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There are a few general rules to follow when trying to trying to decide if a place will be good:

1) Is there a line when nearby places have none?

2) If it is an ethnic cuisine, are there people of that ethnicity eating there?

3) Has a friend with a discerning palate eaten there and liked it?

Mama Lu’s answered all these questions yes, but aside from one dish out of four, I can not say it was good.

They are known for their dumplings, so we ordered some to test out their signature dish. They were surprisingly bland with a heavily cilantro based filling and even with some doctoring with tableside black vinegar and chili oil, the three of us only ate one and left the rest.

I am still on my quest for great beef chow fun. The presentation made me hopeful, because it was not greasy, but once again it required doctoring with several of the tableside condiments to flavor these noodles. Again we left half food on the plate.

The clear winner of the evening were the pea sprouts sautéed in garlic, which we all loved and which needed no doctoring of any kind! This was the only plate we finished completely.

The clear loser of the evening were the clams in black bean sauce which were cloyingly sweet and which none of us wanted to eat after a few bites. We were amazed at how full the restaurant was and how disappointing the dishes were, especially since two of my friends had eaten there before and enjoyed their previous meal. It may have been a change of chefs that night, but I am not keen to venture for another try with their poor batting average on flavors.

A better choice for Chinese is Phoenix Food Boutique, a small outpost of a small chain, catering mostly to take out customers. Their $7.95 shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup was a hearty bowl with wonderful wontons and fresh bok choy. I found the soup itself lacking in depth of flavor, but the ingredients were tender and tasty enough to merit ordering this bowl.

The $8.50 beef chow fun was big enough for 2 people, and chock full of tender slices of beef, crunchy bean sprouts, and tender spring onions. If it were less greasy, this would have been perfect!

Seoul Sausage has been one of my favorite spots ever since they opened a brick and mortar shop near Sawtelle. I’ve been to their Little Tokyo location before, but this time I brought friends for Happy Hour. Since my friends are adept beer drinkers, our wonderful waiter provided us with tastes of several before we placed our order. We shared the Sausage Party platter and all agreed that the sweet and spicy chicken and the kalbi pork were our favorites,

so we followed up with two full sized sausages of both.

One of my friends ordered the Da Rapokki, pork belly spicy ramen, but didn’t like the lack of liquid, but I loved the spicy noodles and pork belly.

I couldn’t come to Seoul Sausage without making my friends try Korean Fried Chicken aka KFC, which was the hit of the evening 🙂

Little Sister in DTLA is across from Bottega Louie on 7th Street, but unless you are looking for it, you will miss the discreet signage and miss the mouthwatering flavors hidden inside this small space. My mouth has been dancing in joy ever since I found this place and I look forward to every meal there just as I look forward to every trip 🙂

I asked my server her favorite dish and I ordered it; grilled prawns, cabbage mix, mango, cucumber, onion, cashews in a lemongrass cilantro dressing. It’s a much bigger serving that it seems and it could easily have been my lunch with the complex and layered flavors and textures.

The pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings with a spicy black vinegar dressing, chive, spinach, and peanuts was so  tender and savory especially with the extra sauce on the side that I didn’t want to share any with my dining companions.

 The sauce could be a  savory cocktail 🙂

The rice paper pho banh cuon beef and beef tendon, herbs, lettuce, pickled onion was a melody of textures and flavors that combined like an accomplished band, bringing in elements of silky rice paper, with sweet spice and chewy tendon.

My least favorite was the spicy lemongrass chicken with garlic and dried chilies which had depth but not to my taste for the combination of spices.

Very little on the menu is over $15 and they have sandwiches, rice and noodle dishes, as well as congee for those who want more starch. It will take awhile to eat my way through their menu, but it’s a challenge I would like to accept!

Los Angeles may be the City of Angels, but traffic is a nightmare; the freeways are constantly clogged in every direction, for every possible reason, ranging from rain to a game. Using the Metro as often as possible is my way of lessening both my carbon footprint and preserving my sanity.  I’ve used the Metro nearly every time I’ve gone downtown and it’s been the most efficient and least stressful method (and no I’m not being paid by them in any way to say this)!

The Miyako Inn is only one block from the Little Tokyo metro stop and in the heart of Little Tokyo. I had of course come to visit this neighborhood and have eaten here before, but it’s a much better experience to stay overnight rather than drive 30-60 minutes (depending on traffic) to get home. To top off the treat of not needing my car, the room was a gift from a friend who left town in the afternoon and asked if I wanted it for the night. YES!

Because of its location in Little Tokyo, the room is done in a very zen style, with clean lines and neutral tones. If I had chosen to drive instead of take the metro, the parking rates were extremely reasonable for downtown, at only $30 for guests with unlimited in and out access. Free Wifi was also included in the entire hotel to guests and visitors alike.

The bed was super comfortable with the most heavenly pillows and one of the most remarkable features of the room was that the windows OPENED! There was a mini fridge, a safe, slippers, and a coffee / tea maker all included in the room along with an ironing board and iron. As an impressive touch they even had organic green tea as one of the in room complimentary choices. Water was a reasonable (for a hotel) $2 a bottle.

 The toilet was a fun Japanese one

 with bidet controls for temperature, water pressure, and direction 🙂

 I found these inside the nightstand top drawer!

 This view lit up at night,

 but the brightest light was the full moon.

I love Seoul Sausage Company‘s brick and mortar location near Sawtelle, and I found that they have a location in Little Tokyo, so I headed out for happy hour and their famous KFC: Korean Fried Chicken. Crisp, sweet, and slightly spicy with bits of pickled radish, this is great bar food, or you can get a full order of 6 for a meal. If I lived in the area I would probably come by here every night for a bite and a drink 🙂

Being in Little Tokyo meant ramen places were just across the street from the hotel. Daikokuya usually has lines out the door, but since I could the literally see the place from my window, I just peeked out until the line was shorter 🙂 I got the miso ramen, and although the noodles were great and the broth was flavorful, it did not have the complexity of the broth at Tsujita.

I couldn’t leave without sushi, so the next day I went to the famous Sushi Gen 30 minutes before they opened and waited in the line that was already a block long. It looked like every table ordered the sashimi deluxe lunch, but it was a massive plate of food and there was no way I could have eaten it all, so I opted for the chirashi which came with miso soup.

This bowl of chirashi was the freshest and biggest I’ve ever enjoyed. It may look like a regular bowl, but underneath the fish you see is ANOTHER layer and the bits that look like bites are actually much larger  than they seem. I would gladly wait an hour or more for this and many people did. Those who arrived when they opened and after noon may not have been able to get seated before they closed between lunch and dinner service. They are famous for a reason; I’ve never paid such a reasonable price (under $20) for such high quality sashimi anywhere in the world.

Michelin stars used to only be award to the white gloved, ironed tablecloth, Baccarat crystal wine glass establishments where you pay as much for a meal as for a nice used car. Tastes have changed, not only in custom but in cuisine, and what was formerly considered too casual or colloquial, is now being recognized as masterful and artful.

Din Tai Fung the famous chain of 150 restaurants has a Michelin star. They are most famous for soup dumplings. One order of their famous dish costs less than $10 and their locations are inside three malls in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

A friend and I went when they first opened inside the Westfield Santa Anita a few months ago, after consolidating two nearby locations into a bigger one inside this mall. We were terribly disappointed by the famous soup dumplings being underdone on top. You can see the top bits are not translucent and look like underdone pasta; we didn’t even finish our order 😦

After subsequent visits, I am happy to report that they have worked out the kinks. They are now serving beautiful and delicious dumplings that are worthy of their reputation.

 Their vegetable side dishes were perfect, whether sautéed bok choy,

 dumplings with chili,

or mustard greens.

Side Chick is around the corner from the huge famous restaurant in the “Asian Alley” of food places on the second floor of the mall. Serving perhaps the only Hainan Chicken Rice in a mall in the USA. The superbly tenderly poached Mary’s chicken is good enough to eat plain, but if you mix the three containers of ginger/scallion, dark soy, and sambal together, you will create the most addictive of sauces. FYI, the rice is cooked with chicken fat, and you are supposed to eat the skin, so this is NOT a low calorie meal, but it is a tasty one! There is also a roasted chicken version that is slightly sweet, if you prefer, and you can specify combo, white, or dark meat. At around $10, this is a great deal,

and you can add garlicky sautéd onchoy side to complete your meal.

I go to malls to eat, not to shop:)

Moving can be a thrilling and exciting experience. Sorting and discarding the old as you prepare for the new possibilities that await is a cathartic process. Moving is also an excruciating experience because transitions are never completely smooth nor simple, especially when moving from one country to another. I am very fortunate to have wonderful friends all over the world because with their help I have been able to retain my sanity through two overseas moves in three years 🙂

As with all moves, once the kitchen is packed, there are certain things that must be modified in order to eat. My wonderful friends and neighbors lent me some silverware and cooking utensils so I could at least make coffee and eat on real plates. Fortunately there were some great options for take out nearby like Happy Nouilles. They serve a mix of Asian food, from sushi to satay, and although they are in a suburb catering to French tastes, their dishes are fresh and have enough Asian sensibility to satisfy my picky palate.

Their garlic shrimp actually tasted like garlic with nice sized fresh shrimp.

The mixed vegetables included authentic Asian ingredients like wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts.

The Thai basil beef had a nice aromatic flavor as well as peppers, onions, and real Thai basil.

Even the side dish of noodles included fresh vegetables and had a nice light sauce.

The shrimp shu mai were a bit bland, but in keeping with French taste preferences.

Because my order totaled over 20 Euros ($22 USD), they included some shrimp chips

and a coconut “snowball” mochi dessert that was quite tasty.

While I still had some furniture, I invited some friends over for one last apéro at my place. It was a French version of a potluck. I provided (bought) roast chicken, sand carrots & radishes. One friend made mayonnaise (she whipped it by hand in a bowl) with avocados and shrimp; a neighbor brought some bottles of wine he had helped harvest; and his friend brought

 cheese that was literally made that morning, along with

with three others:)

We ended the evening with a raspberry sorbet; a sweet ending to a bittersweet evening of au revoir.

I rented a place with AirBnB in Chelsea for part of my stay and my wonderful hosts, Kenny and Romeo, made my trip even more fun. The apartment is on the upper floor of this building in the gallery district, with views of the Hudson, and near many bus and subway lines, so getting around town is a breeze. If you prefer to get to your destination directly, the concierge will hail you a cab.

The lobby is sleek and modern,

with a waterfall in front of the elevators,

and even the elevators are designed beautifully.

A 24 hour gym is in the building and there are sitting areas by an outdoor atrium.

My rental was in the middle of the living area, but my host had his own room, so it was like being in a studio apartment.

The toilet is HEATED and has a built in bidet:)

This view of the sun setting over the Hudson is from my bed!

The rental is walking distance (or two stops by bus) from Chelsea Market, so for a quick bite, I went to Mokbar, behind the spice merchant. I was too early for Happy Hour when they have small plates and discounted drinks, but I was so happy to have a place open all afternoon, unlike in Paris when everything closes between lunch and dinner.

I chose the bulgogi rice bowl for $13, which was loaded with grilled crisp beef and vegetables, but I added garlic spinach $2 anyway. It was a big hearty serving and the kimchee was a perfect spicy acidic counterpoint to the rich beef.

I’d never had Tiger beer ($7) from Singapore and was so intrigued by the name I ordered it, and now I think I may actually like a beer enough to order it again! The Gold Medal awarded beer is smooth and rich, a perfect accompaniment to a hearty bowl of beef. The total with tax and tip was about $28, but as I learned in NYC, everything is a bit pricey compared to LA or even Paris. If you’re looking for  a bite of something less expensive, my friend from LA suggests the taco stand directly opposite Mokbar which sells $4 tacos which are as close to West Coast tacos as you’ll find in NYC.

One of the main reasons I rented a place in Chelsea was because a good friend lives in the neighborhood, so the advantage of being a few blocks away from her place meant we could walk to meet each other at a place like Tia Pol. What better way to start off a reunion than with a glass of Cava? This brut was delicious, so we had two 🙂

She recommended the crispy artichoke and asparagus salad for $13 to start, and it was much tastier than it looks; the crisp artichoke added a nice earthy texture to the tender romaine and white asparagus, and the lemon vinaigrette perfectly dressed the salad. One person could easily make a meal of this if they weren’t very hungry.

Since I love anchovies, I got two of the olive, pepper, and anchovy skewers for $2 each, and they were so good, I forgot to take a photo before eating one:)

The lamb skewers with Moorish spices at $7 for two were perfect little bites of flavorful meat.

The crispy marinated fish with lemon for $12 was a bigger plate and we were very happy splitting the plate that would’ve been too much with all the other plates we had ordered.

She wanted the patatas bravas for $8 with a spicy aioli, and I took a bite just for research:)

The classic flan for $6 was a smooth sweet way to end the night.

As night fell on the city, it was time for me to go to bed,

where Romeo was waiting for me 🙂

People who work with food know where to find great restaurants, and that was how I heard about Pintung on Melrose. I had walked past it a week ago, but with its nondescript market facing the street (look for the sidewalk blackboard advertising Stumptown cold brewed coffee), you would never know that there are treasures to be found in the back patio. Like finding buried gold in your backyard, this new addition to Mid-City makes me smile with delight.

Once I walked into the back patio I literally said, “Wow”! With an enclosed section, and an open section decorated with bamboo plants, the warm and sleek aesthetic was such a welcome contrast to the dark marketplace storefront seating area that it wasn’t even a question as to which space I preferred to eat my meal.

The other customers ranged from hip Japanese in pink hair and working on pink tablets, to television people loudly discussing their projects (probably wanting to be overheard). There were of course quiet, “normal” people (like me:) but this place draws from all the people L.A. is infamous for, so if you want a taste of all the lifestyles in L.A., you can come here and people watch.

The cuisine is a cross section of all Asian cuisines in one place. There is banh mi from Vietnam, dim sum from China, ramen and sushi from Japan, and rice bowls which would probably be the common link between all Asian countries. Because they are in Los Angeles, they also have options like a vegetarian banh mi, and soy chicken with brown rice, but I wanted to see how authentic their Asian dishes were, so that is what I ordered.

I started with the sauteed pea shoots for $7.25, and was thrilled when they arrived spicy, flavored with sesame oil, and perfectly seasoned. It was a big bowl, so with the other dishes, I ended up taking half of it home, but it just got better a day later.

The crystal shrimp dumplings were $5.50 (the Asian server told me they were Har Gow when I asked what crystal dumplings were). They were bigger and better than any Har Gow I’ve ever eaten in any Dim Sum place (and I have eaten in dozens from NYC to SF). The wrapping was so fine and light that they literally fell apart when I lifted them up from the steamer basket. They were also at least twice as big as any in a Chinese restaurant, with whole shrimp (not chopped up shrimp mush) and bamboo shoots. The table had dumpling sauce as well as other condiments if you want to dip them in sauce, but they are great by themselves.

The only dish that was a miss was the chow fun noodles for $7.95. I chose beef, but you have the option of chicken or vegetarian. The chinese broccoli had too many woody stems, the noodles lacked flavor (you can doctor it with the tableside condiments, but you should not have to season your food), the beef was tender but scarce, and there was a puddle of oil at the bottom of the bowl. Skip this dish and go for one of the ramen bowls if you want noodles.

Seeing Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage wrapped in Lotus Leaf for $5.50 on the menu, I had to order it. My Aunt used to make these and send me home with a dozen that I would make last for as long as possible until I saw her again. I haven’t had one since she passed away and I was almost afraid to try one made in a restaurant, but these are wonderful. I could only eat one, so I took the other home (to re steam).

The filling was full of pork, preserved salty egg, shittake, and the rice was perfectly infused with the lotus leaf flavor. One of the packages had more filling than the other, but both were delicious if you like this ethnic comfort food. I’m tempted to order a few orders of this to go and freeze them like I used to with the ones my Aunt made:)

As I told the server (another Asian), I am so very glad to have this place close to home without having to deal with those pesky Asian drivers in Chinatown or Monterey Park; I can say that because it takes one to know one:)

Pingtung on Urbanspoon

I always tell people that just because I look Asian, it doesn’t mean that my knowledge, tastes, or skills fulfill the stereotypes. I have absolutely no idea when Chinese New Year was (I only know it’s over….isn’t it?), I prefer colors like purple and pink to red and gold, and I can not calculate simple numbers without a calculator.

If you’ve read this blog before then you already know my reviews of restaurants are rarely on places which serve any type of Chinese food. My eating partners all know that inviting me to brave traffic to eat dim sum or get authentic Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley is comparable to inviting me to go camping (neither is likely to happen).

R.O.C. (Republic Of China) Kitchen apparently knew that many of us on the Westside would enjoy some dumplings, shu mai, steamed buns, Dungeness Crab glass noodles, and beef oxtail noodle soup without having to trek through traffic. They’ve only been open since October, so their sign isn’t up yet, but the lines are already forming, especially around lunch and brunch times.

The draw here is soup dumplings (no other place on the Westside serves them), but I am not a fan, so I ordered some of the classic pork and shrimp steamed ones. For $9 it may seem expensive, but these are HUGE, and the serving of eight pieces is enough for a full meal for one person or enough to share with 2-3. The dough is freshly made and nicely tender with a bit of body. The filling was delightfully light and juicy, but be very careful when you take your first bite because these come out HOT and as hungry as I was, there were times I literally had to open my mouth to let the hot steam escape after a bite! You can make your own dipping sauce from the little saucers, freshly chopped ginger, and condiments on the table (if you want, you can ask for hot chili).

I ordered the sauteed shrimp with shishito pepper for $16. The shrimp were slightly overcooked, but overall this was a pleasant dish if you like spicy sautées.

When I was eating in, I saw the table of celebrities next me take FIVE bags of food to go after their meal, so I figured, why not take home something for later? I wanted to try the glass noodles with fresh Dungeness Crab $12, but they had run out of crab, so I opted for the oxtail beef noodle soup with bok choy for $8. I was pleasantly surprised by the aromatic star anise flavor in the broth and the huge tender oxtails. The noodles were perfect (freshly made), and if the beef and bok choy had been a bit hotter I would be raving about this dish. As you can see from the picture, the fat around the oxtail was white, and cold fat is never tasty.

I don’t often chose Chinese food, but it was a pleasure to have a place to close to home for slightly upmarket Chinese food at decent (for the Westside) prices.

ROC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Red Medicine is the infamous restaurant where famed food critic Irene Virbila was outed  (i.e. photographed) and refused service. While I agree with many opinions on both sides of this incident, I had not been keen to go to this restaurant until a fellow foodie friend said it was high on his list of places to try.

Fortunately I am not famous enough to be either recognized or refused service for my “power” as a food critic, so I was seated and served without incident with two of my friends who are both as critical of food as I am. 

Since the menu is meant to be shared, we ordered several small plates, the first one to arrive was the brussel sprouts with caramelized shallots, fish sauce, and vermouth for $9. The crunchy chips on top were a nice way to present this dish and some of the brussel sprouts were fabulous, while others (especially at the bottom of the dish) were overly salted. When using fish sauce, it is very important to use a light hand when salting and apparently the kitchen didn’t understand concept yet.

We also tried the beef tartare for $15 which was made with water lettuce, water chestnut, nuoc leo (peanut sauce), chlorophyll, and peanut. This was such an unusual version of beef tartare that we all said “Whoa!” after the first bite. But we all took second and third bites until we finished the dish. Combining all the ingredients on the rice chips was essential to getting the full flavors this dish incorporated. I’m not sure I would order this again, but I was glad I had tried it.

The most disappointing dish of the entire night was the white asparagus with fried burdock root and coated in tapioca salsify, with spot prawn roe, on top of almond milk. It was completely tasteless, with no seasoning whatsoever, and the asparagus was so stringy that we had trouble eating it (or even biting through it). It was a shame since we all loved asparagus, but none of us wanted to eat this.

It is hard to tell from the photo, but the sweetbreads under the charred cabbage were wonderful. This was one of our favorite dishes of the evening, with perfectly crispy and tender nuggets. Once again the salt was a bit overdone on the charred cabbage, but the sweetbreads made this dish a winner.

For our final hot course, we chose the rice porridge with the uni supplement for $27 made with egg yolk, hazelnuts, ginseng, butter and Santa Barbara Red Uni. This was a very rich dish which we all loved. The combination of flavors made this the ultimate comfort dish of all time. This was definitely not your run of the mill home made or even restaurant quality rice porridge. It should definitely be shared unless you want to eat only one dish here.

For our desserts we shared the Green Gage plum with frozen cream, sorrel, elderflower, wild chervil. It was an interesting (as in neither good nor bad) alchemy of flavors both tart and sweet, but no one like this enough to finish it.

The dessert winner of the evening was the birch ice. It was THE most unusual dessert I have ever tasted and it beckons me to come back to Red Medicine with it’s scintillating composition of textures and flavors. The presentation was beautiful.

But upon cracking open the crunchy top layer, the cold, sweet, and creamy secret treasures below were absolutely addictive. Made with birch ice, almond praline, red currants, green almond, and jasmine, this was a palate pleaser. 

I’m glad I was not on their “hit list” and able to taste their unique fare. Although I loved all their presentations, I was not impressed with all their flavors, especially since over salting food is a big faux pas that was repeated in two of their dishes. At prices that hovered around $60 per person, this kind of amateur mistake should have happened even once. People care more about tasting their dishes than looking at them, so the execution of recipes must be precise to elevate the food to the same level as the plating.

We all remember a flavorful dish long after it is eaten, but no one will remember a beautiful plate after they have seen it.

Red Medicine on Urbanspoon

My friends used to drive in from the Valley to come eat here, but for some reason I was a virgin to neighborhood favorite Sawtelle Kitchen.  The menu is an eclectic mix of Asian curry, katsu dishes, Italian pasta, salads, and appetizers that incorporate ingredients as diverse as lotus roots, kabocha, mussels, and lamb shanks (not all in one dish)!

I had to try one of the hot appetizer/side dishes, so I chose the Japanese mushrooms with wild vegetables sauteed in a soy butter sauce for $7.95. It was a decadently rich rendition of vegetables whose silky sauce begged for bread to soak up the sauce (and I used my dinner roll to do just that).

I had a very nice bowl of Miso with lots of tofu and a huge piece of wakame (seaweed) with my dinner.

I ordered the Chilean Sea Bass with the ginger sauce and a salad instead of rice for $22.45 (it’s $19.95 with rice instead of salad). Sadly my fish was slightly overcooked and the ginger sauce was a bit too salty, but the salad was very good. I would definitely order another dish next time.

The Pasta Carbonara with ham, onion, cream and black pepper for $11.95 was absolutely perfect (as my Italian dinner partner said, he would have made this dish exactly the same way at home). This dish was the epitome of sublime decadence; not too rich to eat but luxurious enough to make you want to eat the entire bowl.

Perhaps the best thing about the place was that we went during happy hour which is from 3pm-10pm Monday-Thursday, 3-7pm Fridays, and 11:30-6pm on Sundays which means all our food and drinks were HALF PRICE (so take 50% off the prices I posted)! They serve French and Tahitian beers, espresso, and French lemonade, but if you want wine (they only serve two), bring your own and pay only a $5 corkage fee for each 750ml bottle.

Who would have thought that a neighborhood place in Little Osaka would have pasta an Italian would love? Not me, but that just means I will be going back for salad and a pasta soon.

Sawtelle Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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