Attempting a Much-Needed Break in LA, But…

Despite how often I move, I have a bad habit of trying to do too much myself, thus getting injured in unplanned and unfortunate ways doing so. Sadly, this rule has come true once again this November…

As I was moving boxes around my narrow hallway, I kicked and then stepped on the side of a box that led to a nasty bruise on the outside of my foot, from the little toe down half way towards my ankle. Crap, totally not what I needed…as I needed to shift many of these boxes, bags, shelves, etc into a car on the street at 3am in Manhattan…

After that painful experience, you throw in a 5-hour drive to Virginia through dawn into DC morning traffic, and that foot is stiff as hell. I moved all the stuff into my temporary storage space, now utterly limping. Then I ran a bunch of errands and made my way to Dulles to get myself to Los Angeles…

The trip began quite good, with a fabulous tasting menu at my favourite restaurant in the world, Il Grano (the review is here). I thought finally, things are going my way. I even forgot about my foot…at least until the morning. It was stiff and bruised in the morning, and it was not easy to walk.

Whilst in LA one of my desires is to enjoy cuisines that are not done well in New York, and the first target is Persian. I found Jino’s Pars by accident near LAX a few years ago, and I’ve been coming back to this modest eatery nearly every trip. I had a nice big lunch the next day…


A simple but voluminous lamb koobideh was my usual there, and once again I tore into this simple treat. I love their take on it, with the meat not too flaky or wispy, juicier than many other preparations of this dish I’ve had in New York. And it’s so close to the airport…

As time went on, my foot improved, thank goodness. The bruising was down and the swelling minimal. However, this shifting in weight on that left foot exacerbated the ankle injury from my London trip (yes, it is still bad, because it healed badly)…crap on a stick indeed…

I had a few other interesting meals during this part of the LA trip, including dinner at meat-centric Chi Spacca that still left me with mixed feelings (review here), as well as at the excellent and creative Ink (review here). Please ignore the gaps in meals, as issues including time constraint, mobility and my guilty pleasure of the Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack-In-The-Box (they don’t exist in the East Coast, so I need my fill whilst in LA)…

Then I went on a more Asian vein, with a solid lunch at Slow Fish (review here). However, it was dinner that turned out to be the impressive meal of the day. I wanted a good sushi night but without the stress of one of the “stressful” omakase places that LA is known for. So I chose the well-regarded Kiriko for my big sushi dinner.

I had told them I will be doing a sushi omakase, so they expected me. I was shocked at how slow it was — I was essentially the only person at the sushi bar the 2+ hours I was there. I know it’s a Tuesday night, but…wow… But that just means excellent pace for the fresh seafood. I was in for a treat.

It turned out to be a 25-piece tour-de-force. I was frankly more impressed by this place than some of the most raved-about sushi places in the US. To be honest, I enjoyed this meal more than my many sushi experiences at New York’s Sushi Yasuda — the cuts were larger, done equally well, and had a wider array of more unusual items. I did not take pictures of all 25, but chose 2 of the best to feature. For instance, the seered brook trout.


This was excellent, as were so many other pieces, such as the interesting take on the dungeness crab.


Just for the record, the 25 pieces were in order:
* hon-maguro (bluefin);
* chu-toro;
* akamachi (red snapper);
* wild king salmon;
* wild hamachi (yellowtail);
* aji (horse mackerel);
* kinmedai (goldeneye snapper);
* hotate (scallops) from Hokkaido;
* uni (urchin) from San Diego;
* wild meiji (baby bluefin);
* ika (squid) with uni;
* anago (saltwater eel);
* red kamasu (barracuda);
* mirugai (giant clam);
* sanma (pike mackerel) lightly smoked;
* dungeness crab with roe;
* seared o-toro;
* baby sawara (spanish mackerel);
* house-smoked sake (salmon);
* hiramasa (amberjack);
* engawa (halibut fin);
* seared brook trout;
* saba (mackerel);
* ika-geso (squid tentacles);
* ikura (salmon roe)

After this experience I wish I took pictures for all the pieces, as they were all utterly fantastic. The only one I asked for specifically was the ikura to finish, as that’s kind of a tradition for me. But there were so many stand-outs here it’s hard to rave about any of them beyond the ones I already have. But this is an awesome place, and I will certainly be back next time in LA. This was utterly fantastic! Will write a full review next time for sure, fully photographed! Awesome!!!

The next day I devoted to the crazy world of Downtown LA…there is much regeneration, but it’s still a bit chaotic at places. And the one thing it really needs? SIGNS! Tons of missing street signs and directions, utterly frustrating to drive around. But I ended up walking to a place I was told had excellent sausages. Last trip I did Seoul Sausage, which was very interesting (part of that trip is detailed here). This time I headed to Wurstküche, a popular sausage-and-beer place in downtown.


I enjoyed a beer and somehow consumed three sausages (some of the buns were abandoned, naturally). From left-to-right they are the duck & bacon with jalapeño (not bad, but hard to really get the flavours synched); the Austin Blues (a spicy multi-pepper smoked pork sausage, quite nice with the onions); and the Louisiana Hot Link (this also had a nice kick). They were good, and this is what a sausage place is all about.

I’ll always prefer a place like this or Seoul Sausage — where the focus is on the sausage — than a place like London’s popular Bubbledogs — where the focus is on the condiments that I usually wipe away (read my comments from a previous trip here) because all they do is drown out the core.

Of course from my previous post you know that later that night I had the disappointing meal and experience at the much-raved-about Bestia…best I just let that review speak for me before I get another headache… Sigh…

Before I left LA, I went to one of my favourite places for a last dinner — the awesome yakiniku Hakata Yamaya. I always love coming here for beer and awesome beef and awesome offal self-grilled. I always start with the awesome sen-mai sashimi (2nd stomach)…

sen_mai (2nd)_sashimi

Tonight the superior kalbi really stood out, intense marbling and flavour. A 5-second sear and they just melt in your mouth…mmm…


Another standout tonight was the giara (4th stomach)…

giara (4th)

I didn’t need to write another review as this was a similar experience to my previous two reviews (#1 here, and #2 here) of Hakata Yamaya. I totally love this place. Inexpensive, friendly, fun, quick, delicious. Exactly what anyone would want, especially a meat and offal fan.

This is what I love about LA, the ability to get top-notch ethnic cuisine, whether it is amazing Italian at Il Grano or sushi at Kiriko, or Persian at Jino’s Pars or yakiniku at Hakata Yamaya. If it wasn’t for the crazy people and traffic and weather I would actually consider LA, but…it’s better to keep a distance for me. Otherwise I take it too for granted.

But my conclusion from eating in LA? The basic, true-to-character ethnic foods (Kiriko, Hakata Yamaya) trumps by far the trendy places that are so raved (Bestia, Chi Spacca) by the “foodie” community in LA. The established places (Il Grano) are more valuable as well than the many flavours-of-the-month that come and go. I don’t like the direction LA is going — it seems to be headed down the same disastrous path as NY and London, where “trendy” and PR-driven takes over from real good places.

Final note: This isn’t the end of the trip. I was off to Chicago for a few meetings, but will manage to fit 6 Michelin stars into 4 meals (2 massive tastings)…reviews forthcoming. I am still recovering now back in NYC, ready to make the final move to VA…ugh…memories of the food is all that’s keeping me going…

Second final note: With my foot injury and frequent hangovers on this trip, plus switching hotels almost on daily basis (to cut down my travel time — and risk — to dinners), I didn’t make it to the gym once. I don’t even want to guess how much weight I’ve put on this trip…it was like my Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one… Once this move is out of the way, it’s time to go nuts back at the gym…

Jino’s Pars
5844 West Manchester Ave
Los Angeles, California

11301 Olympic Blvd
West Lost Angeles, California

800 East 3rd St
Los Angeles, California

Hakata Yamaya
2529 Pacific Coast Highway
Torrance, CA


Review: Bestia

20 November 2013
Downtown Los Angeles

The one restaurant everyone told me I must try during my Los Angeles trip was Bestia. I have been reading so many glowing reviews, and it seems very difficult to get a booking. But I managed to sort something out one evening, and headed into a strange part of Downtown LA on a rare rainy night in SoCal.

I didn’t want to bother with parking in such a weird area so I just let the overpriced valet take it (I hate this about LA). However, there was a small crowd waiting for the 6pm time when doors open. Of course, they were running late, and we were standing in the rain before they opened. Of course we heard a bunch of “team shouts” as they got ready. I was already turned off, not appreciating being forced to wait in the drizzle…

I was seated at the pizza counter overlooking the pizza oven, basically their version of a chef’s counter. Not bad view of watching them work. However, this was the loudest kitchen I’ve ever seen, and frankly it sounded like a bunch of frat boys working. And looking at the chic crowd, I can see why this place is booked out. It’s easily the flavour of the month for the trendy blog-readers.

I was reminded by the server of the portion sizes (this is California…), so I opted for a starter and a pasta dish. I also ordered a “white negroni” to start, but told them I’d like to switch to wine before the food arrived. Of course the service at a place like this was jumbled, and my starter arrived with no wine…


This was a cuttlefish and octopus dish, grilled over a bed of greens. It was nothing special, frankly a little over-seasoned. Perhaps the cuttlefish was not fresh, I don’t know. But this was pretty ordinary stuff.

I sat for over 5 minutes waiting for some wine before digging into this dish. The wine list here is esoteric and fantastic (the one thing I will praise about this place), with a solid selection from Central and East Europe. However, that’s mostly on the bottle side, so I did with a few palatable options by the glass. I do have to say the cooks did see how annoyed I was over the wine situation and they comped me a meatball.


Hmmm… I appreciate the comped dish, but this does nothing for me. The consistency of the meatball is so loose it was barely holding itself together. I don’t like meatballs without a strong core, it makes me think of cafeteria meatballs made of fillers. Sigh…

It took awhile before my main course arrived. This time wine was early, and that was welcomed.


The spaghetti rustichella was something I looked forward to. They had earlier advertised “squid ink bottarga” but it was not shown on the menu when I was there. I asked, and they said it’s still in the dish, but the menu page ran out of space…

Honestly, this was pretty tasteless. There was not the strong urchin in the taste of the sauce like at Il Grano (with its trademark bigoli al nero) in LA or at NYC’s Esca (with its trademark maccheroni alla chitarra) — both with excellent urchin flavour in the sauce. The lump of urchin on top does not make up for the lack of intensity in the sauce. In addition, there was little or no taste in the listed “Calabrian chillies” and the black flakes called “squid ink bottarga” resembled shaved nori (seaweed).

This has to be one of the most disastrous dishes of pasta I have seen in ages. Such a bloody waste of ingredients. I was speechless…

I didn’t want to stay much more, though I decided to take a pizza with me as it was not 8pm yet and I expect to be awake for hours to deal with paperwork. But the waitress really pressured me into having a dessert…I got the feeling the husband-wife team was not getting equal accolade in the media…


This bittersweet chocolate wasn’t bad, the olive oil really brought the flavour of the chocolate out. I hate to say it, this was the best dish of the night. Frankly, if the husband was getting all the accolades for his savouries, it’s the wife that won the night for me.

The restaurant was now absolutely packed as I took my leave with a lamb pancetta pizza (that proved to be mediocre later). The only section not full was my pizza counter — the beautifully-dressed people did not want to be so near the pizza making station with the flying flour and shouting chefs it seems…

As I walked outside waiting for my car, I can’t help to think that from this dinner, Bestia represents everything wrong with the restaurant scene today. It’s all about hype and trying to overwhelm diners with crazy ingredients and listings on the menu. At the end, it was a pretty poorly executed dinner with total mis-use of ingredients. If you’re gonna use the ingredients, use it — not just list it for decorative purposes or have it have nothing to do with the dish as a confused man’s decor. And yet, this is the “hot spot” of LA. This dining experience really depressed me, to be honest…

2121 7th Place
Los Angeles, California

Review: Slow Fish

Los Angeles,
19 November 2013

I had some extra time on Tuesday so decided to try a place I’ve heard a little about, Slow Fish. It’s one of the thousands of Asian-fusion/sushi places around the LA area, and not sure what really made it any different. But I saw the menu and decided to see if it works.

An unpretentious little place that seems to be popular with the lunch crowd, Slow Fish in LA (there’s another location on the beach) does what it does pretty well. I had several items from their “small plates” selection, and enjoyed a little midday wine.


First to arrive was the shishito peppers, done up a little more than usual with a spicy soy. I could have had it the usual way, but this was pretty good. Next was the star of the afternoon, the baby octopus.


These were delicious, fried just enough not to turn it into something non-octopus-like. Solid, wee spicy, didn’t need the ponzu. Excellent. Next were the mussels.


These broiled green mussels were pretty good, not too complex with a tinge of ponzu (which I usually don’t like). Nice. Next was the shrimp.


Called “volcanic” shrimp, these guys were nice and spicy, with an addition of jalapeño. They have a bite, especially if you (like me) eat the peppers, a nice close. But since I had a little more wine, I added a small sushi dessert…


The yellowtail belly was fantastic and rich, while the squid was not too stringy. Good pieces, generous slices. BTW there were 2 each but I ate one too quick so had to re-balance it for photo purposes! These featured black rice instead of normal rice — didn’t really work, a bit gimmicky.

Anyway, this wasn’t a bad lunch, a typical LA type of Asian place. The price was right, menu was solid, and the baby octopus was a real treat as was the yellowtail belly. One thing tho…the cute waitress wearing the tights was very, very distracting…very… :)))))

So mission lunch was successful, and Slow Fish did the job very well!

Slow Fish
5406 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California

Review: Ink

18 November 2013

For a second evening in a row I chose a restaurant that has been heavily hyped in LA. As my readers know, I’m really not into PR (especially blog) hype, as many have proved totally disappointing. Last night at Chi Spacca was pretty good, but there were some simple execution issues that has become more annoying in my thoughts every time I think about it. Maybe it wasn’t as good as it should have been, but I don’t like to edit my reviews after posting them…

So I was hoping for a better meal at Ink, the heavily raved-about restaurant by lauded chef Michael Voltaggio. I had secured a spot at the chef’s counter at a later hour, and enjoyed a rather good evening. However, the opening cocktail, based on white rum, was rather disappointing…unexpectedly frizzy… Switched to wine pretty quickly…

The restaurant, like so many others in newly-trendy LA, is based on small plates. However, I always forget a “small plate” in LA is a rather large plate in NY… I began with the cuttlefish in cream with pike roe.


This was an excellent dish, with the cuttlefish cut into “pasta” — much like how it was pioneered by people such as Mikael Jonsson at Hedone in London. The roe adds a nice spark to the more subtle flavours of the cuttlefish in creme. Interesting.

A nice start. I was looking forward to my second course, which they told me is somewhat of a signature dish there — the egg yolk gnocchi.


Wow. Now this was nice and rich. As a fan of the humble egg, especially its yolk, this dish was fantastic. The full flavoured gnocchi, complemented by hen-of-the-woods and a rich brown butter sauce, really hit the mark here. Egg lovers will absolutely love this dish. Worked so well with my glass of furmint from Tokaj…

I was enjoying my dinner very much, and the hype so far has been very worthy. My “main” course was next, the lamb belly.


This dish smelled brilliant. I do apologise for taking a picture after I minorly re-plated the food, as the original plating had the lettuce sit atop the belly and fully blocked the view. Perhaps not-well-thought-out plating, but… This was fantastic, the flavour of the lamb was in full force. There was no attempt to neutralise the natural flavour of lamb here, as too many restaurants tend to do (especially using poorly-sourced lamb that taste utterly bland). Excellent!

I was already full and happy, but was talked into a dessert — and I chose the mountain yam dish…


Now this didn’t do anything for me. Looks nice, but the flavours of the mountain yam, caramelised white chocolate and so forth were lost on me. After the rich savoury dishes, this seemed a bit confused and nothing stood out. And with some service hiccups at this point, this meal ended on a bit of a sigh.

Overall, Ink has surely proven its hype, at least for me with these dishes. The yolk gnocchi is fantastic as was the lamb belly. The execution was solid, and the use of ingredients very intelligent.

8360 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Review: Chi Spacca

17 November 2013

When I was exploring dining possibilities during this LA trip, I looked at Chi Spacca very carefully. However good the meat-centric menu, many of the good items on the menu seemed to be designed for more than a lone diner. However, I relented and decided to check this place out solo.

I had no idea that Chi Spacca was connected to Osteria Mozza’s space, the rather below-par Italian place that Angelinos rave over for little reason (someone called it “Babbo-lite”). To be honest that worried me a bit for several reasons. Chi Spacca is located in a back room that was used as a “teaching” room for pizza making. I was given a place on the chef’s counter — basically means I sat next to the grill and plancha. Nice, and not as hot as you’d think (especially for someone so intolerant of heat like me), thanks to LA’s obligatory solid AC systems in every restautant.

For a starter I enjoyed some bread with a generous portion of ‘nduja, the spicy Calabrian sausage.


The spread worked well with the bread. I’m not one to shy from spicy stuff, so I didn’t need all of the voluminous bread. This was maybe too big, again good for sharing.

For a main I ordered something that was okay for 1 person. However, I was eyeing the pork tomahawk chop they were doing…I thought I could have eaten half of it and taken the other back…oh well… It was soooooo tempting… But my pork blade chop arrived soon.


It was a solid size, and the heritage pork (all meats are sources impeccably) was done a nice medium with a lot of pink. You only do that with heritage pork that are reliable. The meat was cooked very well, but what for me that took away from the taste was the excess use of vinegar…it really ate into the meat. That was somewhat unfortunate.


The side of stuffed squash blossoms was a nice addition to my order. This whole meal was thoroughlly enjoyable and very filling, but I do regret coming here solo. This is a place to enjoy with other meat lovers, reminding me of my first dinner at London’s amazing Piemontese steakhouse Maxelâ. I would have ordered totally differently. And also, it was unfortunate that they don’t do the razor clams anymore here.

Chi Spacca could be a big hit in LA, as they do source and do meat very well. Maybe a little less on the vinegar when it’s not needed, it conflicts with the natural flavour of the meat a little too much. You got good meat, don’t do too much with it! But otherwise totally solid, and I’d return on any given day — hopefully with fellow meat lovers in tow!

And easily beats the restaurant next door, the poster child for mediocrity.

Chi Spacca
6610 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Review #3: Il Grano

Los Angeles
15 November 2013

I was really tired. I had been moving stuff from NYC to DC in middle of the night, and running errands in Virginia before I hopped onto a flight to Los Angeles for a few days of rest. Despite how tired I was, I made sure the first dinner I had in town was at my favourite restaurant in the world, Il Grano.

The minute I walked in (after a rather trying cab ride with a driver that didn’t know basic Los Angeles roads), I saw the maestro — Chef Sal Maino — and I smiled. This genius of food, a chef that won’t “over-chef” and lets nature’s flavours shine, has produced some of the best meals I’ve ever had (here’s previous review #1 and previous review #2). It’s so good to see an old friend work his magic again.

I was seated at my now-customary seat as Sal brought out some prosecco and we caught up for a few minutes before he had to run back to the kitchen to work. As he got up, the first amuse bouche arrived.


A nice, fresh oyster started the evening, going down well with the prosecco. The next amuse bouche was a little pre-Thanksgiving treat, a cool house-made piece of bird stuffing. And finally, the last amuse bouche was a really cool one.


He had teased me weeks ago when he emailed me pictures of the pressed pig’s head…ah, nothing as good as testa sometimes, this time a slice of rustic head wrapped around a juicy shrimp. Mmm….

Sal came out for a little more chat and then he went back to sort out tonight’s feast for me. With the wine pairing also moving along, the first dish arrived — Hokkaido scallops with guava.


These scallops were sweet and flavourful, not sliced too thin to prevent full appreciation. Done very well, again with little adulteration (not needed). Just a treat from mother nature. A nice start.

He also quickly ran out to give me a tasting of raw chopped Japanese snapper, overloaded by white truffles…wow…I was so into it I forgot to take a picture!!! Mmm…


The second course featured some very contrasting flavours that worked wonders. The home-grown arugula was full-flavoured with just enough bitterness and character — definitely NOT the flavourless stuff you buy pre-packaged at stores. The burrata brought out a creamy complexity, and the persimmon carried such a sweet tinge. An excellent combination!


We move into the seafood for the third course with the skate wing on a bed of kale. As a fan of skate, this was done nicely, with the meat juicy on its own. It’s very easy to overcook these things so they fall apart, but this was like a fruit. Nice.

Sal came out to say that as the weather’s been cooling, he’s been moving further into exploring game and offal again, so expect that for the path this evening follows. I was excited of course, as a lover of game and offal. But first there was one more treat that brought the best of the sea to meet the best of the land, all with some delicious strozzapreti.


In this fourth course, the strozzapreti is served in a marrow-based sauce, with some fresh octopus. Mmm…rich and flavourful, and the octopus boasts a perfect consistency — not stringy, not tough. One of the best pasta dishes I’ve had all year. Mmm…


The pasta run continues, now fully into game . A fabulous pappardelle with pheasant was the fifth course, with a very generous amount of the game bird. Rich and deep, a great introduction to the game portion of this meal.


The sixth course was a juicy morsel of rabbit as we continue with the game presentation. On a bed of chanterelles, the rabbit worked very well with the accompanying jus. Delicious and tender.


We move into offals for the seventh course with some nice sweetbreads. Usually I am not a big fan of sweetbreads, but these were nice. Maybe a little over-crispy at parts, but they were a nice treat.

At this point Sal came out with a mid-course break, a gelato. He didn’t tell me what the gelato was, wanted me to guess. I tasted something gamey and creamy…


Then he told me what it was — pheasant offal gelato. Wow. What can I saw, wow. Sorry the photo was taken after I already dug into it! But it was rich, metallic, extremely complex…almost impossible to describe! Utterly fantastic, must be tried!!!!

After a little break (and tweeting the amazing gelato surprise), Sal brought out the final course — the squab.


A fun plating based on the “splat” theme (with pomagranate), the slices of roast squab was tender and boasting with flavour that only game can invoke. As a treat, the dish was accompanied by a haggis-like side of the squab’s offal. Mmm…game offal… I was in heaven…

The evening rolled to a conclusion. After a beet panna cotta centric dessert (sorry, forgot to take a picture!), Sal came out for the last time to chat a bit more. He was knackered and so he headed on home. I stayed behind for some more espresso and a little grappa, waiting for a cab to take me back to my hotel.

Once again, Sal and Il Grano has given me one of the best meals of the year. The game focus, with the offal accent, was fantastic, perfectly up my alley. It was just a little sad to not see this fabulous restaurant full on a Friday night. If I had one final meal, it would be here.

Sal, you are a genius.

Il Grano
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Los Angeles, California

Review: Má Pêche

13 October 2013

I planned to meet a friend and fellow food writer blogging at Toast to Roast for some drinks in Midtown one evening, but needed to find some food beforehand. I have never been a big fan of the David Chang empire of food (see my review of Shōtō in Toronto), but I saw that Má Pêche would be in a convenient location — so went for it.

I’ve not been in this space since it was called Town many aeons ago (beware of link, it’s my old set of reviews from years ago…). It began badly, from a loose step (horribly dangerous) going downstairs to waiting for ages to get a drinks order in the not-that-busy restaurant. I eventually ordered and tried to pair things up somewhat smoothly.


My first course was a ceviche of black bass. This was a voluminous portion and done well, especially the crispy skin. But nothing too special to be honest, but satisfying. That changed with the next course…


This octopus confit was a disaster. The octopus tasted just awful, like it’s been left out for a few days. Confit? Huh? It had the consistency of chewing gum. The flavours were lacking totally too. A complete miss of a dish that should really be a “do not do” at culinary school…


Up next for a “main” was the butter roasted cod. This was not bad, a solid piece of fish. Again, tho, nothing too special, something you can get pretty much anywhere. Nothing made this dish, nor anything else tonight, something you’d walk more than a block to have. So far rather disappointed.


My dessert was based on peanut butter, and it worked well. But again, it looks like culinary school fancy overrode sensible. I ordered a scotch and I sensed the server noticed my disappointment, so he comped me a 2nd glass of a different single malt to taste. That was a nice touch.

I left Má Pêche with my opinions on David Chang restaurants pretty much the same. Bats way above its weight, tries to sanitise ethnic food without the need to. Needless to say there’s little chance I will be back in this place again — especially with that extremely hazardous loose step…

Má Pêche
15 West 56th Street
New York, New York