Category: The Valley
On dusty Parthenia south of the ever-inflating Mall, this family affair has stood, thinking seriously about sandwiches, since I was two years old. Stained glass like jigsaw puzzle pieces stretches across the front.
The interior combines deli, with its long, sausage-hung counter disappearing into the distance, with coffee shop, made of wood and brick and frames with self-promoting reviews in them.
The booths are that chlorophyll gum color you might remember from those machines. Flowers sit on the table; Sirius Radio's '60s on 6 plays. The waitstaff will remember the last thing you order, and make you feel like a valued human being.
The first thing I try here is this magnetic draw, highly recommended by Brent's fans. The Black Pastrami Reuben looks civilized enough; the meat is lean and gloriously soft, not piled to the ceiling like a parched Jerry's pastrami but still taller than you can easily bite. You still need to choose your angle of attack, lest your sandwich begin its disassembly before your eyes.
The sauerkraut is mild and adds mostly texture; I usually pull off a few strands to reduce the amount my jaw must unhinge in order to encompass a single, thought-provoking bite. Melted swiss calms down the opinionated rye bread. It's all balanced.
I prefer multiplicities of meat between breads; I rarely get just a turkey or ham sandwich. So when I discover that the #30 (ground chicken burger) can become a #32 (the aforementioned chicken burger with some of that black pastrami draped over it like a romance heroine swooning on a couch), I point and say yes. Those people at Brent's just give and give and give.
The result is generous, and one needs to dig down a bit to get to the burger and marshall it into something one can pick up and devour. The chicken has that dry front-of-the-mouth heat, made peppery and briny by the cool strips of pastrami.
I've been on a kind of tuna/chicken salad kick lately--maybe I'm compensating for my longtime avoidance of celery and relish--so I gave the Whitefish Salad Sandwich a whirl.
The result is a great white cliff of salad that is insanely light and creamy without being cloying. Half a sandwich will do nicely--too much and its well-beaten lightness gets too airy to have fun with. I should have asked for the egg bread to be toasted a little for greater structural integrity. Always make sure your bread is sturdy, kids.
This is a not-terribly-guilty pleasure for me, especially since the chili itself is dwarfed by the accompanying bowls of shredded cheese and chopped onions (Too much cheese? Too much onion? Not computing). The chili is a burly beef-and-bean style, with a real "our camp chef is a big guy named Cookie who whipped this up for us after a long day of driving forty head of cattle" personality.
For sides, the fries are big solid crispy steak versions or the curly type; either is good enough. The baked beans are steamy hot and fresh, honest and slightly saucy. The cup of standard coleslaw hangs around the plate, trying not to be eclipsed.
Brent's is open until nine, at which time you might consider swaying next door to the Stovepiper Lounge (which has existed for two years longer) for drinks. There is a Brent's in Westlake Village, which is barely in Los Angeles County, so I'll barely mention it.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Deli, Diner, American, The Valley, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Below the Sherman Oaks Galleria there is a windy stretch of Sepulveda that concerns itself mainly with being a busy onramp for the 405. Restaurants vie for space under the shadow of grim business buildings.
Our friends Doug and Rosina have been getting Heart of India delivered for a while now, and kindly invited us to eat at the actual establishment. The interior is elegantly dark, all reds and blacks and purples, with slightly outdated furnishings. A battered back room contains well-used buffet equipment.
We flip through the pages of an expansive menu, sipping on a fizzy ginger-infused lemonade called nimbu pani, characterized by balance and zest (the drink, that is, not I... I am generally characterized by a curious, somewhat snobbish apathy). As we blink over the concept of goat meat being called mutton*, we munch on crispy discs of papadam, raising a pleased eyebrow at the vibrant, addictive mango chutney that comes with it.
A new craving of mine (and, coincidentally, one of Doug and Rosina's) is the Chicken Makhni. It bathes in a crazy electric red sauce, tomato-based with an unexpected smack of mesquite. To its right in this photo is Lamb Korma, in a thick curry gravy with hidden slivers of almond. The lamb is most tender, with a slight muttering of gaminess that only adds to the sensation. I ordered this spicy, and relished a fairly mild back-of-the-palate spark.
The menu being as comprehensive as it is, it will take us a while to try even the major sections of it (the Tandoori items, fish, shrimp and mutton must come another day). The Chicken Saagwala has excellent texture, the creamed spinach becoming a lush green blanket. The Daal Mahkni is nothing like the Chicken Makhni, being murky and serious; the lentils are firm, the ginger and garlic subdued.
A departure from typical vegetarian Indian stylings, the Vegetarian Lamb Curry consists of onion, garlic, ginger, and little soy meatballs, firmly chewy with a nice burn that races around the tongue. We asked for this one spicy, but like many Indian restaurants I suspect they took it easy on us.
Everything comes in identically sized metal bowls with carved handles. The naan bread is puffy and perfect for swiping through the thickly sauced dishes, which I do.
There is a pay lot in back and free parking along the street if you're lucky. It seems there is hookah here; I'm curious when that is available, and where one would sit to enjoy it. I'm overdue for a hookah.
* That's not an error, actually; in India and Pakistan goat can be referred to as mutton, or chevon. This is your international note of interest for the day.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, The Valley )
Tiny Valley Burrito rescue
16851 Victory Blvd. (@ Balboa, in Van Nuys)
Phone: 818-781-6378 | map
A super-short review for a super, tiny Mexican joint. Tucked among a cell phone provider, a karaoke store and a battered little Chinese place, Juanito's is a student hangout and local emergency burrito fix. A busy counter, a stewpot of tomatoes, and Que Buena overhead. Grab a horchata or jamaica and let's get to it.
The pollo taco is seasoned heavily, but the seasoning doesn't add much despite raining orange liquid down onto your paper plate. Go with the heartier meats. The carnitas taco is very moist and tender, almost too soft to be true, with some finger oilage from the tortillas. "With everything" means onions and cilantro are hiding under the bulky, zestful green salsa. Sliced radishes are there for color.
The al pastor burrito, however, is what you bring home to devour. It's not a Brobdingnagian mule, but a tightly rolled and flour-dusted burrito that stays well-assembled throughout. The pork is finely minced and serious, with avocado adding some cool calm.
Okay. Now I'm ready to go do what I was going to do before the urge for a burrito fix. See that cool Mini Cooper there? That's me.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, The Valley )
With the casual denim blue logo, I was expecting the kind of tropically gaudy decor you'd get if a district manager from Islands was hired to come in and detonate a parrot.
Instead, underneath grass awnings, a quiet cantina demeanor presides. Posters for charro westerns and bullfighting coexist with sports-laden TVs and peppy rock music.
Hot's was once Hot's Tacos, and there are tons of them (tacos, that is, not Hot's locations). Elegant, exploratory contents are arranged on a single humorless tortilla, as if one wanted an excuse to serve tapas but didn't want the hassle of trying to pair a white rioja with Pulpo Gallego. There are the usual tacobian suspects, yes, but also shark, duck, lobster, alligator, Kobe beef and crayfish.
The Ancho BBQ Pulled Pork taco is my current favorite, softly intense, with an almost unneeded ancho chile BBQ sauce that's tangy without being cloying. Crispy onion strings are layered atop, that I like to pull off and eat separately. I also am highly impressed with the Duck taco, which makes great use of the fatty essence of seared duck breast, merging with wires of green onion and carrot in a hoisin sauce.
The Jimmy Chimi is their least favorite taco to make, but I think it de rigueur, with chopped onions and cilantro; the bites of chicken are crisped and firm around the edges the way I like, and the chimichurri gives it spark. The Smokin' Shrimp taco has crispy cocoons of shrimp in a roasted tomato chipotle sauce. The Alligator taco--which can be a challenge to chew because alligator is tough to come by on the west coast--has a tasty garlic aioli and may or may not include cilantro, green onion, yellow pepper or capers.
There is a choice of salsas. The pico de gallo is simply fresh chopped things without a serrano bite. The medium-spicy is like a murky barbecue glaze, with a don't-hurt-the-gringos heat level. The spicy, however, is a furious red that charges right to the back of the cough reflex and runs it through with a pitchfork. A low tongue burn shows up later.
New side-dish craving: the Mac & Cheese. It's penne, actually, not macaroni, baked into a molten lake of white cheese with a perfect crumb-crust on top.
Other things you can have: the black beans are fairly minimalist and speak for themselves, firm and snappy. There's pasta too, if I can ever get around to it, and sandwiches. I must come back and sample the Not So Fried coffee ice cream; it's a moral imperative.
Finding Hot's was an adventure; I hadn't been in my neighborhood (I spent many wasteful years growing up in Northridge) for over a decade. I remember this gigantic parking lot before the REI, before the Albertson's, and when the Carrow's was a Bob's Big Boy. My first trip to Hot's happened to be on their five year anniversary, so I've been missing out for a while.
This happens to me sometimes... I try to be fairly clandestine about my reviewing activities, but I was noticed taking pictures. Before I knew it, I was shaking hands with and talking about local restaurants with owner/head chef Sean, who shares my opinion regarding, say, the shortage of respectable sushi joints in the Valley. He has ideas, a mission, and a plan. I think part of this plan should involve moving over to this side of the Hollywood Hills.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, American, The Valley, Seafood )
My typical mode of thought:
"Watercress? Even more, Watercress: A Café? Look, I don't even like potpourri, yarn caps and Jane Austen novels. I don't have time to sit for hours in a sun hat with a teabag string dangling from a cup. Where can I get some carnitas around here?"
Since I've been eating in a fairly destructive manner lately, I decide to look for something organically oriented and farmer's market friendly, the culinary equivalent of a spa massage and exfoliation.
Not pretentious as expected, Watercress is a step above a coffee house, like Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock. A chalkboard menu hangs above the coffee prep area. Chocolate walls contrast with white; clean square tables are placed just so with woven reed chairs, producing an overall "Hippie IKEA Roman" effect. The menu still makes too much use of that Papyrus font, but that's a malady from which everyone suffers.
Iced mocha is not on the menu, but they kindly make me one when I ask. It's chocolatey and decadent, which is a descriptor I hate to use*, but it is perfectly made, and just what I need. When I'm not doing coffee I get their lemonade, which I like because it's very lemony, sort of mean and won't let sugar play with it.
Watercress makes a lot of paninis, another warning sign of pretentiousness which they avoid by making them absurdly well. The Prosciutto Panini, for instance, is elegant and inspired, with tenaciously stretchy mozzarella and a robust bite of aged ham. Purpling the bread is a layer of raspberry-jalapeño preserves, which are a "no, honest, this is an awesome combination and you'll have to trust me" concept, sweetness tempered by spark. It is balanced and exotic, like a champion unicycling contortionist.
One would think that the concept of "pressed sandwich" would be incompatible with, say, meatloaf, but somehow they hit a home run with this as well. The Homemade (Turkey) Meatloaf Panini is almost a turkey-salad texture, with dijon mustard on pressed pumpernickel. Watercress's bread is delivered fresh daily, and it's noticeable. The sandwiches come with salad greens topped with a tangy, nut-brown vinaigrette, sharp and opinionated but not bitter.
Be sure to get one of Christian's cookies: thin, pliable discs of warm bliss, or as the friendly individual behind the counter tells me, "like crack."
* It's a terribly overused word, universally spouted while gushing over desserts. Especially hot fudge: "ZOMG try this DECadent hot FUDGE cake. It's SINful." Meh. Come to think of it, I think it used to be pronounced de-CAY-dent. I learned this from a voiceover seminar taught by June Foray, and she's the voice of Rocky the Squirrel and a goddess, so I accept this as truth, and so should you. Back to your normally scheduled review.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, The Valley, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
The kitchen is in the front, so this seems at first glance to be a typical counter-order pizzeria. Past that, however, is an elegant dining room done in vigorous Mediterranean blue and white, including the ceiling panels. Folk ballads bounce merrily along. There is a homely yet refined feel to this Italian/Austrian/French joint.
If being nice was all it took to make a restaurant notable, quintets of stars would rain down on this humble establishment, due to Adrian and his wife; Lucia in particular is amazingly sweet and gracious, making one feel like an honored guest.
Gratifyingly, her pleasant greetings are backed by really solid food. Toasted rolls, buttered and freshly herbed, come blazing from the oven. The Mista Italiana salad is small but beams with freshly picked greens, black olives, tomato, slivers of green pepper, in a zippy house Italian dressing.
In the interest of I-always-try-this-first simplicity, the Chicken Parmesan is pounded flat, breaded and fried absolutely perfectly, with a veneer of sauce and a half-circle of melting cheese. The spaghettini is thick with melted parmesan, which leaves it sticky but addictive. I always say yes to an offer of extra parmesan, but this was splendid as is and I completely forgot about it.
The pizza feels like eating in Mama's kitchen, assuming Mama has an accent and wants you to eat, bambino, eat, because you're too skinny, why you no eat? The homemade dough is bready and crunchy. The Adrian's Special is freshness itself, with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage thinly cut from the link, fresh mushrooms, and white onion, all shuffled atop a sweet, tart red sauce.
What else to try... Austrian Chicken Schnitzel? Of course, and it's a specialty. There's also seafood, and some write-home dishes like scallopine di pollo sautéed in lemon or marsala wine with mushrooms.
There's an expansive parking lot in back, shared by a liquor store, Zig's, a battered little Chinese joint, and the alleyways of Vanowen and White Oak; accessible but rundown.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, French, Pizza, The Valley )