Category: Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock
1952 Colorado Blvd. (in Eagle Rock), Los Angeles, CA 90041
Phone: 323-258-8050 | map
Like Blue Hen up the street, Lemongrass is not meant to be a straight-out-of-Nam-Dinh-Province exercise in authenticity. The interior cultivates a careful peace, black and white paintings contrasting with walls of warm green tea. The tables are square and modern, a holy trinity of sriracha, red pepper paste and hoisin sauce awaiting in tins.
My ritual here is the iced Vietnamese coffee: a tall beaker with a French press plunger poised atop, with viscous, sweet condensed milk sulking at the bottom. Stir before pouring over ice.
Now that that's done and I'm happily sipping, I can move on to the goi cuon, steamed shrimp and pork summer rolls with vermicelli and mint. They're brawny and dry, not overminty, with a cool crunch. A warmed peanut sauce fills in the niches in your taste buds. The bi cuon chay is a vegetarian version of this; its shredded tofu and crispy strings of sweet potato have an even cooler crunch.
Pho for six bucks! At least at lunchtime. The pho dac biec is carnivore-bait, with meatball, tendon, rare steak and well done steak for complexity of texture. The broth is slightly sweet and sour, an exemplar of balance. Bianca prefers the shrimp pho.
Lemongrass does the sandwich act as well (not what you see at left; that's a pork & shrimp com dish). The banh mi thit has lengths of charbroiled pork, soft and yielding, bolstered by no-nonsense stalks of cilantro and carrot, all in a crisp, shiny bun that showers crumbs. The fish oil dipping sauce is sharp with soy.
Parking is on the street. There's a Lemongrass 2 opening up next door someday, featuring frozen yogurt.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Vietnamese )
Normally I get real suspicious of the word contemporary. When I hear "contemporary" bandied about I think trendy blonde-wood-and-chrome Scandinavian furniture, placid beige walls, and paint-spatter paintings pretending to have meaning.
However, combined with the words "soul," "food" and "joint" it creates a syncopation, a rhythm of scent and taste.
The building is an old Craftsman style home, kept homelike with mismatched furniture and dark hardwood floors. Some old-school soul and R&B plead from the speakers. The drinks arrive in mason jars, but you may find the homemade lemonade eye-crossingly sweet; ask for Americana root beer, sweet tea, or a bottle of Jamaica's Finest Ginger Beer.
Larkin Mackey has done his studying, stayed humbly aware of the roots of soul food, and somehow pulled it off. Larkin's is not like walking into a sultry, steam-shrouded hole in the wall somewhere in Georgia, nor is it a sellout offering "soul food with a California twist" or anything offensive like that. The food is offbeat, but fantastic. Your grandmother from New Orleans may grumble, though.
The Good 'Ole Fried Chicken is an odd bird; it seems to have been baked a bit first, due to the darkened skin underneath the crumbly, brown sugar tang of the fry batter, or perhaps it is oven-fried. The chicken retains a finger-glistening moisture, however, and is darned good. The hot links in the Hot Link Po'Boy are properly snappy and juicy, with a spicy growl.
The red beans and rice are different as well, the beans firm, the rice soaked with more than bean juice; there is a Latin flair somewhere inside. The Spicy Sautéed Greens are not the greens you expect, being collard greens mixed with tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and cayenne, so you won't get your yellowish-green Juice of the Gods at the bottom that all kids should drink to stay well. They are, however, quite flavorful--and benefit well from generous shakes from the bottle of Trappey's Louisiana Hot Sauce at attention nearby.
Hello, what's this? A deep-fried grilled cheese? Mercy sakes alive.
Larkin's is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but otherwise is now, thankfully, open for lunch. There is a single parking spot in front, four in back, but otherwise the quiet streets of Eagle Rock should suffice.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American, Soul/Southern, Cajun/Creole )
Inside is an odd combination of elegant Chinese--finely detailed wallpaper, cherry wood furniture and beautiful balsa structures under glass--and an exposed busing area with mid-80s American cabinetry and ads for beer. House of Joy is Korean-owned, which does not detract from its menu at all, but can be fun. I've overheard phone order conversations where the heavily accented young man is pleading, "can you speak English, please? I don't speak Chinese." However, HoJ has been here about fifteen years and just opened a location in La Crescenta, so it's doing something well.
The menu is expansive, even the lunch specials; sip some hot tea and take your time.
House of Joy's Special Chicken (at left) has almost a berry sweetness and a cola-like zest from the soy sauce brew, very fine but a little overbearing in large amounts. The Shredded Pork-Veg with Rice Noodle is gentle and savory, its noodles highly, even impossibly, elastic. The Orange Chicken is nicer than expected, not heavy on batter, with a light orange tint and just enough crunch.
The Szechwan Chicken has a heady, back-tongue burn due to the Korean-style red chili paste smothering the chicken and julienned celery, peppers and onions. I admit to begging like a rookie for a glass of ice water.
Go with steamed rice for your plates, which comes in a walloping great pile; the fried rice is a small scoop of afterthought. There will be a daily soup with your entree; the Egg Flower soup is richly gelatinous, with tofu.
House of Joy is, joyfully, reliably open from 11:30 to 9:30 every day.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock )
The usual joint-of-all-trades
1701 Colorado Blvd. (in Eagle Rock)
Phone: 323-478-9022 | map
This is one of those catch-all places you've known about since you were a kid, the kind of "You know, I'm kinda in the mood for a pastrami sandwich and a taco" diner boasting ten columns of choices on a twenty-foot wall menu. The counter is cracked formica above vertical faux-brick tiles of indescribable orange.
In this universally familiar setting one will find good-natured men singing songs in Spanish and joking with longtime local customers. They'll wait for you while you decide between veggie burgers and pork chops and breakfast.
The American staples work well enough; the burger is a wide, flat beast with freshly chopped lettuce and a little too much Thousand Island dressing. The chili cheese fries are what you'd expect: the fries are good enough to support the fairly pedestrian chili, and not quite strong enough to be eaten with fingers.
The Mexican staples work a little better. Their chicken burrito is more hearty than authentic, with the vibrant green of chopped bell pepper peeking from between fresh pinto beans, rice and chicken. Tacos are served in a cardboard container, kind of by necessity, since they must be eaten with a fork due to shell shatterage.
The milkshakes require a spoon, but that's no bad thing; I just hope you weren't taking it to go.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Diner, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Experimenting north of K-Town
1229 E. Colorado St. (east of Chevy Chase, in Glendale)
Phone: 818-507-1185 | map
An unassuming yellow building along Colorado, Kim's is a good introduction for someone who is not an aficionado of Korean cuisine (e.g., someone like me). They are quite friendly, lacking the discomfiting alienation one might feel deep in Koreatown. It's unfussily decorated, and you'll find yourself awash in rich cooking smells, amazingly good, hungry-making smells, upon entering.
The menu seems not to offer a lot of side dishes, but that's because it's Korean food; you'll get a bevy of little plates of cold banchan delights. There is the omniessential kimchi*, upon the finishing of which the nice lady will bring more, and kongnamul, soybean sprouts seasoned in sesame oil, with the pods wonderfully snappy like peanuts. The others were (help me out here, Korean cuisine aficionados) parboiled greens that might have been green onion, slices of what seemed to be a scallion pancake, and strips of tofu. The banchan dishes are meant to be shared if you're not alone.
The entrees are solid. The spicy pork or chicken bulgogi is tender yet robust, coated with lip-staining red spices and sizzling with onions on an iron plate. The dukbokki (spicy rice cake) is a must-have, unexpected in its presentation. The rice cakes are in cylinders, along with carrot, onion and triangles of fish cake; the sauce is a nearly gelatinous fish-oil-and-red-chili affair with a nice mouth burn.
The dumpling soup rivals any Chinese war wonton, clear with glass noodles and with a comforting, unsalty finish.
The heat level of all this would not make a Korean infant blink, but I suspect that it's toned down for the Glendalian palate, or because they detected with uncanny accuracy that I am not Korean. I've had kimchi that made me want to sell my sisters to stop the pain, but it's presented here more tamely. The food has a pleasant, mouth-filling smolder, with only a hint of nose snifflage. However, if you order water, it comes in a cute snap-top soju pitcher, so you're completely prepared and life is good.
There's a bitty parking lot in back.
* You must know what kimchi is, but if not, you're missing out on one of the most important aspects of Korean food, if not Korean life. It's Napa cabbage, mostly. Wilted. Salted. With garlic, ginger, red chili peppers, and a few other goodies tucked between the leaves. Then fermented. For weeks. It is utterly awesome.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Korean )
Baracoa is a lugar agradable I could inhabit all day, with its dark rustic tables, booths that look like woven leather, and its quartet of ceiling fans turning lazily.
A splendid mural of Baracoa itself* spans one wall. The sashay of Salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz can be heard, and there is a feel that old guys with hats and accents sit here and talk. I only wish for a checkerboard and a Montecristo #2 to complete my lunchtime escapade.
I'm still deciding on my preferred sandwich. The Pan con Bistec is a carbohydrate thug, pressing me with its gravity until I want to be on the floor dreamily watching the ceiling, limp as the grilled onions on top of the thinly sliced top sirloin. I am not usually effective at work after this.
The Media Noche, on the other hand and pictured here, is moist ham and roasted pork, relaxed and tender, layered with mustard, mayo and pickles in a pressed semi-sweet bread that leaves one with glistening fingertips. Either sandwich could be put through a wringer and lose half its weight in muscle-numbing moisture. I like to get some black beans on the side; they're sultry and superb, served over a mound of white rice.
The cafe con leche is served in a massive cup, less charged than the jiggers-of-jitters one may be used to in other Cuban cafes; still, it demands time and a slowing of your day.
There's metered parking along the boulevard, or free parking along the quiet neighborhood streets.
* Baracoa being the oldest Spanish settlement in Cuba, nicknamed Ciudad Primada, or "First City." It was Columbus's first stop in Cuba before the pillaging and kidnapping sprees. There is your Caribbean trivia for today.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Cuban, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock )