Category: Beverly Hills/Wilshire
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 )
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 )
I Dream of Paratha
Farmers Market L.A. - Stall #122
6333 West Third Street (@ Fairfax)
Phone: 323-933-4627 | map
A purveyor of Singapore/Malay/Indonesian/Indian food, this awning-sheltered eatery stands out as one of the better stalls in the famous Farmer's Market at 3rd and Fairfax. It's cash-only, and the paper sign implores you to be patient: this is not fast food. Don't wander too far, however; your number will be called, and your dishes served, charmingly enough, on a banana leaf.
Except for Indian, the cuisine served here is not widely known in Los Angeles, so until we hand over a few SGDs for some satay at the Telok Ayer Market, we cannot vouch for authenticity. All we know is that we dig it.
We think this is what you need to try first. It's roti paratha, a flaky grilled bread, the dough for which is provided by an Indian bakery. It's a little like naan, a little like a puffy crêpe, and a lot like lovely. With the thin but robust vegetable curry sauce clinging to its edges, it becomes sublime. We are going to get this every time we come here, without fail.
Particularly savory is the rendang beef, spicy and suggestive of ginger and coconut. It is somehow familiar, like a chili with gleaming pockets of dark red oils; the solid chunks of beef fall away into striations, to be dragged through the reddish brown sauce. I wonder briefly whether licking a banana leaf clean would be considered poor manners.
Paired with this is a pickled cucumber slaw that has a refreshing vinegar tang; it is protected from the rendang's muscular presence by a cup of white rice.
The Vegetable Tofu Curry is not dissimilar to Thai stylings, full-bodied, soupy and understandable, accompanied by a heap of brilliantly yellow rice. It stains the plastic utensils beyond repair.
With this Bianca likes to get lime juice; it's sour as a spinster aunt who's been left out of the will, but cool and able to take the sun off. I prefer the mango, which is oh! so! revitalizing, as if the soul of all that is "fruit" and "tropical" has been poured into a cup.
Thanks to Ade and David for urging us over to the southern side of the Farmer's Market. You should go buy a t-shirt from them.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Indian, Indonesian/Malaysian )
Along Fairfax's Ethiopian Row, Nyala lies poised like its spiral-horned namesake. Inside, incense lays a warm blanket over the room; canvas ovals hang like moth's wings from the ceiling. An organic bar flows along brushed red clay walls, and is your likeliest first stop. I prefer the beers like Hakim Stout (caramel-hued with a bite but lighter than, say, Guinness); Bianca likes the Ethiopian white wines like Awash Cristal, which are a little too achingly sharp to resonate with me.
Ethiopian food is oddly familiar; many dishes are sautéed and in a semi-liquid or stewlike state. Red pepper, garlic and ginger are habitual companions. One is reminded sometimes of Indian cuisine, sometimes of Moroccan.
Everything, and I mean everything is eaten from a communal plate. Without silverware. Lest some of you start hiccuping in germophobic panic, there is a universal tool: injera. It's bread*, utterly unlike anything else. it's not pita, nor naan, nor crepe, nor tortilla, but a pliable sheet with a sour tang. It looks like a pile of folded napkins and feels very much like foam. Tear off bits of it and use it to roll up fingerfuls of food.
Gather some friends and order a few combination platters. The veggie dishes are among the most textural: the Yemiser Wot (red lentil stew); Kik Alecha (mild yellow split peas); Yabesha Gommen (collard greens). Most of them have garlic and ginger but somehow remain unique in color, texture and flavor. Ethiopian isn't terribly spicy, but the heat can creep up on you like a Panthera pardus stalking a Tragelaphus angasii.
The meat dishes are more stewlike. Yebeg Alecha is lamb sautéed in butter, onion, and the expected garlic and ginger. It's good like a thick chili, but I favor the Yawaze, which doesn't come with the combination platters: sautéed beef cubes with tomato, onion and garlic, slightly spicy and full-bodied on the tongue.
All dishes are served on one massive circle of injera. Traditionally, once the plate itself is eaten, the meal is over. But Nyala seems light on tradition; they don't feed you your first bite, nor do they ritually drizzle water over your hands before the meal. But, all things considered, there's only so much an L.A.-based restaurant can do and still merit a decent letter grade in the window.
Parking can be found behind the building or on the streets, with a pleasantly surprising absence of restrictive "parking allowed only on every second Tuesday between the hours of Twilight and Vespers, on pain of severe noogies, permits excepted" signs that sprout threateningly in Westside.
* I can only assume that Nyala is providing the real thing made with Teff flour.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Beverly Hills/Wilshire, African )
(or two and take some home too)
10250 Santa Monica Blvd. (in the Westfield Shopping Center, between Avenue of the Stars and Century Park Way)
Phone: 310-551-1100 | map | website (what there is of one)
Finally we have a reason to venture out to the Westfield in Century City. To eat in a food court, no less! That reason is a new food place called Take a Bao. Take a Bao is giving your (or our) traditional steam bun a new twist. Instead of a peking duck, Take a Bao offers a variety of fillings you can choose from. Between David (not to be confused with Dining In LA's Dave) and I, we sampled five of them.
Each order comes with two steamed buns and a generous portion of fresh napa salad. You could also opt for the wheat buns or lettuce wrap, but we kept it o.g. and stuck with the white steamed buns. I got mine filled with Pomegranate Steak, another with Miso Beef and one with Sweet Chili Glazed Tofu. My favorite of the three was hands down the Pomegranate Steak. It was the right amount of tangy, sweet, and meaty goodness. The skirt steak was just the right amount and thickness. The marinated cucumbers and radish tasted clean. There were also pea shoots in the mix, but I put mine aside since I'm no fan of pea shoots. My Miso Beef, altho tasty, was a bronze in comparison. I closed my meal with a Sweet Chili Glazed Tofu - filled steamed bun. I can tell that chef Christian Lomas really pays attention to the details as I tasted every ingredient in this dish, glazed tofu, caramelized shiitake mushrooms, marinated cucumbers and scallions. Again, I put aside my pea shoots.
Other than the Pomegranate steak, David had the Thai Peanut Chicken with peanut sauce, pickled vegetables and crushed peanuts and another bun with Signature BBQ Pork. David also agreed that the Pomegranate Steak was a home run, with the Thai Peanut Chicken being the runner up. Thanks to its wonderfully textured peanut sauce. Tho a signature, the BBQ pork was almost as good, but was lacking a distinct flavor. In addition to the buns, we ordered a bowl of crispy wonton chips, with both the wasabi guacamole and sweet thai chili sauce. The wasabi part of the guacamole was under represented, while the sweet thai chili sauce had just enough heat.
The service was very fast and precise, but in no way Take A Bao is your average fast food. If anything, Take A Bao has changed and upped the standard of eating at a food court while keeping the price affordable ($7.95 gets you two buns and a side of salad, yay!). We'll definitely return and try other irresistible items on their menu, like the Take A S'more; chocolate, marshmallow & graham cracker (y'know, like a s'more?) in a sweet bun or their selections of noodles. I suggest every one to 'bao' down to the center of the food court at Westfield in Century City ASAP.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Beverly Hills/Wilshire )
It was another one of those close-on-the-heels-of-last-night Saturdays, where nothing but some Mexican taco stand style fare will do. Breakfast or lunch will stand on the edge of your bodily interior, say "tsk," and get to work revitalizing yourself.
So in search of something of Mexican descent, we threaded our way through the summery Farmers Market on 3rd and Fairfax, edging our way into the eternal line of people waiting under the ¡Loteria! awning. The walls and counter are painted with bright cards* in a tile pattern. The owner was born and grew up in Mexico, and brought back a lot of recipes, much to our pleasure. We ordered, shuffled into the other crowd of people waiting for their food, then wandered aimlessly until we found a table that wasn't too sun-baked.
It's quite worth it. ¡Loteria! Grill is flexible and creative with its menu, putting nearly anything you want into anything you want, and offering a bunch of sides to fill up the corners. The tacos are smallish but piled high on a white corn tortilla; the carne deshebrada (shredded beef) taco is almost billowy in texture, a comfortable thing to devour in two or three bites if you're careful with your fingers. The burritos are much bigger, requiring a fork, and the enchiladas are a nice in-between.
The carnitas en salsa morito is more smoky than spicy, but the cochinita pibil (pork slow-roasted in banana leaves) is velvet with an orange bite. Chicken is also done with flair at the grill, coming in a mole poblano sauce, stewed with chipotle peppers and chorizo, or in a spicy pumpkin seed and peanut sauce.
They have things to go with your taco- or burrito-centered meal, like plantains, black beans and white or green (mint) rice. The chips, if not overly warm, are fresh and come with a thick red-leather-colored salsa, reminiscent of the salsa wizardry available at Malo, and which makes you glad you have a cup of cold but mouth-squeezingly tart jamaica at hand.
They serve breakfast all day too, so the next time I work my way over to the Farmers Market I'm thinking I might have to eye the chilaquiles or the eggs scrambled with chorizo...
* ¡Loteria! is based on a Mexican game of chance that's a bit like bingo played on 54 Tarot-esque cards, hence the wall decorations. I always wanted my own deck of those cards; I think I'll go hunting on Olvera Street soon.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Beverly Hills/Wilshire )