Category: Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park
O'Groats has been about for nigh on thirty years, and the Valley edition is a couple of years old, popular with the Encinoan locals. I'd often passed it by, thinking it either a marmalade-infused, privileged abomination of fennel and foofery or a sportsbarian Valhalla of bros and brewery specials, and I would have been prone to sneer at this big blue oval logo that might have been yanked from a designer suitcase, but it's just not so. It's honest, and friendly.
The Ventura Blvd. location sighs beneath glum bank buildings like Encino eateries often do, with a massive gravel-and-pavement patio. Inside it's as airy as the day, predominantly blue and cream with a silvery tin ceiling overhead. They seem to know most of the folks who come in here.
Naturally I gravitate toward any dish called Latino Heat. This does not (necessarily) reflect my typical clubgoing pursuits.
This is a scrambled affair, but as I also am attracted to any option that says "make it a burrito," I do. It's packed with spicy, rich turkey sausage and a coat of sharp cheddar, and not quite enough jalapeño peppers to make it threatening. It's a hot and velvety jumble of yellow and russet yet holds itself together. A side dish of sour cream, melty avocado slices and pico de gallo waits patiently.
This is the Quesadilla O'Groats. What makes this a "huh!" creation is the much-lauded biscuit dough tortilla, which makes it less papery and more pitalike; pleasantly dappled with griddle marks with a buttery sheen, it's layered with steamed spinach, mushrooms, black beans, and is spot-welded by sharp cheddar.
While the vegetarian Qo'G is noteworthy, they make a dangerously good Corned Beef Hash here, a perfect pink-and-beige balance of salty chopped meat and mouth-filling potatoes.
Get this as a communal dish for the table; it's not greasy as might be expected, but it carries a real risk of post-brunch tummy-holding because you've eaten too much.
While John O'Groats is beloved for breakfast, do not, despite your tummy-holding, neglect lunch. On a lighter day I like the personality-laden Tostada Marie, where a crunchy-thin biscuit dough tortilla is piled with layers of warmth and coolness, with no one element bossing the others around. Home fries, chopped Gardenburger, spinach, salsa and cheddar are saturated with the juice of black beans, with the crepe-like sweetness of the tortilla adding interest.
The Encino location has a large parking lot in back with lots of grumpy bank-customers-only signage, but it is relaxed on evenings and weekends.
* A little detective work here, if only because the restaurant's website won't explain it: the road sign-cum-coat rack is a replica of the one at the very tippy-top right point of Scotland, in the village of John o'Groats. Conversely, Land's End is on the very bottom left of the Cornish peninsula, so the two are about as far apart in the UK as you can get. Dining in L.A., folks, is where you turn for party trivia.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, The Valley, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )
More lovely Peruvian hybridization
5163 Venice Blvd. (west of La Brea)
Phone: 323-936-4444 | map
I keep doing this to myself, but I'm quite happy. It is a well-known equation: the productivity of a workday after lunch is inversely proportional to the level of Peruvian food involved.
It's easy to race by this little spot, hidden in a corner mall along a wide stretch of Venice Blvd. on your way elsewhere. The building is painted-over brick, the interior oddly glass-walled as if a travel agency suddenly decided to become an eatery. A small television shows salsa videos. A dignified Japanese man or woman may take your order, and can break out the Spanish if need be.
I don't often see this, since the word "lomo" gets tossed around a lot, but I rather like the Pescado Saltado. Like the lomo and pollo versions, the main feature is sizzled in an iron pan with slivers of red onion, tomato and french fries until the meter reaches "sodden and sleepy."
The pescado here is fish strips, once breaded and fried and probably crisp, now wrinkled and surrendered to the sauce. The tomato is nearly nonexistent, but the fries are numerous and explosive with flavor.
There is something about how Peruvian cuisine handles the interaction between chicken and firewood. The Combo #4 (1/4 pollo con tortilla) is plain-clothed, but! The chicken! It gives Pollo A La Brasa on Western serious competition. Brilliantly dark with spices, bright and full-flavored, as if it had been fraternizing with a pair of duck flight attendants in a jacuzzi of pork drippings.
While you're dealing with that florid ornithological simile, I can tell you that the mild-looking frijol is a cup of thickly rendered pinto beans, and incredibly tasty. Incredibly. Enough to make one pause and think on it. There is also a calm ensalada and a bebida that come with this deal.
Adam, who found this joint and is not easily impressed: Not just good. It's surprisingly awesome.
For dashing over everything a gaggle of squeeze bottles huddles on your table, including mustard, ketchup, a good, hot chipotle mayonnaise, and a fairly tame aji sauce with a patient spice somewhere in its verdant paleness.
Pollo el Brasero #3 is closed on Mondays, may or may not be cash only, and may or may not be open until 6 on weekdays, 7 on weekends, and may slip into closure early.
Do I add to the Peruvian Tally? This is a tough one. The list is getting extensive, and this is also a rotisserie joint. But what the hell.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Peruvian, Santa Monica/Culver City, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )
Not far from where Bianca grew up, the neighborhood of Jefferson Park had a heavy Creole influence back in the '50s, since dwindled to a few fish markets and sausage makers. Harold & Belle's came about in 1969 and remains a cultural locus.
The interior is elegantly airy with textured damask wallpaper, black chairs and an expanse of white cloth. The menu needs only a few pages. There are a few soul-inflected offerings like fried chicken, steak and crab cakes, but you probably shouldn't bother with these. Concentrate on what you are looking for when jonesing for Creole: jambalaya, gumbo, poboys, red beans and rice.
The service is friendly and crisp. Food and drink orders arrive in overwhelming succession: from behind you a waiter will bark, "Excyuse meh! I have here an order of filé gumbo?", reducing potential confusion to nil while you clatter dishes around to make room.
Speaking of Filé Gumbo, I knew there was meant to be a collage of ample ingredients, but there is a lot going on here: a single chicken wing, sodden with juice and falling apart. Cylinders of smoked beef sausage, intensely soft and moist, from Pete's Louisiana Hot Links down the street.
And crab, I cannot help but see. Soft-shelled and clicky and requiring some dexterity, the crab is less a source of meat than a lender of its essence to the gumbo. Oh, and shrimp. And ham. All merged in a deep, dirty, divine roux that might be the jus of the gods. A mound of just-sticky-enough steamed rice provides some absorption.
This is a small order, by the way.
For a main course--for I am foolish enough to have both the gumbo and a main course--the Shrimp and Crawfish Étoufée is a robust swamp of richly spicy crawfish gravy. Thick curls of shrimp are firm and springy, and the tiny, fiercely red-striped crawfish tails are luscious.
There is a heavy-handedness with the gravy, which leaves less texture to enjoy, but it's not like you aren't going to keep forking it into your mouth with rice until you reach the point of regret.
The Seafood Platter, aside from being an art piece, is a collection of breaded abandon, and not for the single diner. Fillets of red snapper are tender enough so that only their scratchy exterior holds them together. Shrimp and oysters are also fried, all heaped atop a highly effective platform of buttered bread. So much battered seafood gets to be a little much, but the tartar and cocktail sauces make this less of a hardship. The oysters are the best part of this dish.
Naturally in an eatery of New Orleans descent, we try the Hurricanes. These are fairly bitey and valiant, and will help keep you in your seat, but you will need two to induce that familiar lurching-along-Bourbon-Street feeling you want to recapture.
We are of course rendered useless afterward, chatting peacefully in an unconcerned euphoria, without a hope of trying dessert.
Harold & Belle's leans toward the pricy, most of its dinner items lingering in the twenty-dollar range. They're open every day until 9, until 10 on Fridays and Saturdays, and have valet.
Many sleepy thanks to Tuesday and Christian, who via the latter's birthday offered us a perfect opportunity to finally make it down here.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Cajun/Creole, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )