Our ritual: after achieving tonsorial brilliance for Bianca at Static Salon (ask for Tony), we walk hand in hand along Melrose to grab brunch from Blu Jam. It's smack in the heart of Melrose's Shopping District, where an expensive footwear shop or a tattoo and piercing parlor is a stone's throw in any direction.
Named after the location's historical identity as a blues and jazz club--not a stylized fruit spread--Blu Jam emits a typically high-end coffee haus demeanor with an experienced kitchen. The claustrophobic sidewalk area is a jumble of umbrellas; the interior has a wall of brick, benches of blond wood, soaring log cabin ceiling beams, and inoffensive classic rock. You will invariably be seated by a pair of complainy white girls on your left and a trio of guffawing dudes on the right.
The Homemade Vegan Split Pea Soup is our current favorite comfort liquid, a pear-hued purée sweetened by the freshness of the peas. Herb-crusted croutons retain a deafeningly crunchy aspect. The Potato Leek soup is more earthy and very nearly as good. Note the newly color-conditioned and blown-out Bianca enjoying the last of her soup.
A Veggie Heaven Wrap, also vegan, sounds like a typically halfhearted attempt to cater to those with the audacity not to eat meat, but it's nicely constructed for such simplicity. Chopped veggies--carrot, zucchini, bean sprouts, lettuce, cherry tomato, avocado, mint--all play well together and share secrets with a drippy balsamic vinaigrette, in a grilled flour tortilla. Bink gets this with fruit on the side.
The Power House breakfast is not the desperate, expressionless, "sigh, at least it's low-carb, right?" health-minded breakfast typically available at other cafes (Eat Well, I'm looking at you). It's a brawny pair of firmly flame-broiled chicken breasts, heaped on six egg whites beaten into tofu-like density and striated with green, green spinach.
The best part of this is the sautéed cherry tomatoes and basil, which collapses nearly into a marinara faint. The tomato flavor is wonderfully dominating, and a couple of shakes of Cholula make my midmorning.
Like a plate of chilaquiles on a motorbike to Hell, the Migas has a sassy kick but not as tempestuous as the menu suggests. Bell peppers, eggs, disappearing bits of beef chorizo sausage, and the ever-present cherry tomato halves are clustered with tortilla chips. The effect is totally ungreasy, although I wouldn't have minded if it was.
With this mess is a jumble of crispy Red Potatoes, diced and rendered until crunchy french-frian ends are infused with the potatoness.
Blu Jam is known for their Brioche French Toast, the Crunchy version of which is rolled in cornflakes and maybe blessed by a priest before serving. It's not quite the crunchfest of Jinky's Cafe, nor the padded comfort of Fred 62's Bearded Mr. Frenchy, but it's cushy inside and fulfilling.
They're mostly a breakfast/brunch/late lunch affair until the early evening, and each server is sweeter and friendlier than the next. The coffee is good, real good, with artful baristan touches when foam is present.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts )
As you cruise west along the hip, aloof commerce of Melrose, you may choose to look right at The Foundry instead of left. You may have passed Antonio's dozens of times. Yet it's been there for decades, as the sea of photos featuring celebrities posing with the handsome, mustachioed Antonio Gutierrez will attest.
The inside has the richly puffy booths, the heavily stuccoed wall murals, and the iron chandeliers of a classic Mexican restaurant, and also a spectacular bar with striped-leg stools. Señor Gutierrez himself may be present, dressed smartly in a suit to greet and assure his customers' happiness. I am pleased to have captured both in a single photo. We also like to sit outside and watch L.A. go by.
They charge for chips and salsa here, which is unusual but doesn't bother us unduly since the chips are warm, extra-crunchy and shiny, the salsa is an electric tomato red that's mild and zippy, and the chopped pico de gallo has a lurking serrano snap of the fingers. The two salsas combined make for an agreeable conclusion. If you want it, ask; if you don't, say so.
They offer a few gringo-friendly combinations--I'll get to that in a paragraph or three--but the dishes you want are the explorations into the Monterrey of Antonio's youth.
Antonio's rendition of Carnitas comes as a Sunday Special: long-marinated, fatty roast pork leg bathing like Diana in an insanely rich red sauce that has, of all things, pineapple, orange juice, cola and tomato. It is a nod to the taste buds of another time, a jazzy departure from tomate frito that has one's fork scraping the sides of the plate.
The Chicken Papachango is a little more in the realm of mole, a full-bodied sauce of white wine and herbs and tomato made thick enough to rest on the tines of a fork. The chicken is pliable, nearly needing no knife to cut.
With this is a single, dignified banana that's been grilled tender and sweet, and dances gracefully with the sauce. Pretentious sentence, I know, but it's a really good banana. Yellowed rice and beans buried under a swirl of melted white cheese keep the dish familiar to the American palate.
Back to my gringosity. I love, love, love classic Americanized hard-shell tacos with a cool red sauce on them, and they do that here with old-school panache. On the Beef Tacos the strips of steak are well-browned, the lettuce shredded almost into a web, the white cheese grated, the red sauce refreshing. Chunky guacamole adds that cool yumminess.
The Chile Verde is a bit oversalted but resplendent in its porcine force: lots of fat, falling apart, in a nigh-colorless but rich & sultry sauce. It's heaped with big lazy strips of sautéed onions and green peppers.
The cute little lemon-yellow margaritas are a fair $7 around lunchtime, and are strong enough to be worth an extra cost later in the day. We, however, have had a Sunday night dinner and been charged the same seven bucks.
Antonio's is closed on Mondays, L.A. style. Valet is five dollars.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, West Side/West Hollywood, Hollywood )
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 )
If, after you've exited the Los Angeles City Attorney's office on Hollywood Boulevard, acquired some smoking paraphernalia from No Limit Tobacco & Pipes, gotten a Thai massage, and decided upon a shoulder piece from Atomic Tattoo, you happen to be hungry, Truly Vegan is most happily positioned.
Seven tables of--I'm tired of always saying chlorophyll, so I'll say they're Dartmouth Green--line the walls. The pale golden floor might be bamboo, but is patterned to look like distressed wood planks. They may not be gushingly friendly here, but they are attentive, and despite its not being on the menu they kindly made me a sweet and creamy iced coffee when I asked.
I like my vegan food solid and hearty, and the Loafing About works for me. A lentil loaf is heavily seasoned and grilled, with onions and red peppers chopped finely enough so that they lend only their presence rather than a stubborn crunch. The texture is dense like hash browns yet almost pillowy. The loaf comes dry, and with it is a squeeze bottle of some really good homemade ketchup, and some white sesame blend with lime, almost like spicy, sassy milk.
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower are there to bolster the generally unused corner of my four food groups. I pour the sesame sauce on them, too. Fluffy brown rice is there too, not vital, but well-made.
The Lad Na is more liquid than expected for standard Thai, wide rice noodles falling nearly apart from their total immersion in black bean soy gravy. The gravy itself is a gelatinous, soupy lake that holds its heat like a muzzled dragon; draped over the broccoli and tofu, it renders them too hot to enjoy until they're well-blown upon.
You can add soy fish, chicken or seitan on this, more for the textural analog than for similarity of flavor. The Lad Na is even better the next day.
There's breakfast for lunch, too. It's good, occasionally, to move away from the astoundingly good but psychotically flavored specialties of some places. Several combinations of pancakes abound here, and the Breakfast of Champions puts them all together. Wheat free, gluten free pancakes are comfortable and surprisingly good, with maple syrup and melty vegan margarine atop. Two big, convincing patties of soy chicken are sliced like katsu and fried into something puffy, sweet and almost pastrylike.
The effect isn't exactly Roscoe's, but it's grainy and comforting, missing nothing except that feeling of creamy uselessness one gets after pancake breakfasts. A glass of cool vegan milk, subtle with that sides-of-the-tongue tinge of almond, goes well with this.
Parking is usually found along Hollywood, probably by the Toyota dealer.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Thai )
The first time we came here, the El Rey was hosting a goth industrial event, and our noses and sudden appetites led us here. If you're ever in a position to enjoy masala spinach tacos and tandoori chicken burritos at one-thirty in the morning while The Sisters of Mercy boom in the next room, you should do.
The new Silver Lake location is much more put together, less bustling soup kitchen than hip lounge, with rust-colored walls highlighted with fuchsia and violet. Hanging lamps of stained glass throw rainbows around the interior. The Buddha on the wall smiles demurely at the Buddha outside Gobi Mongolian BBQ.
Street food from India it might be, but Indian street food after a hungry band of caballeros rode through. The concepts of "tandoori" and "tikka masala" have had an illicit affair with "burrito" and "quesadilla" and "cheese fries," and the resultant love child is a strangely familiar satisfaction. Extra-virgin olive oil is used for everything, so the food doesn't get too heavy.
The tortilla chips are made from pappadam, which we think is the best idea ever. Jars of chutneys accompany it: a mossy green coriander with a nose-sniffy bite, a dark, vegetal mint, an adobe red that looks vicious but is really just a tamarind chutney, and a thick sweet brown with an applesauce consistency. At the El Rey location you get spicy sauces in big squeeze bottles.
The samosas here are bulky tricornered hats, gently steaming with curry-yellowed potatoes and peas. Three of the chutneys make a decorative lagoon around it. It's a fine appetizer, though not yet indicative of the crossover you're about to try.
The Tandoori Fish Burrito doesn't provoke brilliant words to describe it, but it is warm and friendly, a bulky mound filled with spanish rice, white fish painted golden with termuric, and the occasional sliver of lettuce, tomato or cilantro. It has an elegant, zenlike balance, and welcomes the occasional spoonful of one of the four chutneys. It works better than the chicken, which gets too firm in spots, and the tofu, which buckles under a burrito's weight.
Served open-face, the Naanwich is more of a Chicken Tikka Masala served on a puffy tostada than a sandwich per se. Potentially one could force the issue into a grand taco affair, but it works better as a dish with utensils and an edible plate. There are also fish, shrimp, spinach and tofu versions of this.
The naan (Bink likes the garlic, I like the whole wheat) is an excellent vehicle, barely sweet, just firm enough to resist cutting, and good for soaking up extra masala, or chutney, or anything else. It is gorgeous. Brilliant. The chicken collapses under the fork, and you don't notice the slow burn until halfway through. Spanish rice surrounds it, flavorful but unobtrusive.
Masala Cheese Fries! Richly red and fragrant, it's fulfilling like chili fries but seems, well, healthier. The fries are already good on their own, seasoned and crispy, but dragging long strands of melting cheese and orange masala sauce behind them.
Both the lime-lemonade and the Chai iced tea are subtle and refreshing, whether under a Mojave sun or a Mumbai sun.
Cowboys & Turbans is open until 10 according to the website, midnight according to the takeout menu, but they may stay open late when a club night is happening next door. Prices are a little steep, but if you've fought your way along the Wilshire corridor and found parking with the intent to eat here, you're already bloody-minded about having your Tex-Mexindian fix fulfilled. At the Silver Lake location, parking can be fought over with Gobi.
* I'm referring to tectonic plates, of course. You know... what the lithosphere is separated into? Didn't you study your geography?
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Hollywood, Indian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
Its corner has become a happy terminus for those who know Thai food. The decor is half homely, half elegant, the tabletops patterned with reviews from Jonathan Gold and the L.A. Times. Gentle piano instrumentals caress the ceiling*. The owner, Sarintip "Jazz" Singsanong, flits from table to table like a friendly hummingbird, checking on the joy of her regular patrons. Her brother and co-owner, Suthiporn "Tui" Sungkamee, cooks.
Jitlada specializes in the Southern Thai** cuisine of their childhood, characterized by a little more intensity and density in its flavors. The food is a touch closer to India, a touch closer to Malaysia, and a touch closer to the Sun. They offer typical fare at the front of the menu, with all the common Pad Thais, Tom Khas and Mee Krobs, but also a unique collection of Southern Thai dishes, the Capsaicin level of which pulls your trousers down and laughs at you.
The Thai Spring rolls aren't unusual but are a well-assembled starter. Veggies are rolled into thumb-sized rice paper drums and fried; the result is clean and elastic inside, armored with a golden crunch outside.
Daring deeper, these jewels have been written about and photographed in every Los Angeles-based food source. The Mussels on Flambé are grilled and kept bubbling in a broth over flame.
Pull the contents, shaped vaguely like dinosaur skulls, from shells alive with every color; the mussels are infinitely tender but resilient, and totally non-briny. The broth is simply amazing, thick with black and white pepper, opaque and soaring on the tongue. You will continue to pick up a spoon and take just one more sip from this.
Moving now with trepidation into the Jitladian Jungle, I try a familiar but savory Cow Man Kai. Pale chicken is laid over Hai Nan rice, which has tiny strings of ginger and is nicely sticky. A dish of special garlic ginger sauce adds sweetness. The effect is clean and fresh and wholesome; the scallion-dotted chicken broth that comes with this is a little saltier than that at Wat Dong Moon Lek, but it meshes well when spooned over the oily rice.
There is another dish you can see here, the green one, that contains Jitlada's special sauce, used for everything. It's brutal but attractive, and you keep using it because underneath the searing heat is an extraordinary pepper lime flavor.
My first real foray into this spice-bully world is the not-quite-on-the-back-menu Southern Curry, an amber collection of red and green peppers, jicama, potatoes, ribbed carrots, and textured chicken, light on coconut milk and cumin, confident with turmeric. It is immediately urgent, a most flavorful pain that doesn't let up.
See that scalloped dish of carrots and cucumbers on ice? They give you that to cool off the burn. It helps, a little. Not much. I'm told by the smiling waiter that this is "kind of entry level--you get past this, everything else, hmm, spicy, but okay."
My tongue begins to wonder if it's being burned at the stake for heresy.
Do I stop? No. It's so wonderfully polished and complex and just plain tasty. I'll just have to inefficaciously keep sipping tea and water. Both glasses are soon empty, and to my growing panic, not quickly refilled.
My glasses are fogging up. Wait. I don't have my glasses on.
I'm unsure which part of the title to use from the menu, so when I say that Bianca orders the khanõm jiin "Meuang Khon" 5 náam 3 dâng, I mean that she orders rice vermicelli with fish balls in a Southern curry sauce.
Vermicelli was not made for tomatoey Italian pastas. It was made for submergence in a richly yellow swamp of curry. A side dish of delicacies is intended for mixing in: green onions, cabbage, pickled cabbage, bean sprouts, cucumbers, and carrots. They add toothsome shapes of texture.
The sauce is not as hot as the Southern Curry, but they might well have been taking it easy on us. It's milky and light, and its spice leaps over the tongue like a panther for the vulnerable back of your throat. A single Singha beer does its best to calm down our nerves, which are getting a little frantic with the "it's a bit hot up here, sir, please send help" messages they're dispatching. It throws Bianca into an endorphin euphoria.
Jitlada can be expensive considering its Thai Town environs, but not considering its royal status in Los Angeles. Choose a specialty or a seafood item and the cost can leap over twenty per dish. The teas and coffees are usually three dollars and more. It's worth it.
The parking lot is there, but there will be cars in it, blocking themselves.
* And not necessarily the ones you'd expect. There's nothing quite like the realization that you're listening to a muzak version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Whiter Shade of Pale," and the love theme from The Godfather.
* Specifically, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, along the Malay Peninsula. In case you go.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Thai )