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President Thai was recommended by two unrelated food lovers, so I went to to lunches 🙂 The immense building, menu, and long lines, could have been overwhelming, but the service was so kind, patient, efficient, and happy, that I felt as if I was their honored guest. If you are ever in the neighborhood, or simply want to be in a place where you are surrounded by genuine smiles, head over to president Thai.

They start off all lunch specials with either a bowl of delectable soup or a small salad.

The first time I tried their beef because this was their most popular dish. The meat was tender, the flavors were balanced, and the portion was huge! Even as a lunch special for around $10, this was easily enough for two meals; the picture is a bit deceiving because the layers of meat are a bit hidden under the garnish.

I chose the chicken with rice noodles for another lunch and was happy

to add any variety of spice I wanted to my dish. The portion was again very generous and I ate two meals from the one order.

Sushi Roku has many locations, and I have eaten there several times, but I had never tried their Happy Hour until recently. Served only in the bar area (inside or outside), the selections are varied enough for those who like cooked and raw choices. I began with a $5 beer since it was so hot.

A yellow tail and scallion cut roll and a salmon skin hand roll (not crisp) at $5 each started things off,

segued into $5 tempura green beans and another order of the yellow tail cut roll.

The Albacore tacos for $6 were a good choice for those who like fusion.

The hit of the happy hour was the $5 popcorn shrimp with jalapeno cut roll.

At the Thursday night South Pasadena Farmers Market, the longest line is always at Mama Musubi. I braved the wait one day and got three, the beef, the tuna, and the seaweed; my favorite was the seaweed, seen at the right edge of the photo, and apparently it’s also the most popular one:)

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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.

August in Paris means the locals are gone and the tourists are in town; it also means finding any place to shop or eat on a Sunday becomes even more of a challenge than usual, requiring the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes. After a bit of research, Sherlock @John8600 pointed me in the direction of Hokkaido. Even though it’s Summer, the days are rainy and cool enough that eating ramen is still a pleasurable experience, at least it is for me, a Southern California transplant:)

I got the Champon Ramen, which was packed with vegetables and a few thin slices of pork in a clear broth. The vegetables were very fresh, and the noodles were decent. After eating the ramen at Dosanko Larmen, I had hoped for soup comparable in depth of flavor, but the broth here did not have much flavor and even after using the condiments on the table, I couldn’t doctor it up enough to take more than a few sips. The portion is huge (for Paris) so if you want a filling dish, this would fit the bill.

The menu special of 11 Euros included 5 gyoza which were very good; crisp on one side, tender tasty filling, and not greasy. I would definitely order these again, but maybe instead of ramen, I would try one of their noodle or rice dishes, both of which looked good on other tables. Service was very pleasant, and even though it was packed, the food came out rapidly.

Even when it’s not Sunday or August, finding a place that is open between the usual lunch and dinner hours here of 3pm-7pm, is so challenging that restaurants advertise if they are open “nonstop” as an enticement. Udon Jubey usually has lines out the door during the peak meal times, so if you don’t want to wait, or want to eat during the afternoon, this is an excellent choice.

I think that until you’ve tried something done well, you can’t really say you don’t like it. I used to say that I did not like udon, but this bowl changed my mind 🙂 The springy noodles in the flavorful broth with the green onions and seaweed are a classic preparation, yet I had never tasted such a symphony of simplicity; every note was perfect, and the music of slurping sounds could be heard throughout the restaurant.

As part of their set menu of 16 Euros, you get the udon and a choice of sides like this Katsu and omelette slices over shredded cabbage

with a small bowl of chicken rice with pickles. The Katsu was crisp with a nice sauce, and the rice had the benefit of richer flavors from being cooked with broth.

The small portion of Katsu with the set menu was so good, I went back for a full katsu on another visit, which was almost more than I could eat; I saw plates of tempura which looked tempting too, but I had no room to eat anymore!

Besides the warm service, and the delightful food, they had something on the tables which literally made me smile: bottles of red pepper condiment 🙂

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

Paichẽ is a prehistoric Amazonian fish which you can taste in Marina Del Rey, while promoting its sustainability in the Amazon. As a Southern Californian diner eating at a Peruvian Izakaya, you are also part taking part in a fusion of cultures and cuisines. Welcome to culinary globalization in Los Angeles.

On the ground floor of the MDR Hotel, Paichẽ is a comfortable modern space with a sleek clean feel. There is the center seating area which becomes quite animated when full. They’ve only been open since April, but I’ve heard the place gets packed during prime dinner hours, so make sure you make a reservation if you want to come on a week-end.

A more tranquil side area by the windows which feels more intimate.

With various signature drinks, I asked my waitress which was the least sweet, most sour, and she suggested the Margarita. I know I can be very boring, but theirs is made with Jimador tequila, house made orange bitters, lime juice, agave nectar, and a pinch of gusano salt for $12. It was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. The unique ingredients elevated this ubiquitous well drink to boutique level. It was also very strong, and I felt the effects for well over an hour even after all the food I ate (I walked over to one of the few remaining brick and mortar Barnes & Noble bookstores to shop and get sober before driving home).

I started with the tiradito (raw or lightly cooked) of seared sea bass with Amazonian sacha inchi oil, soy dressing, garlic, and oba for $9. A fantastic way to begin any meal, with fresh subtle flavors and a light dressing. This was one of my favorite plates. If I ordered five or six plates of this, I would have made this my meal, but the whole point of izakaya is tasting many things, so I tasted several more plates.

The waitress recommend the Paichẽ wrap lettuce, and I could not come here and not taste the anticucho miso marinated grilled Amazonian fish for $12. It was very similar to the sea bass, with a bit more firmness and it held up well to the anticucho miso which gave it a slightly spicy kick. I enjoyed the texture of the fish, lettuce, and crunchy fried topping, and I would recommend this to anyone who says they don’t like fish.

The calamari rellano for $10 is one of those fusion dishes that works perfectly. It’s a baby squid stuffed with morcilla sausage served with aji pepian. This is one of those comfort dishes that doesn’t look like a one; the creamy bed of rice with the morcilla covered in a tender squid wrapping made this a hearty small bite. My only note on this dish was the morcilla sausage had several bites of inedible cartilage, but it was so tasty that I would order this again in spite of that.

Tied for my favorite dish, was the perfectly fried chicarron of pescado for $11 with a lime yuzu sauce. Various pieces of tender fish, crispy on the outside, complimented with a very tangy yuzu sauce (which you really didn’t need, but it was so good you must try at least one bite of the fish with it). A benefit of small plates is that even when ordering something fried, it’s a small portion, so you can enjoy it without too much concern about your arteries. Since I ate all four plates, I skipped dessert, but for those who have room, Paiche does fantastic churros like Picca, its sibling restaurant.

I may never do any “fishing” outside of Marina del Rey’s Paichẽ, but I know when I come here that I will always get to eat great fish 🙂

Paiche on Urbanspoon

Nanban-kan is literally steps away from the Nuart Theater so you may be wondering how I’ve managed to walk by this neighborhood favorite for so many years. My answer is simply that I usually watch movies in the afternoon so by the time Nanban-kan opens I am no longer in the vicinity.

 

I finally went one day because I was stuck on Santa Monica Boulevard at 6pm and my favorite butchers, Lindy & Grundy love it. I figured it was a sign to stop and eat when I was literally stopped at one traffic light for THREE changes and had moved ONE car length. It is not an exaggeration when the news reports that traffic is the worst aspect of life here in Los Angeles.

 

I am grateful there was so much traffic because I loved the food, service and ambiance at Nanban-kan so much that it is now on my “regular” list of places to eat, i.e., places I go when I am not trying new spots that I write about here on this blog:)

 

Like my nearby favorite Italian restaurant, Il Grano, this place is quiet, refined, and comfortable, with an owner who cares about every guest and the food on every table. The ratio of servers to diners is nearly 1:2 so my water was constantly refilled, my empty plates were instantly whisked away, and my next course was promptly fired as soon as I finished what was in front of me.

 

They serve both yakitori and sushi here, and since it was my first time, I concentrated on the yakitori. Most skewers were between $10-$20 and they had specials hand written on a blackboard. I asked my waitress what she recommended for a vegetable and she said the asparagus with bacon was a favorite. I could taste why when it arrived. A thin layer of bacon draped over the grilled asparagus made it a nicely luxurious and meaty bite.

 

One of the regular menu items was “five fishes”, and if you like fried smelt, you will love these lightly battered, crisp filets.

One of the blackboard specials was the sea bass and it was probably my favorite skewer of the evening with freshly chopped scallions and an almost sushi presentation of grated radish with ponzu.

I don’t know if it was my desire for iron or my love of pâté, but I had to order the chicken livers. They were nicely done but I would have like a bit more salt on them instead of the slightly sweet teriyaki glaze.

I finished with the special grilled quail. It was so simply and marvelously grilled that it needed nothing except my fingers to pick it up so I could clean off the delicate meat from the small bones. If you love quail or have never had it, this is a wonderful place to experience it.

They say that we only use about 10% of our brains, so if I extrapolate that to trying restaurants, I’ve only eaten in 10% of the restaurants in my neighborhood. Living in Los Angeles, the percentage for me is probably more like 1% since I not only walk, but drive. I would never have thought I would be thankful for terrible traffic, but it was due to horrible traffic that I stopped at Nanban-kan and added to that 1% with a fantastic find that I don’t have to test my patience to drive to in my neighborhood.

Nanban-Kan on Urbanspoon

I’ve been wanting to try Kiriko Sushi for some time, but as with the Lazy Ox Canteen, it took Dine LA to get me to go. I love neighborhood family run places which feature fresh ingredients and serve them with skill. It was a pleasure to dine here with a packed house of regulars who were all greeted by the chef personally.

The three course Dine LA menu for lunch was $25 for three courses and I chose the albacore sashimi with garlic ponzu sauce and organic greens as my first course. It was delectable. The fish was complimented, not drowned by the ponzu and the tasty salad had a nice savory dressing.

For my second course I chose the “Temaki” hand rolls of spicy tuna, spicy yellowtail, blue crab, and eel & avocado rolls. They were all good, but nothing outstanding. I found there was too much mayonnaise in the blue crab roll (why add mayonnaise to blue crab?) and too much sauce in the eel & avocado roll, but I think most diners would like the rolls. I was impressed that for the price they used real blue crab and the quantity of fish to rice was about 50/50. I was also impressed that they make their own ginger and didn’t use a prepared ginger, however I was not impressed with the fact that they did not offer a hand towel before serving me hand rolls.

The dessert of Meyer lemon sorbet was a perfect ending to this very nice meal. There were strips of lemon zest in the sorbet and the shiso leaf added a nice minty zing of aroma.

It always a treat to find a place in my neighborhood that is friendly and serves fresh fare. In this case three “F”s is not a bad thing at all 🙂

Kiriko on Urbanspoon

Sake House is one of those lucky places that has a great location, just two blocks from the ocean and one block from the popular Third Street Promenade, so they are pretty much guaranteed business if they serve halfway decent food. That would be exactly how I would describe their sushi; halfway decent.

The ginger was fresh, but the crab meat was fake and those two facts were harbingers for the quality of sushi found here. I went for happy hour, a daily special menu with most menu items and drinks under $6.

We began with a seaweed salad which was about on par with most standard seaweed salads. The addition of micro sprouts and some radish were nice touches.

I ordered a spicy tuna handroll which came with fried onions and fresh scallions. As far as handrolls go, this was middle of the road for a sushi place. There was too much spicy mayonnaise and the fried onions overwhelmed the balance even though they added a nice crunch.

The sashimi plate had a decent selection of sushi and the fish was fairly fresh, but not outstanding in any way, and the presentation left much to be desired.

The crunchy onion tuna sashimi was a very basic combination of tuna, ponzu and fried onions. It was fine in the same way that a woman might say everything is “fine” when she has nothing better to say and tries to be polite.

We had a Monster roll of eel topped with spicy tuna which was the favorite of the evening, but again presentation was lacking and the spicy tuna was overworked with too much mayonnnaise.

I had the house sake, which was palatable, and they offer artisanal sakes for up to $147 for 750 ml, so I suppose if I had upgraded my drink, it may have made the food more palatable as well.

They say in Real Estate that the only thing that matters is location, and at Sake House it seems that rule does seem to hold true since the food is definitely not the draw.

Sake House by Hikari on Urbanspoon

I was early for my appointment with Akiko at Taka Hair Salon on Sawtelle, so I went across the street to try the newly open Tsujita for their famous Tonkostu Ramen. Since this location is the first US outpost of an international restaurant, either go early or be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes for a seat. Note that they are a cash only restaurant, so make sure that you stop by your local ATM before coming for lunch.

Comparing Tsujita’s Tonkotsu Ramen is to instant ramen is like comparing tap water to Champagne, about the only thing they have is common is that they are both liquids. Let’s start with a few definitions for those who only know the prepackaged supermarket soup. Tsukemen is served with the noodles in a separate bowl from the very rich broth. You eat it by dipping about a third of the noodles into the broth and then adding a squeeze of lime and or condiments to the broth and dipping the rest of the noodles. The flavors change as you eat, so that your taste buds get to experience a variation on one dish. Some of the condiments available are hot leaf mustard, red pickled ginger, sauce, and sesame seeds.

If all this sounds too complicated, you can also order Tonkotsu Ramen, which has the flavors blended together in one bowl, which is what I did. The broth for both soups is cooked for 60 hours, so no matter which way you prefer your soup, the luscious reason for coming here will be in your bowl.

The menu is very simple, you only have four choices, plain ramen, which has 2 slices of Char siu pork, Negi ramen, with spring onions, a version with egg, or what I ordered, the Char siu ramen with about 10 pieces of slices car siu pork for $13.95. The tonkotsu ramen are the thin variety, so you can specify how you like your noodles cooked when you place your order (they will come medium if you do not specify).

This bowl was a melody of flavors, the intense broth, the fresh green onions, the crunchy wood ear mushrooms, the roasted seaweed, and the silky pork belly slices, all performed like an orchestra of virtuoso musicians. Every ingredient complimented the others, so you could enjoy all the single notes or simply enjoy the concert.

Bravo, encore!

Virgin America is having a 3 day sale on fares that start at only $49 (to SF), for $129 you can fly to New York or Washington D.C., and for $159 you can go to Cancun between September 20 and October 5, 2011. The fares are one way based on round trip flights and don’t include taxes and fees, so if you need to get out of town do it with a Virgin deal!

For what you would normally pay for one or the other, you get both a room and an omakase dinner with this Bloomspot deal. For $500, you get a night in a deluxe room at the Peninsula Hotel and dinner for two at Nobu, featuring a six course tasting menu (with wine or sake pairings) on select dates through November.

If you want to stay in town but feel like you’re away, get this $12 deal from TravelZoo (good for the next 21 hours) for an all day pass (yes that means 24 hours) at the WiSpa in Koreatown. They have separate floors for men, women, and a co-ed floor in their 48,000 square foot spa which houses hot and cold baths, five saunas, free wifi and a rooftop terrace.

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