Category: East Side/Downtown
Scenario: club night Saturday, 3am homecoming. Sunday lunchtime with general body ache and dearth of nutrients. A prescription for club recovery is needed.
I do not mean to lessen the elegance of Chin-Ma-Ya, for it is a happy addition to the Weller Court eateries. It's far more than simple replenishment, and is one of the rare places where I have taken a single bite and started smiling, and left with a sense of euphoria. It has a quiet charm factor: if you're a girl, you get ice water in a pink plastic cup. Boys get blue cups. ^__^
The tan-tan men is item one on the Club-Recovery Prescription, its broth the color of pumpkin, with swirls of darkness left by the heap of ground beef and pork on top. The ramen noodles are thin like chow mein, with slivers of spinach leaf. The spice level is variable according to your wishes, but is generally slow and ominous, like wandering through dangerous streets, until you hit occasional pockets of heat that bum-rush you and take your wallet.
Item two on the CRP is the chin-ma han: tofu simmered with ground beef and pork, absolutely luxurious on the taste buds. The steamed rice is slightly sticky and perfect for soaking itself with the rich mah-bo mixture. It complements the ramen, or the ramen complements it.
Chin-Ma-Ya's specialty is to combine these two staples. A big chin-ma han and small tan-tan men? Vice versa? A mini version of each? Adjust to suit.
There is also gyoza, as might be expected, and karaage (Japanese fried chicken, pictured at right), so more glee is to be had. The crispy batter around the karaage crackles and shatters into full, steaming flavor, made sharper by a chili-mayo dipping sauce with a habañero sting.
Apologies to vegetarians: you can order the ramen without the ground meat, but it's still a chicken-and-pork broth. You can, however, order green onions, bean sprouts, negi (Japanese leeks), and enoki mushrooms.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese, Chinese )
This place is always, always hidden behind the gaggle of people waiting to get in. There are six or seven restaurants along this First Street row, and Daikokuya is the one with the wait.*
Inside is a noisy sauna of a restaurant, booming with shrill Japanese pop songs and the resonant voices of black-shirted waitstaff. Postwar metal signs for Japanese beverages and cleaning supplies line the walls. Do not adjust your television set; the red vinyl booth you're sitting in is really that lopsided. Behind the counter, kerchiefed chefs knock out dishes as if attacking the minions of the Big Boss.
What is mostly written about, salivated over, and ranked highly among the ramens of Los Angeles is the Daikoku ramen, a tonkotsu soup base of royal stature and great secrecy. The broth is tawny and opaque, its nearly shredded planks of Kurobuta (black pork) hovering under the surface with curly chijire egg noodles, boiled eggs of fishcake softness, and crisp rings of scallion.
The broth can be brought to even greater heights of porkitude, believe it or no, by ordering it with kotteri flavor, which means they'll add soup made from back fat. This, of course, cannot be bad for you, and you cannot convince me otherwise.
There are other exclamation-eliciting dishes here. The Tuna Sashimi Bowl is a simple quintet of raw tuna, cool and stoic, draped over a mound of sticky rice with sesame seeds and nori strips underneath. Bianca's new favorite "I can has?!" appetizer is the Fried Spicy Tuna, a modern art piece of neon green tempura that's eyebrow-raising until you discover that the tuna is wrapped in shiso leaf before frying, giving it a fantastic zing. There is no dipping sauce, but rather a small dish of salt. It is soft, absurd, and addictive.
There is a Daikokuya in the Marukai food court in Costa Mesa, and a new location in Monterey Park.
* Around 10pm on a Monday night? From half an hour to an hour.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese )
This is another of our Olvera Street getaways, with brick arches and black iron chairs. Find a table inside the cavernous old room that used to be a winery*, or do as we do, and sit outside on the patio. Gaze out onto the middle lane of Olvera Street, listening to trios of old men with guitars, vihuelas and maracas stepping between the tables, wailing plaintive rancheras. Little birds sweep past under the low ceiling.
The tortillas are house-made on the large white tortilla dome inside; the chips are dry but warm, and the soft corn tortillas are wonderful things, thick and slightly scratchy. The salsa is a spicy red.
The plates are very home-kitchen style, comfortable heaps of variety. The cheese is welded to the unashamedly lard-heavy beans, the hard-shell tacos and enchiladas exactly as desired. The carne asada, seasoned with a subtle touch, is done heavier than you ordered, so go medium rare. The veggie burrito is a bulky exercise in gardening, with no shortage of veggies; broccoli, cauliflower and carrot number among the expected bell peppers and onions.
El Paseo does them very well, but Bianca and I shake our heads at those who order sizzling iron plates of fajitas, or Lady of Guadalupe forbid, U.S. American food. (Bianca: people who order burgers and fries at Mexican restaurants should go home.)
They have a few drinks available, such as sipping tequilas and a few named classics. The Latin Lover is amaretto-flavored coffee, Kahlua and tequila topped with whipped cream, sultry and hot, slightly heavy on the Kahlua. The El Paseo Margarita is automatically on the rocks but in a massive glass, with Don Julio, Grand Marnier and sweet & sour; it's smooth and confident.
El Paseo Inn is owned by Camacho's, and I'm all right with that.
* That is, before 1953. Before that, the E-11 location was Café Caliente. Before that, it was the Padre Vineyard Company. Before that, it was the Cucamonga Winery. Before that, in 1871, it was the Pelanconi Winery. Isn't L.A. history grand?
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, East Side/Downtown )
At the bottom of one of the architecturally surprising buildings of downtown, amid pillars and arches and friezes darkened by weather, is Ciao. We were introduced to this place by good friends of ours on a Valentine's Day four-course pre-fix meal, and so we must return to try the pasta dishes that a name like "Ciao" suggests. The chefs take an obvious delight in their studies, succeeding in bringing forth taste from what would seem like pretentiously foodie-bait combinations.
The rolls are warm and lip-smackingly garlicky. The Pastries in Croute are small, heart-shaped vegetable medleys with a flaky crust. The Crab Cakes (read: crab cake, as in singular) are soft and almost sweet, with an endive-style lettuce and walnuts in a honey mustard dressing. The beet salad is fairly minimal--the amount of crimson slices of beet can be counted on a hand--but it's spicy with arugula in a strawberry dressing.
The courses do not photograph well but are absolutely good. I've relished the chicken breast sliced and filled with mushroom, wrapped in prosciutto and served with fingerling potatoes in a zinfandel sauce. The chicken is crisp and astoundingly tender throughout, the prosciutto giving the outer skin a lovely, spicy snap.
A winner here is the pan-roasted striped bass, with garlic mashed potatoes in a lemon caper sauce. The bass has almost a twice-baked mashed-potato consistency, crusted on top and gentle and airy inside.
The tiramisu thankfully isn't layered with a winter-warning cover of cocoa powder, but is more of a cheesecake-like glaze which brings out the texture of the ladyfingers. The Double Chocolate Mousse Heart is divinity poured into a chocolate shell.
I have no clue where to park, having parked across from the Staples Center for a sporting event. My apologies for my lack of helpful knowledge, but my thanks to Ron and Joyce for bringing us here and sharing many glasses of wine with us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, East Side/Downtown, American )
Food As Medicine
A few of the many locations, since Tacos Mexico is a remarkably skittish little establishment and can't be easily discovered:
Beverly Blvd., Temple & Westmoreland: map
Van Nuys & Sherman Way, in Van Nuys: map
Tampa & Saticoy, in Reseda: map
Glendale Blvd. & Alvarado, in Echo Park: map
Olympic west of Atlantic, above the 5: map
Ah, now this is one of those places to refuel after stumbling out of whatever club you're regretting, for a new lubrication of cooked flesh and spice and tortilla. Placed strategically like hospitals across California (and one in Vegas, I'm told), the red and white shield stands forth against late-night debauchery and overindulgence. Some are better, and some are iffy: standing proudly on Beverly in front of the Mexican Village Restaurant*, hiding in a strip mall on Tampa and Saticoy, moldering on the corner where Alvarado collides with Glendale Blvd.
The inside is consistent; a massive jukebox bursts with rancheras and norteño, accompanied by chopping sounds from the kitchen and questioning bleeps from the battered arcade games lurching against one wall (usually Galaga, Cruis'n, Ms. Pac Man). The menu looks like it has a lot of things, but it's basically repeating the same meats (al pastor, lengua, pollo, carne asada, et al) for each item.
This used to be a cheap-taco-fix spot, but I see the tacos are a buck and a nickel, and the salsas are by request instead of waiting in the salsa bin. The tacos are piled high on top of heavily oiled tortillas, requiring much napkinnage. The burritos (with everything, por favor) are broad and packed with awesome. Everything is paper plates and tinfoil, and you don't need it to be anything more.
The al pastor doesn't leap out at you, but is spicy and good. The carnitas rate highly, chopped fine and dripping. The asada is what shines here, moister than most and really maintaining a juicy, steaky flavor instead of succumbing to grey dryness. For those in the mood for such things, Tacos Mexico does a really good plate of nachos.
* This one can't be found online. At all.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, East Side/Downtown, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, The Valley, Late Night/24 Hours )
The seedy little Japanese diner that could
314 E. 2nd Street (in Little Tokyo)
Phone: 213-687-4972 | map
Is it Koraku? Ko-raku? Ko-oraku? Kouraku? Doesn't matter. One sign spells it one way, the other another. It's a cash-only Japanese/Chinese joint, shouting its diner heritage with vibrant red-orange booths and blue-shirted waitresses that greet you with a chorus of irasshaimase! Large posters dot the walls in lieu of decor, ads for Asahi, Kirin, and... Budweiser? Go with it. The music might be Michael McDonald, sometimes Stevie Nicks, occasionally Eurythmics, interspersed with Motown.
There is a paper wall menu that may or may not match the one in your hand. Take long minutes to peruse both and grab an appetizer. The Chinese kimchee [sic] is mild, but invokes coughs when enough is consumed. It's an excellent spark for your blood vessels.
The dishes at the right look a little dingy and murky. Pay no attention. That concoction at the top is a cure-all called tenshin men. Say, would you like a shrimp omelette? Sure. Shall we put that on top of a warm, comforting bowl of ramen? Yes, yes you shall. The shrimps are tiny and pink and perfectly woven into the fluffy egg, which settles down into the soup. Arigato gozaimasu! Xie xie!
The bulky bowl underneath is meant to be Stamina ramen. At least that's what I ordered: ground pork, garlic sprouts and ramen noodles. I hadn't expected the long strips of green beans, mushrooms, water chestnuts and a spice level between Orochon's #3 and #4. Hearty indeed, with some forehead blotting.
The ramen noodles have a definite curl to them, so might be kind of on the packaged side, and the shoyu broth itself is fairly mild and unobtrusive, but the overall effect is that of warmth and comfort.
The service is brisk and full of smiles. Parking can be found in many of the little public lots around Little Tokyo. Koraku is open until three in the morning except on Sundays, where it closes at midnight.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese, Chinese, Late Night/24 Hours )