had nothing here that we haven't loved. The Crispy Veggie Egg Rolls are a good start, a septet of nicely fried cylinder halves in a formal dance around an understated dipping sauce. Glass noodles and black mushrooms make the taste clear and divine.
I do not typically order a Thai coconut soup, preferring other broths, and Bianca is usually a fan of udon while I am not, but the Tom Kha Udon is a convincing missionary. The noodles are of perfect consistency, not thick, spongy and elastic as often encountered. Big beautiful slabs of tofu can be hauled up with chopsticks.
The broth is superb, tiny islands of red and orange in a milky sea; it is hot, sour and balanced, with just enough bits of lemongrass for flavor without making it a sargasso of inedible parts. It gains complexity as the surface lowers.
Bianca: The further down this rabbit hole I go, the better it gets.
This, though, is the reason I come here. Their namesake, Wat Dong Moon Lek, is a beef noodle soup, which they have. They also have this pork interpretation of it. The scent alone is intoxicating, the intense broth a porky, salty wonder. The rice noodles are thin but not limp or fragile, rivaling the lusty comfort of ramen. Bean sprouts mix with the noodles, cooked until supple. The pork has a remarkable tenderness between brisket and goose liver, and provokes thought. Shreds of fresh and snarky green onion float around a single, perfect meatball.
We order both soups spicy, and add some of that hot sauce anyway, which nearly compels me to put my dark glasses on over my tear-stained eyes to hide my rookie status. They are, however, tears of joy, for this is a new lunchtime place for me.
A small plate of Hainan Chicken Rice will cure all your ailments. Steamed chicken slices, a sticky mound of garlic rice, and a spicy soy ginger sauce come with a cup of some of the best chicken broth I've tasted, transparent and subtle without a sodium smack.
The Yellow Curry Tofu is just plain well-constructed, generating a slow burn on the tongue. Dense, toothsome potatoes and carrots are cushioned by blocks of tofu, all soaking up a red-polka-dotted broth that turns a pleasing brownish yellow with a swirl of the spoon.
The Pad See Ew with Tofu is tofu blocks fried or soft, Chinese broccoli, and egg assembled over flat noodles. Normally flat noodles irritate me due to being a solid Cthulhoid mass of stuck-together noodles that you may as well use a knife on, but these are still supple and full of saucy flavor.
Besides the much-needed water, to drink there's chrysanthemum tea, but it's in bottles. Go for the Thai iced coffee, sweet and lush and tongue-coating.
Credit goes to Bianca here, for finding a corner advertisement in L.A. Weekly, stabbing it with a finger, and telling me it was time for lunch.
Wat Dong Moon Lek is cash only, and not bad pricewise. It's in a corner mall with fair parking.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Thai )
The main strip along Old Town Pasadena hasn't many old-style Italian joints. Mi Piace has a glassy, designy interior that isn't inspired so much as brisk and effective. However, the black-clad, willowy waitstaff is friendly and attentive, Sinatra's playing, and the menu is legit. A lounge area and bar peeks from a dark corner.
Bianca and I are waiting on a good friend, so we pile on the appetizers. The Calamari Fritti is an most excellent example of squid done well, a gentle fried crunch with tones of lime and cilantro; it's given zest and authority by the jalapeño dipping sauce.
The Patate Fritte--I know. French fries? At an Italian place? Why, Dave? Look, we're hungry and don't feel like caprese at the moment--are thin columns of spiced gold, tossed with cayenne, rosemary and oregano. The spicy ketchup and honey mustard are fun but add mostly color.
Bianca is enamored of butternut squash and all its autumnal glory, and therefore the Butternut Squash Soup suits well, thick with cream and silky with a slight vegetal sniff of disdain.
They do pastas here lightly, with a subtle yet confident hand. The Rigatoni con Salsiccia has mild but juicy crumbled Italian sausage, rapini wilted just so (spinach would assert itself too heavily here), sun-dried tomatoes and intimidating slices of garlic, every item singing clearly and defined. The white wine and pecorino cheese sauce bring them together vibrantly on the tongue.
Parking is wishful thinking along the street, but this stretch of Colorado has a number of public lots nearby.
Thanks to Marcia for letting us tag along with her.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra )
It might be Sante Cuisine now instead of Sante La Brea, and it might have had a rocky beginning, and it might have had its menu revamped by Gordon Ramsay, but I'm afraid I got here after all this happened. Let others argue about it; to me it seems to have hit its eclectic stride on this busy/quiet stretch of La Brea.
The interior is a darkened counter area that's dark, modern and leafy, but there is a comforting rustic wooden patio, decorated as if a yoga studio or a Thai massage parlor suddenly sprouted inside an Idea. A stone waterfall mixes with background grooves and the drone of passing cars.
This is actually refreshing, and you must trust us even while we tell you it's made with chlorophyll and alkaline water. The Green-Aid Slushy looks like an overdose of Nyquil, but is nowhere near as terrifyingly vegetal as it appears; with lime juice and agave (which is rapidly becoming the coolest sweetener this side of Elysium), it's cooling and healthy.
The soups are satisfyingly expressed. The Tortilla Soup is a thick puree with a southwestern roasted red pepper vibe, and is just plain bowl-scrapingly good. A few freshly made tortilla strips add a scratchy wholesomeness to the texture.
The Vegan Chili (or turkey if you like; Sante provides for its non-vegetarian diners) has a real "ground meat" feel, with beans and spices and density. It is, for want of a better word, hearty. Fresh scallions and carrot strips give crunch. Both bowls come with a pair of crispy pita chips.
As a fine introduction to the well-thought menu of Sante, the Chicken Sandwich can be chicken proper or vegan Chick-un (despite its pointless name, I don't mind the latter texturewise). The chick-un is marinated and grilled firm, thickly cut and dense; like a breast of chicken, you must find the "grain" to bite across, on peril of pulling it out from underneath the rustic, pitted whole wheat roll. There is leafy green lettuce, a subtle vegan dijonaise, and some red onions are sautéed into submission on top.
With this is Rosemary Red Potatoes, cut into half-inch rounds and grilled to a fork-tender, pleasant orange. There is a slaw as well, freshly chopped but with too much of a sour dressing for my liking.
Bianca is on a beet salad kick, and the Beet Beet Salad [sic] is a deeply purpled favorite of hers, sans the toasted pine nuts usually scattered atop. It's not complicated: mixed greens with a handful of feta cheese and a dressing-coated bit of slaw, and there is no need to hunt through the salad to find the beets, for there is a goodly amount, leaving the plate a red-stained joy. The lemon vinaigrette is greenish and balanced.
Sante is open until ten most days. There seems to be an abbreviated parking lot in the alley, but otherwise there should be some open meters on La Brea.
Many thanks to Jeff and a greeting of namaste to Ashaa for the recommendation.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Pizza )