Category: Burbank/North Hollywood
The interior of the Santa Monica Hugo's is typically modern, calmly lit by a field of dimpled white shades. The vibe is close but efficient and friendly; however, we like the side patio, amber glass candle holders glowing on each table.
I always peruse the beverages menu for something interesting, and I settle on the Yogi Smoothie: mango, apple, toasted almonds, soy milk, cooperating in an even-handed way until the aftertaste suddenly jumps out shouting in ginger. It's a little rude, but I'd order it again.
These are fantastic. Rice Paper Lentil Rolls. Organic lentils are mixed fine with caramelized onion, surprisingly subdued celery, green pepper shaking hands with green apple, scallions, and a vegenaise. They are good by themselves, a delicate experience, but brought to a sophisticated level by a dip in the avocado/pepita dressing. The entire affair has the confident balance of a monk.
It's a salad, Dave. That's, um, great. Please tell me how this is innovative.
Glad to. This is Hugo's Mexican Salad. What's Mexican about it? Not entirely sure, although there are black beans and avocado, and a pico de gallo involved. This is not important. What is important is that along with the above ingredients they've somehow taken romaine, black olives, parmesan and nicely grilled, skin-on chicken breast, piled it into a grand hillock, and made it into one of the best salads I've tasted all year.
The caesar dressing isn't even that strong, but creamy and polite. The salad is as strongly tasty as if there were bacon and bleu cheese to boss everyone around (there isn't). The chicken is chopped into inch-wide cubes and hidden everywhere your fork penetrates. The avocado is fresh and influential, the black olives seem freshly sliced.
Another dish that refused to take a good photo, this is Very Slowly Roasted Portabello [sic] Stew, and the fact that they painstakingly point this out in the title is prominent in its presentation. Portobello mushrooms are so often rubbery and elusive, and not worth their impressive-sounding name, but this is, apparently, very slowly roasted, and therefore soft and meaty in texture, and darned good, and other things that make me run my sentences on.
Also in this is carrots, squash, zucchini, all the things that make my inner grade schooler say "yuck", plus garlic and french green lentils, which don't. It's assembled with a tomato and red wine sauce that is hard to describe, but almost sweet. Bianca likes the vegan mashed potatoes with this, which are not as whip-creamy as they can be since there is only soy milk to deal with, but combining a bit of that with a bit of stew makes every bite ridiculous.
The Grilled Mushroom Enchiladas are a grand repast, strips of sautéed mushrooms and onions wrapped in thick corn tortillas. The three amigos are then coated with a roasted tomatillo-jalapeño sauce, which is chunky and green and fairly sparkling with spice and flavor. Occasional heat darts toward your throat to stick it with a rapier.
On the left is long grain Spanish rice. Such texture! Tiny bits of corn and carrot add to a pan-roasted feel, although the rice loses its heat quickly. To the right are white beans, stirred in a red Guajillo-chili sauce, gentle and rich. The entire dish is an illustration in contrast: gritty fluff of the rice, red blanket of beans, layered nobility of the enchilada trio.
All this is gluten-free, by the way, something with which I've been concerning myself, and the parts that aren't vegan can be made vegan when requested. Each menu item considerately details whether it's vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and whether it can be made so.
We did not take a photo of the desserts, but there is something you need to try, and that is Chef Nabor's Chocolate Mousse.
In my longtime, lantern-lit search for an honest mousse, mousse usually falls to either of two waysides: it is an airy, tasteless sponge, or it is a dense clay. This is neither. The chocolate is Cordillera, with a soft-spoken, rich finish that brings smiles and hits itself out of the park. And, oh yeah: gluten-free.
Bianca: I'm having one of those "I'm young and and I'm licking my spoon" moments.
The location on Coldwater is a distant country cousin that has its own lot. Santa Monica is next to a public parking structure with a nice four-dollar flat rate for the evening.
Oh, and related to Hugo's Tacos? Yes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Burbank/North Hollywood )
Another one of those eateries I miss from the days of working on the west side, this is the restaurant that got me hooked on chicken korma. I'd go alone or with my friend Joe, counting on the reliable buffet to make the rest of my day awesome.
The West Hollywood location has a luxurious triangular orange-walled patio, its fountains and Indian music successfully drowning out the irritable Mercedes Benz and Range Rover engines on Santa Monica.
The Burbank location is larger, its pillared halls and painted alcoves hidden between a massive parking structure, a movie theater and a shameless Fuddruckers. Both kitchens have delicious smells radiating from them.
The West Hollywood buffet was where I started, and it is reliable: the Chicken Tikka Masala is a satisfying electric clay red, the dal is thin, yellow and spicy, and the Tandoori Chicken is always good despite its drying out a little on the buffet pan. Settling down for a real meal, though, is where Flavor of India shines. You will get a small disc of rice Papadam, good enough but well-matched with a pumpkin chutney, unexpectedly vibrant and spicy as a jealous goddess.
For a starter, we love the South Indian Idli, dense patties of ground rice and lentil steamed and served in Sambar, a lentil soup. The texture of the idli cake is grainy like cornbread, and comfortably warm; accompanying this is a white, gritty spackle of coconut chutney, which adds a cool balance of sweet coconut and turmeric and a new level of complexity.
Naan is always welcome, but I have a passion for their interpretation of pratha. It's wetter than it looks, unleavened bread with a buttery sheen, baked until flaky and bubbled. Although it makes your eyes close in pleasure when you drag it through something saucy, it needs to be dipped in nothing, and if there are more than three of you, order two of these.
Matter Tofu is a soupy dish of peas, green chilies, and ginger. Soft tofu cubes the color of saffron replace the typical potato or cheese, and soak up the tomato-heavy broth. The peas are small, crisp and slightly spicy. It benefits from absorbant heaps of white rice.
Back to what hooked me. My favorite rendition of Chicken Korma. Boneless chicken soft enough to separate with a fork is bathed in a blend of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, peanuts (instead of the usual almonds) and raisins.
Together it is happily married in a tongue-enfolding, velvety rich sauce that has me smiling for many minutes, with a perfect pinkish orange color somewhere between pumpkin and vodka sauce. It is a "Marry-Eff-Kill what would be your last meal if you were trapped on a desert island" kind of dish for me.
Flavor of India does a hot masala chai worthy of contemplation, even-handed with cardamom, and their spiced ice tea, a measure of milk on the side, is refreshingly cool.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Indian, Burbank/North Hollywood )
It looks cramped, but the interior extends a long, long way back, toward an enclosed patio replete with waterfall and koi pond. Paneled walls with Japanese woodblock prints add gravity to the sea of wooden tables, each separated by moveable dividers, like Tetris pieces ready to expand a party of four to a party of ten. The hubbub of patrons mostly drowns out the unfortunate thump of R&B grooves and pop rock.
Diminutive women in blue-print kimono wrap blouses dart between the tables, the glitz on their eyelashes matching that of their nails. A pair of plates with communal, baseball-sized heaps of ginger and wasabi are deposited before you.
Teru is not so much a place to establish a contemplative relationship with a dish of elegantly marinated monkfish liver. The style here is a little sushi-ya, a little izakaya, and like Tomo Sushi in Burbank, they think up creative ways to juxtapose ingredients and sauces. Your dishes are made quite quickly for such a bustling restaurant, and delivered almost simultaneously, boomboomboom, before you can ask "which one is this?"
I tend to avoid rice cakes like the stacked discs of packing popcorn they too often are, but the Spicy Tuna on Rice Cake is a statuesque creation; warm, fried blocks of rice support a cool strip of avocado and a fairly mild heap of spicy tuna. It is many-flavored, and I think it is my favorite of their specialties.
It has a brow-raisingly irreverent title, and it doesn't look friendly in pictures, but the Monkey Brain is also a favorite. An unlikely combination of mushrooms stuffed with crab meat and shrimp tempura is deep-fried into submission. The effect is a complex layering of warmth and softness, crispiness and umami. Two dipping sauces--a creamy sesame dressing and a red-swirled mayo--flank the reddish gold hemispheres, and end up getting used on a lot of other dishes when no one is looking.
The Sexy Roll is also sexier in real life than on camera, being a wicked foursome of albacore, crab, shrimp tempura, and avocado writhing in one cylinder of rice, without a shred of nori in sight. The roll is made even rarer, in that it is then drenched in a sauce of creamy sesame dressing and spicy red oil, cohabitating but refusing to mix. The effect is lush and worthy of a couple of repentant Hail Marys.
I'm unsure how traditional the use of beef is as a sushi component, but the New York Roll is welcome. Asparagus and green onion are wrapped in thin sheets of New York steak and grilled. Sprinkled with sesame seeds and draped in a non-sweet teriyaki sauce, the steak shows a tender quality, with a brisk crunch of asparagus stalk.
They do kushi fare here, too. The Chilean Sea Bass kushi yaki is hung over the robata until striped black; it looks like it would be tough, unforgiving, and stuck to the skewer, but it isn't. The sea bass is implodingly tender, to the point where you wonder why it hasn't disintegrated yet. Thin, serious cuts of scallion hold the gentle slabs of fish apart. These are eaten far too fast.
Because we can't say no to overly lavish dishes, we get the Panko-Encrusted Tuna Sashimi, different from a standard katsu dish like a Range Rover HSE is different from a Jeep CJ5. Tuna sliced into thick strips rests atop a hillock of greens, its fiery pink strata peeking from its panko crust. A little too much mustard sauce provides a gentle flare of spice.
Some people complain about the prices, but I expect they are used to "half off sushi" signs. With a party of four, three tokkuri of house saki, and a number of rolls and dishes, we came to under a hundred and fifty. Valet is a reasonable (for L.A.) $3.50.
Reservations are recommended on weekends, but Teru is open every night until a comfortably late eleven-o-clock.
Many thanks to Rosina and Doug for bringing us, and for being patient while I desperately snapped photos and scribbled notes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Burbank/North Hollywood, Seafood )
The Burbankian stretch of the 5 Freeway is a haven for chain restaurants*. Despite the small-town-street stylings of San Fernando Blvd., they've jammed a world of consumer-oriented enterprises to make Orange County jealous.
Burbank does have its hidden spots, though, after you've stumbled out of the AMC Theater blinking in the sunlight and looking for lunch. A sign outside Tomo boasts a large vegetarian menu, which brings us inside; we smile at the hundreds upon hundreds of one dollar bills taped to the walls, each decorated by patrons. This is not a precise, minimalist, tightly zen sushi establishment, but is fast and loose, creative and casual without delving into the embarrassing world of sake bombs and setting-sun headbands.
The man behind the counter is Tom, who greets people enthusiastically. Locals know and love this place, caring nothing for the fact that Tom happens to be Chinese, for he obviously loves his craft, putting together unusual combinations which he urges you to try.
The cut rolls here are futomaki style, thick and unwieldy and put together oh-so-fast, many wrapped in ghostly soy paper instead of nori. He is a little heavier on the anointments--shoyu and wasabi--than typical.
His signature piece is the Tomo Roll, a combination of crab, unagi, shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado that works unexpectedly well, wrapped in soy paper and dusted with sesame seeds. The warm, sauce-brushed eel smolders in the center, contrasting with the cold shreds of crab.
We normally shy from casually titled dishes, but the One Night Stand Roll has sinful personality, like an angel descended from Heaven and made you forget your earrings on his/her nightstand. Shrimp tempura and crab meat cohabitate again, but with an orange shock of spicy tuna, making for an energetic mouthful. Again, coolness rubs against the warmth of the shrimp tempura, and the result fairly shines with flavor.
The Futomaki Roll is a nicely mellow in-between piece. Gobo (Japanese carrot) mixes with avocado, strips of fried tofu, cucumber, and shrimp. Tamago (sweet egg) lends a yellow friendliness. This is one of the few rolls encased in the conventional nori instead of soy paper.
The Happy Family Roll is an absurd semicircle of crunchy sweetness; a snappy pile of tempura shavings lies atop more of Tom's smoothly spicy tuna; tempura shrimp tails grin from either end. The interplay of temperature and texture is astounding. The face is drawn with careful squirts from a bottle of sriracha hot sauce.
The ono is something you need to try. Most elegantly presented on the Snow White Roll, the milk-white tuna is draped over a crabmeat-filled roll. It has a quiet intensity to it, worthy of contemplation yet not something in which you overindulge. It is the dot on the exclamation point.
Tom will often prompt you in his booming voice, eliciting your approval with mackerel from Japan (melty), Japanese scallops (sliced like half dollars and incredibly soft). He may finish with a tiny square of nori, on which is an entire clove of Japanese garlic, which pops like a light cashew and has no garlicky reek at all; or, he may throw some spicy tuna, crabmeat and cucumber stick onto stiff fried wonton wrappers and drizzle eel sauce on top for a curious sweetness. Many of these things will be on the house. Before you recover from this epiphany, you will have orange slices and even some Strawberry Pocky.
* Off the top of my head, within potato-gun range: Kabuki, P.F. Chang's, Fuddrucker's, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, BJ's Brewhouse, Hooters, Chevy's Fresh Mex. This does not include the Swedish meatballs at Ikea.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Vegetarian/Vegan, Burbank/North Hollywood, Seafood )
As you drive by on Cahuenga, the building is painted like a row of storefronts, the air permanently sharpened by the scent of Italian dressing. In Hollywood, Miceli's juts out onto the slim Las Palmas street, ignoring the honks of trucks.
Miceli's wins for atmosphere. I'm a sucker for immersive, Pirates of the Caribbeanesque interiors, like I'm walking through an alley in some European hamlet and a sidewalk kitchen suddenly appears under the awnings. On Cahuenga diners are inundated with brick, arches, and wrought iron; hundreds of empty Bell'agio chianti bottles dangle from every edge, decorated by the patrons. The L.A. location has an even thicker grove of chianti bottles dangling over your head like ripe coconuts, and its furniture is deliciously dark and heavy wood. Piano jazz and cocktail tunes a la the Ultra-Lounge CDs you bought back in the nineties can be heard.
There is an iron trivet on your table where a pizza would go, holding the stubby shakers of red pepper flakes and parmesan. A basket of puffy rolls will be placed on it; they're quite good warmed over the candle.
This is Rigatoni Della Casa, a mess of buttery pasta overdone in the '50s-era Italian-American style. The meat sauce, not too chunky, is thinned by olive oil and made grainy by Romano cheese. It's almost too smooth, like the cheesy, crumbly interior of lasagne. It's satisfying, though, with an old-fashioned smack of salt.
They have a classic "Angie's Original" lasagne, but this is Miceli's vision of Chicken Lasagne. The pink sauce is more orange, earthy and velvety with tomato. The chicken has been chopped into gentle shreds and chunks, and is wrapped in disintigrated bits of spinach leaf. The three cheeses are unobtrusive. Even more so than the rigatoni, each flat sheet of pasta is done to the point of melting on the tongue.
The pizza here is, in my opinion, a "dinner pizza" rather than a primary choice for delivery. Mozzarella is laid thick and stringy over a thick and bready dough that lacks any hint of sweetness. The pepperoni is standard fare, but the sausage is a handful of spicy spheres you remember from youth. Mushrooms seem fresh, darkened and snappy. They're generous with the toppings.
They actually cut the slices here, not merely indent them with the pizza cutter, and will serve you the first slice. Miceli's is kinda classy that way.
There is valet for the Cahuenga location at night, but otherwise street parking is your best bet. Hollywood has a public lot nearby for an annoying-but-perfectly-normal ten bucks, which a validation from Miceli's will reduce to four. Metered street parking is available for both.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Hollywood, Burbank/North Hollywood )
More American diner, revised
13359 Sherman Way (in North Hollywood)
Phone: 818-765-7111 | map
Like Armon's and Tokyo 7-7, the Hungry Fox is a comfortably homely diner hosted by absurdly nice Asian women bantering with the regulars. It sits along a bone-dry stretch of Sherman Way, ignoring the Valley heat and happily broadcasting its motto: Happiness You Can Eat.
The decor is a composite of doctor's office (salmon tabletops, scratchy neutral wallpaper) and blue-collar eatery (wooden plaques, dry green carpet, paintings of wolves*). Thai statuettes are dotted in corners and... er, what is that hanging on the walls? Is that a square of fake clover? Yes, I believe it is.
A nice touch is the four tins on your table with homemade jams and salsas, and one notable feature: the pumpkin spread. At first one thinks, is this a bean dip? but then discovers how wonderful it is on toast. It's lighter than peanut butter, thicker than Nutella, and I believe they will sell a jar of it to you if you ask.
The menu is as broad as a deli's; the breakfast specials have friendly, inexplicable names like Fountain Rock, Early Fox, Camping, Volcanic Rock, and Bee's House. They do waffles a little darker and drier than desired, and the bacon might be crisped to splintery brittleness, so experiment.
The Spicy Thai Sausage and Eggs, for instance. The sausage is pleasantly griddle-blackened with a spark of heat. Eggs are done properly here (I like them over medium or over hard; my days of "um, scrambled, I guess" are past) and the Home Fries are fork-tender with bits of green pepper. The flavors of both are brought farther out with spoonfuls of the homemade salsa.
Later in the day is when I really wish Hungry Fox was closer to my neighborhood, because they do a satisfying Turkey Melt Royal, grilled screamingly hot, its swiss cheese melted into long strands. With bacon, tomato and sourdough with a glint of butter, it all settles comfortably together, like a twenty-year marriage where love still lives. The fries are decent and unsurprising, well done and finger-thick.
Hungry Fox is a breakfast-and-lunch affair, open daily from seven until three in the afternoon. There's a large lot, and endless parking along any of the streets.
As a side note, because I love diners with personality: the aquarium in front contains one brawny goldfish hovering alone, staring accusingly at you. Taped pieces of paper explain its solitude: My name is 'Goldie' and ... And I don't need friends! (because I ate them all!. Do not feed Goldie.
* Hey, who can find paintings of foxes nowadays? Sometimes you gotta work with what's thematically adjacent.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, American, The Valley, Burbank/North Hollywood, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )