Filling all the little corners
11660 Gateway Blvd. (just below the 10 freeway)
Phone: 877-518-5151 | map
There is a surprising little corner mall that springs up right where Gateway and Barrington rub shoulders with each other; find a space in the lot and head toward the bright red neon letters.
It smells incredibly good inside, but you may not notice this yet, since the music is likely to range from slow Cuban son to cheesy disco remakes of the Beatles and Coldplay, to your favorite '70s won't-you-come-back hits.
The kitchen is pan-Asian, so your cravings for ramen, soon tofu, cha han, bulgogi, and pho, can be lessened from the izakaya style menu.
I urge you to explore beyond your normal limits. The Tako Wasa, for instance. This is wasabi-marinated raw octopus, which, I must tell you before your North American tongue stampedes toward the exits, is rich and fabulous, a balance between chewy and gelatinous, bathed in a glaze that is sweet and sour like a mabo tofu dish. It can be a little challenging to the chopsticks but is worth it.
Or for familiarity with extra explosive Japanese flavor, I rarely deny myself Kurobuta sausage. A quartet of finger-length links are scored dozens of times and sizzled to a burnt snap. The scent is alluring, and the sausage barely needs dips in the tangy ketchup or dijon mustard.
Back on the adventurous side, I have been happily introduced to yukke, which is a mound of raw ground beef with egg yolk on top, which may seem like a terribly not-good idea, but when mixed up it becomes almost like chopped spicy tuna in texture, gleaming in sesame oil.
Too much? Speaking of tuna, the tuna don is clean and lovely and goes quickly. Hand-cut marinated tuna with sesame seeds, sashimi, and a saucy fill of spicy tuna are laid out like cool beds. It is fairly basic, but refreshing when combined with a warm soup.
Asian-ya does a number of soups, notably the hangover-curing Tan tan men, an opaque broth with noodles and ground pork. You can order this with no meat, and it is no less rich and complex. The broth is a pale speckled amber, its spice level containing a lurking glottal punch. Sesame seeds add nutty essence to the snaky pile of thick noodles. We are now addicted to this.
We soak up everything with orders of Lettuce Fried Rice: big striations of egg, tuny cubes of pork, and hot sheets of lettuce grown supple. The Jalapeño Fried Rice is even better, just shy of pan-burned, redefining the paradigm of fried rice, and my favorite at the moment.
Asian-ya is closed Wednesdays.
Thanks to Mai and Adam for suggesting Asian-Ya to us, after we'd sobbed to them about Terried Sake House being closed, and for graciously allowing us to make them come out to dinner with us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Chinese, Santa Monica/Culver City, Korean )
Minimalism denied in favor of flavor
842 S. La Brea Ave. (between 8th and 9th)
Phone: 323-936-1500 | map
Around the halfway mark during your fall down the rabbit hole, Ogamdo whips by.
Most basically, Ogamdo is a Korean-owned Chinese restaurant on La Brea, next to Umami Burger. I have no idea what it was before that. Except for the strings of holiday lights around the perimeter, the red-bricked, red-tiled exterior is rather like an abandoned Spanish fort.
The interior is also firmly undecided: an explosion of unsorted vintage Americana, as if an arctic expedition of rich adventurers and Sherpas camped in a farm supply warehouse and left their gear after getting drunk on schnapps and watching Westerns all night.
I love it.
A pleasing assortment of teas by the pot or the cup is available; it's the first indication that Ogamdo is serious about what it's doing.
We like the inexpensive but serene Green Tea with Brown Rice. It comes in a beautiful glass kettle over candle flame. The tea is clean and golden and good, made calm and less tangy by the brown rice kernels.
There is also a long counter with tea paraphernalia and accessories by the front, in case you have been inspired by your experience.
The Egg Flower Soup is robust and volcanically hot, eggs whipped into a ghostly, citrine swirl like a spiral galaxy. It is rich, gelatinous, with blocks of tofu and mushroom, and obviously homemade.
A good trick, I'm told, is to spoon in some of their properly fluffy, sticky white rice into your bowl to soak it up and cool it down.
We always like an interpretation of ma-po, and Grandma's Tofu is a good example. Tofu cubes wade in an orange sauce, spicy and fragrant and just barely holding themselves together by surface tension. There is ground pork, but it is muted, along with the odd lima bean or pea. The dish has a throaty heat.
This is a perilous obstacle in your journey. Spicy Shrimp and Pepper. This is not for the mainstream palate; these are entire shrimps, legs, shells, eyes and all, tempura-fried into twisted alien fossils with a thick black and white pepper rub that burns your lip and stays with you loyally. Watch out for the little green things, and for the little red things too. They are not your friends, but their presence adds electricity to the overall flavor. There are remnants of garlic. Eating this takes work, but is rewarding.
Bianca: Don't try this without a net, kids.
The dishes are expensive, usually hovering around the fifteens and twenties, with occasional spikes (whatever the lobster is, it's worth eighty dollars to you). Luckily there is lunch, where everything is half off and the soup is free.
Ogamdo is open until 10 on Dunday, 11 all other days, and the valet is only a two-dollar charge.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Mid-City/Koreatown )
Generating its own vibrations and some Yelpy grumbling from patrons who expected a standard Chinese delivery experience, Kung Pao Kitty holds up a corner of the Hollywood Pacific Theatre building. The inside is all red and brown and wood and sexy, dotted with reedy-textured tables and lizard print seats. KCRW plays overhead, or maybe some slick bossa nova. There are two tables out on the sidewalk if you'd like the exposure to the traffic and uniquely skewed culture of Hollywood Boulevard just west of Cahuenga, and more tables along Wilcox that feel lonely until nighttime hits.
There is a bar dominating one wall, and a selection of three-dollar brews, like Chimay, Yanjing and Corona. Start on that while you eye the ring-around-the-rosey quartet of sharp condiments: soy sauce, sriracha, red chili paste, and a vindictive-looking hot chili oil. All have treacherously balanced lids and spoons, and you should take care not to rub your eyes after inspecting them.
The kitchen is not meant to be straight out of Chengdu, certainly not with a name like Kung Pao Kitty and the retro sex-goddess Orientalist sing-song girls depicted on the menu. It's more like a kung fu movie set with a deconstructionist attitude and a surprisingly subtle hand.
The Fried Tofu with Black Scallion Mushroom Sauce is a fun starter for friends. The tofu is crisp and cratered on its bed of lettuce leaf, accompanied by a gritty little sauce that colors the tofu more than flavors it. The cubes disappear as our beers do.
This is an even more fun starter for friends, especially if it's currently 1973 and a snarling gang from the rival martial arts school has just rushed around the corner brandishing weapons. You need the 70's Style Egg Rolls to fend them off; the outside skin is fried to crackly doom, the interior is doughy and chewy and tasty. Ground pork is here, and not much else. The addition of a chutney-like plum sauce makes your kung fu superior enough to avenge the death of your teacher.
The Mushroom Pork is colorfully saturated, with thin sheets of softened carrot, bamboo shoots, and prodigious snow peas cut into hollow squares. The ruddy pork is tender and robust, the mushrooms lending their earthy, tongue-coating flavor, and I highly dig this brown sauce that ties it together. A calm hill of brown rice soaks up some, but not enough.
The Szechwan Fire Fish is firm and tasty with strings of black mushroom, green onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. They may ask you if you want it mild, medium or spicy, but if you're ordering something that includes "Szechwan" and "fire" in its title, it would be ridiculous not to get it spicy.
The result is tossed in an amber-colored sauce that will cause some hiccups and snifflage if it is allowed to congregate and make its evil plans, but it is otherwise nonthreatening and nothing a beer can't defuse.
The Tofu in Lobster sauce is sunny and rich, with more of the sliced snow peas, gentle mushrooms and water chestnuts. The lobster sauce is balanced and silky, not slimy or skeevy as lobster sauce can be. It flavors the brown rice with a sweetish tinge.
They deliver if you're nearby, and as I mentioned, Kung Pao Kitty gets its share of complaint, usually when ordering orange chicken over the phone. We don't think that's the point. With a place that's open until midnight on weekdays and two on Fridays and Saturdays, you should be there soaking up L.A. culture as much as taste. Besides... lunch specials! About eight bucks, and they come with a kitschy little mixed salad.
There's a couple of parking lots in back that will allow validation.
This is one of the reasons Dining in L.A. can get so difficult to keep running... places like this close down. Kung Pao Kitty closed just shy of 2011 due to the economy, parking, and other issues. They'd helped to turn a seedy little corner of Hollywood into a den of cool. Hopefully they will reopen in another place.
Where the hell am I supposed to get my very-bad-for-me badass egg rolls?!
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Hollywood, Late Night/24 Hours )
Admittedly, if I was hired to track down some really outstanding and innovative vegetarian Chinese food, I would not expect to search along the aging stretch of Chatsworth Street in Granada Hills, within a thousand feet of my old high school*. But there it is; Vegetable Delight, despite its wartorn exterior, has my full support. Stare for a moment at the beautifully carved wooden mural in the window before entering.
Walking inside, you may wonder if you have plunged down a rabbit hole into a wedding in Toyland. Rows of gold-trimmed white booths gleam under ceiling tiles of powder blue; the water glasses are stuffed with baby pink pastel napkins. Somehow it's a happy absurdity, especially with the sound of keyboards and strings plunking Chinese melodies above, or of bereaved little piano concertos.
You suddenly realize that the room has the same salmon-and-spearmint color scheme as a Madame Alexander doll box. You may also suddenly wonder why Dave knows what the Madame Alexander color scheme is.
This is what you must order, because we say so. The "Chinese Pancake" is puffed and very slightly sweet, not entirely dissimilar to a wonton, perfect as is but utterly gush-worthy when you drip some of the lemony sauce over it. It is the appetizer of champions.
The Hot & Sour soup is pleasingly gelatinous, not dense enough to stand a spoon in but slowing everything down to a meditative crawl. It is rich, and beautiful, and obviously not one of those packaged deals other Chinese places might dole out. The Spring Rolls here also seem fresher than expected.
The Veggie Fish in Hot Bean Sauce may or may not have MSG, but is made of OMG. It looks a little dubious what with the lonely and purposeless carrots, peas and corn, like one of those TV dinners that used to come covered in foil instead of plastic. Pay no attention. These deep-fried "filets" with a thin skin of seaweed have a light crunch, in a thick, not-really-hot orange sauce, are insanely good. The chefs at Vegetable Delight are concerned with making flavorful dishes rather than merely cranking out the usual fare with meatless analogs.
The Tofu with Hot Bean Sauce, despite its similar naming convention, is totally different. Lightly fried triangular prisms of tofu** are combined with chopped green pepper and tiny mushrooms cut into quarters, as if to resemble peanuts; the sauce is thinner but soaks into the tofu nicely.
The Szechwan Shredded Veggie Beef has a slight textural resemblance but isn't fooling anybody. However, it's got a full-bodied presence, and combined with carrots and Chinese mushrooms cut into scalloped lengths, it's downright savory.
They kindly provide small dishes of red chili paste, decently hot, and a strong, take-a-blowtorch-to-your-nostrils Chinese mustard.
Vegetable Delight is open until 9:30 as Chinese restaurants often are, and are closed on Mondays, like restaurants over the hill often are. Come here for lunch. Why? Lunch and a Chinese pancake, enjoyed with a cup of hot tea, is under ten bucks.
* Going in the other direction, it's also a thousand feet from the seedy and abominable Oh Grady's, at which our good friends Bandwagon have played on occasion, and who hopefully will not be banned from Oh Grady's for my having called it seedy and abominable.
** This will be the name of my band if I ever create one. The Triangular Prisms of Tofu. Mathematically uniform and high in protein!
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Vegetarian/Vegan, The Valley )
I'm sure we're all aware that when we were growing up in the mall, what the bored food court employees were sweeping around the surface of a hellishly hot iron circle was not remotely Mongolian*. What we merrily call Mongolian BBQ is really a Taiwanese infatuation that grew out of teppanyaki.
Still, it's a lot of fun, so why not perfect it? The good people who brought us Pazzo Gelato had the idea to create this clean, elegantly designed place on Sunset.
You know how it goes. Grab a tray and a bowl, and move carefully along the counter, tonging frozen curls of pork, chicken, lamb, and/or rib eye into the bowl. Add fresh produce. Gobi, in keeping with its clean interior, goes for farm-fresh goodies like spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, but also slivers of yam and butternut squash, which add an autumnal snap to the dish. Go ahead and make all this a teetering mound; pack it like a moving truck, for it will collapse down when cooked.
There is an array of sauces, and you should ladle these generously atop, since they too will bubble away and leave only their essence wrapped around the noodles. Go for volume rather than mixing a little of everything. I prefer several splashes of the smoked oyster sauce, the furiously seedy red pepper sauce, and enough garlic to make my pores weep for mercy. I like the Asian pesto and the green curry sauces when I want more of a vegetarian experience.
Top if off with as many noodles as you dare. Hand this off to the guy at the grill, and before you can start and finish a phone call he will have herded the whole sizzling mass around the iron, slid it expertly onto a plate, and handed it back wreathed in steam. Shake some sesame seeds over it to make it thematically complete, and add many squeezes of their house teriyaki sauce, which is rich without being cloying.
The result is a hot noodle dish with everything you ever wanted, an order of magnitude greater in quality than the Mongolian BBQ you remember. The sauces and fresh ingredients are infused, and you must remember to put down your chopsticks on occasion.
They have a selection of beers, ales and sake, but I like the organic iced pomegranate green tea, cool and subtle. They bring you a sticky bottle of agave nectar to sweeten it, rather like honey in consistency and taste. At the table they will also bring you a basket of crackly little sesame bread, on which I like to pour the agave nectar when no one's looking.
It's slightly more expensive than those days hanging around the food court--the lunch special is a totally L.A.-friendly ten dollars without a drink--but far more satisfying.
* Check out this fairly shameful history, by the company who started Mongolian BBQ, and who also offers you the chance to open your own Mongolianish chain. I like especially how these "hunters of the day and gluttons of the night" "horded" [sic] the feasts of Champions, and I also like how they offer rock shrimp and scallops, which I'm sure were treasured by the ancient warriors in the landlocked country of Mongolia.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
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 )