On the next occasion where it happens to be a perfect Southern California day, and you're moseying along the unpolished lower stretch of Venice, past vendors of jewelry, art, love, and hemp artifacts, past examples of the ripped and the haggard, dodging rollerskates and peeking into freak shows, and you come across the red-and-white awning, take a break and get in line at the door.
There is a bar inside, noisy and neoned and pool-tabled, but your focus is to smell the ocean air a little longer, so you wait for a table on the patio, under arches and columns with bas-relief faces looking bemusedly downward.
It isn't that the Sidewalk Café is a swirling tidepool of culinary brilliance and innovation. It's that it's an icon, sprouting from the fabulously literate and independent Small World Books next door. The building dates back to the Abbot Kinney days, replete with bootlegger tunnels and beatnik artist studios. Kerouac crashed here, I believe.
They are, however, well-versed in their alcohol. They serve greyhounds here! Grapefruit juice and gin, in a lowball glass. Also try the Mississippi Mimosa, which adds a touch of Triple Sec to the champagne and OJ. For our late-afternoon purposes, however, Bianca and I like the Sidewalk Summer Tea: sweet tea and lemonade. And vodka. You'll need two pairs of these to get properly on the road* to toasted.
Bianca: I feel like I should be fanning myself on the veranda.
There's lots of habitual bar food, normally a beery afterthought in other joints. The Grilled Cajun Shrimp Skewers, despite their trendy name, are good, firm and snappy and fingertip-staining, riotous with herb butter and a paper tub of vinegary, Tabascoan red pepper sauce. They aren't large or many, so consider two.
Also in the realm of the familiar is the Calamari Basket, brittle puffs of amber, with a chunky tartar sauce that Bianca lets me have because she dislikes tartar sauce, and also... kids, let me tell you about a concoction called cocktail sauce, and how we adults love it so, while laughing over our martinis. It's a classic, horseradishy enough to bring memories of Mom and Dad's parties.
The Café keeps its literary roots, and names its Bookshelf Sandwiches for books and authors, a theme of which I always approve: you can get the Hemingway, the Odyssey, the Thesaurus, the Larry McMurtry, et al.
Since I recently reread Slaughterhouse-Five** I zero in on the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It's a fine mess, a California-style burger with a superb bite, not nearly enough bean chili (So it goes), a schmear of thousand-island, onions and cheese. You get the sense that this taste, this intellectually escapist vibe, would have been the same fifty years ago. The fries next to everything you get can be big-plank style or a thin, seasoned heap.
It's still late afternoon and we're still working a quartet of Summer Teas through our systems, so I get a slice of Key Lime Pie. It's not pretty. It's messy and unkempt, just like an ideal Venice lifestyle; thankfully it's banana-yellow instead of green, and sour as a spinster aunt, causing our tongues to bang around dingdingding like a pinball machine.
Try the Sidewalk Café as the sun dips behind the ugly cement bunkers into the Pacific. You'll remember why you're here.
* No, that wasn't a Kerouac reference. Or was it?
** I would totally try a sandwich called the Kilgore Trout.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Pizza, Santa Monica/Culver City, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Seafood )
A leisurely southerly west coast span of time
4354 Melrose Ave. (just east of the 101)
Phone: 323-666-6075 | map
It's fairly difficult to find Chilean cuisine even in this hypermulticultural mecca, so I'm pleasantly surprised to find this place within a couple miles of me, something I've driven by hundreds of times.
This restaurant and deli have been sitting quietly at the corner of Heliotrope and Melrose before anyone started trying to make the area hip.
The interior is homelike and often nearly deserted. Some lazy watching of the current football match may be in progress. The music can be soft-voiced Spanish crooners, but can also be, um... Go Country 105. Despite the photos and artifacts of Chile, one is (sometimes wincingly) inundated with Toby Keith, Alan Jackson and Big & Rich.
Ponder this as you dive into the thick roll they bring you, with either a pat of butter or a spoon of pebre, a mean little green sauce similar to Argentinian chimichurri, cilantro-heavy with a nice nasal onion sting.
Chile hugs Argentina on its right hip, so it's no surprise that some culinary similarities exist. If Rincon Chileno's ability with meat pies is representative of Chile, then Argentina has serious competition. I try a spinach empanada; the shell is ultra-crispy, glowing yellow and brown, layered rather than flaky. Once past the villainous heat level, there is spinach, chopped fine and melding beautifully with long strings of white cheese. It is superb, easily the best spinach empanada I've ever tasted.
The Churrasco de Pollo is a powerpacked little sandwich. Strips of chicken are grilled perfectly, browned and stiffened outside, tender inside, cooled by fresh tomato and avocado crushed almost into guacamole. This comes on french bread, amasado (a dense, scored roll not entirely unlike ciabatta), or hallulla (pronounced ayu-ya, hard-baked and pitted like a biscuit).
The sandwich comes with super-crispy french fries, with which you can't insult me. They benefit both from ketchup (the waitstaff sees I am a gringo and places a bottle on the table) and occasional dips into the pebre.
Move past the lunchtime sandwiches to see Rincon Chileno's kitchen shine. The Filete de Pescado a la Meunniere is a baked fillet of whitefish swimming in a mild lemon garlic sauce, achingly tender. You can get it fried for the nicely rendered crunch, but this gentle slab of fish rings of perfection.
It has a small tin of warmed garlic dipping sauce that has more citrusy bite, but it is almost unneeded because of the succulence of the fish. A steaming mound of white rice helps to soak up the flavorful juices, and three small slices of astoundingly red tomatoes sit aside, dusted with parsley. I still apply pebre here and there.
There is peril. If you aren't careful--note the consumption of bread, empanada, french fries and sandwich here--the resulting carb coma will have you in its starchy manacles and unable to function for the remainder of the day except for yawns and hand waves and weak little whines. Your slide into sleepiness is exacerbated by the fact that it may take a while for them to deliver the bill.
Rincon Chileno is open 10 to 10 daily. Plenty of street parking with meters that blink and say FAIL is nearby. There's also a Rincon Chileno on Hawthorne in Lawndale, but I'm unsure of its relation.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Deli, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Seafood, Mid-City/Koreatown, Chilean )
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 )
My local-est Mexican cafe
620 Silver Lake Blvd.
Phone: 213-484-9090 | map
Las Glorias poses demurely along the auto-repair stretch of Silver Lake Blvd., across from the dubious Mom's Donuts & Chinese Food To Go stand. The red sign hides behind trees. A small counter-order window and an open-air patio which pleads for descriptive words like "quaint" and "tropical" hides under that.
The menu is simple and broad--the usual meat choices and a few soy/vegetarian prospects--and after a moment someone will raise the window with a click and await your pleasure.
The grilled fare is well-defined here, almost too nicely done, savory but without gritty parts. The pollo is clear and clean and confident in its freshness, the asada seasoned and chopped fine, heavy with flavor.
The burritos have a satisfyingly high content-to-condiment ratio, with green bits of pepper, avocado and peas for sensibility. An occasional pocket of pinto beans settles in the corners. The burrito mojado you see here floats in a small sea of thick red sauce with white striping; the sauce is not too cloying but not too heavily spiced either.
The fish tacos are big on batter but feathery soft, more prominent than the bare wisps of shredded cabbage. More white striping occurs on top, with fresh tomatoes.
For salsas, the pico de gallo is thin and more for color than zing; the red is smoky with a suspicious glare. However, on request, you can obtain a mustard-colored habañero salsa, that will paint your tongue with anger and make the rest of your meal a study in repentance. We love it.
Las Glorias has a little green lane for 30-minute parking, perfect for those quick pick-ups (and it's under a mile away from our place). The liquor store next door has a 15-minute lane; otherwise Silver Lake usually offers a spot somewhere.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Vegetarian/Vegan, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Seafood )
FuRaiBo is an izakaya style tebasaki chain, which means that unless you have access to one of the eighty locations in Japan*, you need to come to Los Angeles County to try these chicken wings.
Furaibo's abraded, inner-city exterior stands on the narrow strip of Sawtelle where the Japanese restaurants mingle. Underneath its sea green ceiling is deep, serious wood and paper lanterns, the sobriety of the decor eased by the energetic waitstaff careening by.
The lunch menu is quite abbreviated, mostly curries and pan-sizzled steak, but it's the chicken I want to mention first, the combinations of which are named according to some bewildering Edgar Rice Burroughs theme. There's the Tarzan, the Jane**, and the Chita. For variety's sake I like the Tiba & Chita: wings, leg, thigh. It comes with a shredded heap of cabbage and a small, baffling scoop of tuna, over which you should put miso dressing.
Is this fried chicken? Is it just that they use fresh frying oil? How do they do this? While I've had karaage and always appreciate a nice crunchy batter, it's not battery, and the thin meat is full of eager flavor and snap, made to be pulled forcefully from the bone and crushed with the tongue. The heat level can be modified according to desire, and asking for it spicy will yield a moody lip-hurt. Sesame seeds add a nutty essence that is greater than their sparse scattering across the chicken. Do not speak to me at this time, for I am eating.
For dinner the menu quadruples, displaying items to seriously consider once you get past your disbelieving experience with the chicken wings. At top right in the photo is Tako Wasabi, a gelatinous bowl of grey meant to terrify the gaijin palate but which is really very tasty; octopus is diced in a wasabi sauce, udon-soft but with a chewy core and an elegant bite of spice.
Below that is Geso Kimchee; squid leg is steamed and given body by the pickled Napa cabbage. It's crunchy with more personality than heat. I realize that these descriptions are either going to sound really good or really off-putting. Trust us when we say that they're good.
To the left, though. That is Hanpen Cheese. I swear by sweet Umashiashikabihikoji, the reed that appeared during the formation of heaven and earth, this stuff is good. There are these triangles of fish cake, you see, breaded and fried with yellow cheese. Shoyu and hot mustard accompany this, and add a zippy sting to it. It will haunt your dreams.
There's more: Tori Neguma are simple skewers of charred yaki chicken alternating with Tokyo green onion; the dark meat is soaked with teriyaki and smells irresistible. Enoki & Scallop is pan-sautéed in a garlic butter sauce, the mushroom stems becoming like a lush spaghettini. Even the fried rice is clean and distinguished, tiny wedges of chopped, smoked sausage giving it body.
There's a lot in back with tandem spaces; if you're behind someone, let the staff know.
Thanks to Kalani and Adam for the new set of cravings.
* Or, there's a branch in Jakarta, Indonesia, if you're in the neighborhood.
** The Double Jane is, wincingly enough, two breasts.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, West Side/West Hollywood, Seafood )