Filling all the little corners
11660 Gateway Blvd. (just below the 10 freeway)
Phone: 877-518-5151 | map
There is a surprising little corner mall that springs up right where Gateway and Barrington rub shoulders with each other; find a space in the lot and head toward the bright red neon letters.
It smells incredibly good inside, but you may not notice this yet, since the music is likely to range from slow Cuban son to cheesy disco remakes of the Beatles and Coldplay, to your favorite '70s won't-you-come-back hits.
The kitchen is pan-Asian, so your cravings for ramen, soon tofu, cha han, bulgogi, and pho, can be lessened from the izakaya style menu.
I urge you to explore beyond your normal limits. The Tako Wasa, for instance. This is wasabi-marinated raw octopus, which, I must tell you before your North American tongue stampedes toward the exits, is rich and fabulous, a balance between chewy and gelatinous, bathed in a glaze that is sweet and sour like a mabo tofu dish. It can be a little challenging to the chopsticks but is worth it.
Or for familiarity with extra explosive Japanese flavor, I rarely deny myself Kurobuta sausage. A quartet of finger-length links are scored dozens of times and sizzled to a burnt snap. The scent is alluring, and the sausage barely needs dips in the tangy ketchup or dijon mustard.
Back on the adventurous side, I have been happily introduced to yukke, which is a mound of raw ground beef with egg yolk on top, which may seem like a terribly not-good idea, but when mixed up it becomes almost like chopped spicy tuna in texture, gleaming in sesame oil.
Too much? Speaking of tuna, the tuna don is clean and lovely and goes quickly. Hand-cut marinated tuna with sesame seeds, sashimi, and a saucy fill of spicy tuna are laid out like cool beds. It is fairly basic, but refreshing when combined with a warm soup.
Asian-ya does a number of soups, notably the hangover-curing Tan tan men, an opaque broth with noodles and ground pork. You can order this with no meat, and it is no less rich and complex. The broth is a pale speckled amber, its spice level containing a lurking glottal punch. Sesame seeds add nutty essence to the snaky pile of thick noodles. We are now addicted to this.
We soak up everything with orders of Lettuce Fried Rice: big striations of egg, tuny cubes of pork, and hot sheets of lettuce grown supple. The Jalapeño Fried Rice is even better, just shy of pan-burned, redefining the paradigm of fried rice, and my favorite at the moment.
Asian-ya is closed Wednesdays.
Thanks to Mai and Adam for suggesting Asian-Ya to us, after we'd sobbed to them about Terried Sake House being closed, and for graciously allowing us to make them come out to dinner with us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Chinese, Santa Monica/Culver City, Korean )
This is not the gritty streetism of an authentic pho joint unconcerned with its C rating; a common compliment for Pho Saigon will be its cleanliness. The layout is high contrast, black and white furniture on wood planking. Speakers blare Korean pop while a silent television flickers. Designed photo collages of menu items add to a congenial but somewhat impersonal vibe.
It seems equally balanced between its noodle soups and its other fare, so a Special Appetizer Platter seems a good starter. There's a pair of Egg Rolls, shreddy golden cylinders with an oily crunch, a tiny bit overdone. The Spring Rolls are better, with a clean snap of orange carrot, striped shrimp, cabbage and vermicelli.
The Dumplings are pink and meat-filled, familiar-tasting and worth a future try on their own. The Fried Shrimp is a novelty, long spears of dumpling skin wrapped around a straightened shrimp and fried. It's good enough, with the peanut dipping sauce that's more sweet than sour, but the spring rolls are probably the worthiest competitor.
On to the soups. The #18 is pho noodle soup with well-done brisket and flank steak. The beef is soaked in hot broth, stretched into fatty, shimmery sheets like stained glass. The noodles need a firm separating with chopsticks before digging into them, but are clear and of good toothsomeness.
The Seafood pho, with imitation crab and thin, cream-colored slices of fish cake, is clean and flavorful but patiently subtle, a canvas awaiting expression. Pho Saigon hooks one up with bottles of hoisin, red pepper paste, sriracha, mint leaves, cilantro, bean sprouts, white onion, and lime.
The soups are good and proper, but the grill should not be ignored. What they do quite gratifyingly here is Charbroiled Chicken and Shrimp over Vermicelli; the dark meat is chopped and charbroiled to a glistening gold firmness, with the right amount of savor and give. The (grand total of three) shrimp are fried nicely craggy, good but overshadowed by the chicken.
It is a cold dish with pockets of warmth. The freshly done vermicelli is unstuck-together and elegantly white, made crunchy by carrot and cucumber slivers, shredded lettuce, and a nod of chopped peanuts. A shy dressing can be poured over it all, pale and nutty, but either hoisin or sriracha will shout over it.
Service tends to crisp efficiency and friendly goodbye calls of annyeonghi gyeseyo!, but during slower hours it can be difficult to get the bill.
Every day the Koreatown location is open until four in the morning; the hardworking people at Pho Saigon sleep only for three hours before reopening at seven. The other locations--on Hill Street Downtown, and the original spot on Imperial Highway in La Mirada--are not open nearly as late, but have more expansive menus.
The 6th Street location is in a strip mall, but parking is a forced, albeit tips-only, valet. Try to catch a whiff of KyoChon next door.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vietnamese, Late Night/24 Hours, Korean, Mid-City/Koreatown )
For lunchtime excursions slightly west of Japan
1100 S. Central Ave. #D (@ Chevy Chase, in Glendale)
Phone: 818-240-1556 | map
Cool green tea walls. Hyper-designed catering posters. A chaotic, colorful wall menu. Light pop and hip-hop drifting from speakers. The owners talking pleasantly in Korean.
What? Korean? Oh, don't worry about that. I will allow that you should not bring a visiting businessman from Fukuoka here for omakase, but Tottori reasonably translates Japanese fare with a nod to the American palate. It means that the spicy stuff is more likely to have that mouth-filling burn from red paste. I know it sounds hand-wringingly apologetic, but I really do get an occasional need for some Japanese-inflected cuisine within my lunchtime radius*.
Get past the peripheral items. The salad is basic and primarily for cooling. The miso soup is standard. The ginger is a rosy blush color, the wasabi properly fiery.
The sushi is not cut thick, but well-formed and fresh, without shredding apart from its own gravity. They do maki (cut rolls) quite well. The Love Love Roll is a favorite here: spicy tuna and avocado with a small scallop atop, wrapped with tuna sashimi instead of rice. The tuna is pliable and tongue-rich, the spicy tuna zingy. The Green Bamboo Roll has spicy crab with a kick, a subdued salmon tempura, and is draped with avocado; the combination is of warm and cold pleasantly chasing each other.
Speaking of Korean-influenced burn, the Red Pepper Chicken is moist with a gentle outer layer that's not quite char, not quite batter. Almond slivers rest on top. There is a slight cronsch, and halfway through, the Korean slow burn starts in on your tongue. The Spicy Chicken dish has more mouth feel, with green and red peppers, but I think the Red Pepper Chicken edges it out.
The ramen is tasty enough, almost orange with spice, its curly chijire noodles full and yellow, but seems too close a relative to some of the packages you might find in the Japanese markets.
The kalbi (BBQ short ribs) are another Korean endeavor, fatty and peppery, with vibrant green scallions. A basic teriyaki dish--chicken or steak--will result in a loosely chopped and well-charred creation that's more reliant on the flavor of the meat than the dark sauce drizzled atop.
* Please don't bring up Todai. Or Octopus.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Korean )
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 )