Anyone who lives in Los Angeles knows this is a great city to enjoy ethnic food. It is easy to eat affordably priced meals at any number of national and regional restaurants including those that serve Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Brazilian, Thai, Jewish, Korean, Vietnamese, Armenian, Persian, Peruvian, Guatemalan, Ethiopian and Indian dishes.
Living near the beach, I don't come into town as often as I would like. To meet a friend close to where he lives meant we needed to find a restaurant near the 10 Freeway at the Crenshaw Boulevard exit.
Not knowing where to go, I turned to Bobby Rock, who knows the area well. He had suggestions. They all sounded good. We wanted a light meal, so we figured we'd try La Cevicheria (3809 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019, (323) 732-1253).
As I parked in front of the restaurant, my friend called to say he would be late. A car issue, easily solved in ten to fifteen minutes. Ok, no problem. That gave me time to explore the area.
On this very hot day I can’t stop thinking about the strawberry milkshake I inhaled for dessert at Pono Burger a couple weeks back. Strawberry was all time childhood ice cream fave flavor.
But somehow I abandoned it in adulthood in favor of the “more interesting” salted caramel, brown bread, you know the drill. But seeing those frosty glasses brimming with pink creaminess being carried across the room seduced me. I wish I had one right now.
Strawberry is Back!
I’ve passed the quonset hut at the corner of Broadway and 9th many times, wondering what it was but never stopped in. How lame! Turns out it’s Pono Burger and as treat we ladies of Good Food went for Pono’s first anniversary dinner to meet Chef Makani.
I'm pretty sure LA is the only place that it can be hard to find a restaurant marked by a gigantic neon sign. That's because in a city that's made up of a string of strip malls, neon signs are easy to overlook. And this one is tucked behind the parking lot of an unassuming boba place. It reads 'park' above an arrow pointing one way and 'drink' above an arrow pointing the other way, towards Beer Belly.
Aptly named since (refreshingly for LA) there's not one remotely dietetic thing on the menu. Even the broccoli rabe is drenched in burrata, and don't get me started on the duck fat French fries. Or do, because they're the perfect combination of crispy and greasy.
And the grilled cheese might just be the best I've ever had.
There’s a new cake in town. Actually, it’s a whole boutique full of cake and it’s here to stay! Lady M, the glorious cake boutique with three locations in New York City opened in LA last August, quietly without much fanfare but with a line out the door. It seems word spread fast among cake connoisseurs.
Coming upon it by accident while taking my daughter, in from NYC, to AOC for lunch, my daughter informed me that although I was at the wrong valet parking spot for AOC, I might be at the right parking spot after all.
“Parking for AOC is half a block up, Mom, but if the Lady M on that valet sign is the same as the one in NY, we’re skipping lunch and going straight to dessert.”
“Hmmm , that good?”
“Seriously ridiculous.” (Her highest compliment).
Since we’re both over 21, I figured we we’re old enough to go straight to the good stuff.
Certain foods cause people to become rhapsodic. Proust had his madeleines. I have pho ga. At Pho Vinh Ky, the large bowl of chicken soup and rice noodles arrives with a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
Traditionally, the herbs and vegetables are added to the broth. Rau ram, ngo gai, bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, purple perilla, a lime wedge and thick slices of serrano peppers add brightness to the flavors. I love the dipping sauce, nuoc cham gung, a mix of lime juice, dried pepper flakes, finely chopped fresh ginger and fish sauce. Everyone has their own way to eat pho. Mine is to eat the noodles first. Each spoonful flavored by the pungent, hot, salty dipping sauce.
If you haven't eaten Vietnamese food, you have missed out on one of the great Asian cuisines. Known primarily for their noodle soups, plates of barbecued meats piled high on mounds of broken rice or served in a bowl with vermicelli noodles and stir fries spiced with lemon grass, Vietnamese food has spread into the wider culinary community because of the popularity of pho (hot beef and chicken soups with noodles) and banh mi (crusty baguettes with spicy meats and pickled vegetables). With several large Vietnamese communities around the country, we are lucky to live close to Little Saigon in Orange County.
This is like an April Fool’s Day joke; a BBQ joint write up by a vegetarian! There is a method to this madness. After all there’s more than one way to come at anything!
Here’s the theory; there are a lot of men out there who love BBQ. It’s such a manly man food. A lot of those manly men have wives, girlfriends, partners who are vegetarians. This makes going out to BBQ with their loved one difficult. Probably an adventure saved for boy’s night out. You know, after playing poker, shooting hoops, or screaming at TV skirmishes, they go grab a few ribs and some beers.
Ladies. I’m taking a page out of my book and handing it right to you. Want to make your hungry he-man happy, take him to Bludso’s BBQ and Bar on La Brea where you both will eat well and be happy. There probably won’t be any romance that night because he will be stuffed like the pig he just ate, but he will fall asleep with a bloated smile on his face and you will have won several gold stars! (To be cashed in later for jewelry, an i-pad, a weekend away with (or without) him or whatever your need might be at the moment.)
Kai Lobach's “baby” is Currywurst, the hole in the wall sausage restaurant on Fairfax Avenue that he opened a few years ago and is fighting to keep alive and well. Small, compact, and beautiful as it is, it has not had the proper attention it deserves! Maybe it’s because in Southern California we don’t appreciate sausage stands. They are a common site, though, in Germany and are as popular and ubiquitous as Mickey D's here in America. We don’t think in terms of sausages for lunch…or dinner…and not too much for breakfast anymore, truth be told.
No, when making a lunch plan, sausages, (pork, chicken, or veal), served on a delicious homemade brioche bun, with a choice of different sauces on the side, (including my favorite aoili mayonnaise) doesn’t come readily to mind. But it should, the way Curry Wurst makes it! Served with excellent French fries on the side. My Heaven. The French fries are so good; in fact, they could be the main act.
Kai Lobach goes way beyond interesting and catapults risk-taking to new heights. He also seems to be quite fearless, but I suppose one has to be to lead a life guided by passion. Make that plural…passions.
Kai is a chef who has his own event planning business one could call celebrity driven or sustained. Born, raised and schooled in Germany, and having attended European culinary institutes, it would be natural to assume that food and cooking are his main passions. But haven’t we all been taught, assume nothing. Or, as my growly teen puts it, assuming makes an ass out of you and me. Collecting art and what he lovingly refers to as his “baby”, take first position.
Part of a growing trend to serve Chinese food with locavoire sourcing and an attention to healthy choices, Chi Lin off the Sunset Strip (9201 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood CA 90069, 310/278-2068) pays homage to the spirit of Chinese cuisine with upscale versions of classic dishes like Peking Duck, soup with steamed dumplings, tangerine beef, tofu with pork and stir fried clams.
Tucked away just off Sunset Boulevard next to the much larger restaurant, Rivabella, the entrance to Chi Lin is marked by a bordello red neon sign suggesting forbidden treats and dangers are inside.
Chi Lin is a restaurant for special occasions. The dining room is perfect for a romantic liaison with a new friend or to celebrate the love of your life on an important anniversary. A hostess in a clinging black leather dress, cut mid-thigh, will lead you to your table in an intimate dining room.
Rows of lights hang down from the ceiling, their dim rays illuminating not so much the room as the essence of the space. The mirrored walls reflect the ceiling lights to infinity. Tables and booths allow for comfortable seating. The waitstaff is attentive. The menu accommodates omnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians.
Except for a short stint on the Westside, I've spent over 20 years living in the Valley. And I love it. I really do. Yet, since I became more of a "foodie" a few years ago, I have been consistently disappointed with our lack of finer dining choices. We have excellent Mexican, burgers, pizza and sushi on every block of Ventura Blvd., but it's a wasteland when it comes to trying to find a place with a decent wine list, upscale decor and innovative food that doesn't cater to hipster millennials who are more concerned with being seen than with what's on the plate. Every time I read about a new place opening I held my breath in anticipation that my prayers would be answered…only to have them dashed by another gastro pub or taco joint (no offense).
So imagine my delight when Girasol, helmed by Chef CJ Jacobson, a two-time Top Chef contestant, was moving in to my neighborhood. The space located just outside Tujunga Village has been many different restaurants over the years none of them seemingly able to succeed for very long, so here's hoping his team can make it stick. They certainly transformed the building, pushing the sunflower-theme in a very modern, slick direction with an amazing layered metal ceiling and gray-brick tiled walls. It's like eating inside a metal sculpture. It's super cool, but not in a cold or unwelcoming way. You could really impress a first date by bringing them here.
The food mirrors the atmosphere and tastes as good as it looks. There's no real theme per se, just seasonal, creative fare that showcases the locally-sourced ingredients with a few unusual touches thrown in here and there to keep your palate engaged. Big Ceej is friends with many of the regional farmers, so expect the menu to change pretty regularly with the night's specials being as "in-season" as it gets. Thankfully he's cooking in California so his options are pretty varied.
I love breakfast. Pancakes that taste like cookie dough at Hedley's, Huevos O'Groats, I'll even drive to Ventura for the chorizo skillet at Golden Egg or go to Barney Greengrass in New York for nova, onions and eggs. So I was excited to try Tart, the cute cafe next to the Farmer's Daughter hotel on Fairfax.
It's adorable inside. Quaint, cozy, the owner, who looks like Yosemite Sam, bouncing around in an apron, like someone's dream of what a breakfast place should be. So I didn't mind that we got seated right next to the door on a particularly chilly Angeleno day. And I didn't even mind that it took almost a half an hour to get our coffee. It was Saturday, and they were busy. But the coffee was burnt and watery. Like it was scraped from the bottom of the dispenser.
I returned it and ordered a cappuccino to compensate. It took twenty minutes to arrive AND it came with lipstick smeared all over the mug. Not mine, by the way. I sent it back, and suggested that since it had been forty five minutes and there was no sign of our food, maybe we should abandon ship...
My friends weren't having it. They'd waited this long and we were starving. So we waited. And waited. And waited. A concerned bus boy finally came to check on us. When our food finally did come, it was a disaster. I honestly don't know where to start.