Friends & Family
Thanks to the recommendation from @ipsedixit for their amazing Blueberry Ice Cream, we got a chance to stop by the new restaurant Friends & Family.
Opened by Chefs Daniel Mattern and Roxanna Jullapat (formerly of Cook’s County, AMMO), Friends & Family is a cheery, bright location in Thai Town.
We’re greeted by a nice-looking pastry case, full of fresh-baked items from Pastry Chef Jullapat.
Mint Iced Tea:
Refreshing, strong on the Mint (in a good way), and unsweetened.
Whole Wheat Croissant:
Seeing a Croissant on the menu (of a noteworthy Pastry Chef), I had to order one to see how it compared to our favorites.
Sadly, it was… not so good. Dryish, lightly crisped, it just lacked the deep infusion and flavor of a great Butter, and the flakiness that makes our favorites standout so much.
Bagel & Ale-Cured Salmon (Herby Cream Cheese, Red Onion & Capers):
The server mentioned that they make their own Bagels in-house, and they cured their own Salmon, so we couldn’t wait to try this.
The Housemade Everything Bagel had a nice chew, wasn’t dried out, and had a nice softness to it, while still having a sturdy exterior. Pretty good!
The House-Cured Salmon was OK. It wasn’t overly salty, but it’s not Gjusta-level flavors and quality, either. I wouldn’t mind ordering this again if we were in the area.
Fried Chicken Sandwich (Apricot & Chili Chutney on a Potato Bun):
First, this isn’t as good as Howlin’ Ray’s (it’s also about half the size and is more expensive than Howlin’ Ray’s). But comparisons out of the way, it’s pretty tasty in a unique way.
As @ipsedixit mentioned there’s an interesting textural and flavor contrast: I loved the sweetness of the Apricot & Chili Chutney against the crunchy Fried Chicken itself. The Potato Bun is sturdier than Howlin’s version, but it works. It’s a new take on the Fried Chicken Sandwich that’s a bit pricey but tasty.
Housemade Blueberry Ice Cream:
We saved room for Dessert since @ipsedixit had raved about this amazing Blueberry Ice Cream. First, as we were ordering, I suddenly realized:
I don’t recall the last time I ate a “real” Blueberry Ice Cream(!). I mean, as a kid, they had those artificial “Blueberry” flavors, etc., but actual great Blueberry fruit in Ice Cream? I’ve never even seen it at Bulgarini before (and Leo loves taking fresh fruit and creating masterpieces out of it).
This was really tasty. There was a real Blueberry essence permeating every bite, balanced by the creaminess.
Housemade Chocolate Chip & Mint Ice Cream:
This was amazing! Extremely aromatic, super minty (in a natural way), refreshing, cool, and the Dark Chocolate Chips gave it a great contrast.
Friends & Family
5150 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tel: (323) 668-2000
Located up the street from Shamshiri Grill, Shaherzad’s interior decor seems to focus more on a “fine dining” angle compared to Shamshiri.
Fresh Baked Bread:
As we sat down, within a few minutes some piping hot, fresh baked Bread arrived to our table. It was as @J_L mentioned, and along with Shamshiri Grill, another nice option to have for Persian Cuisine (compared to the more commonly found mass-produced, cold Bread found at many other places).
While it was piping hot and toasty, I prefer the Whole Wheat Shamshiri Bread in terms of aroma and taste, but this was still good.
Baghali Polo (Fresh Dill and Lima Beans Mixed with Rice, Served with Lamb Shank (or Chicken)):
This wasn’t recommended by @J_L, but I usually order the Baghali Polo at every restaurant that offers it, since it’s my favorite Persian dish.
The Dill & Lima Bean Rice was cold in many spots. It was clumpy and besides that, the Dill flavors were really muted. It was pretty unremarkable.
The Lamb Shank was a bit tougher than usual (tasting like it wasn’t stewed long enough). The actual flavors were also really straightforward.
For Baghali Polo, I’d have to say Shamshiri Grill is our current favorite (far more flavorful, aromatic, deeply nuanced).
Ghaimeh Bademjan (Yellow Split Peas Cooked in a Special Tomato and Onion Sauce, served with Italian Eggplant and Diced Beef):
I was excited to order this since @J_L recommended it… but after 30 minutes of waiting (we had finished our Baghali Polo and were just waiting around), we canceled it. It never showed up. We were also the only table in the restaurant, so I’m not sure what was holding up the kitchen.
Barley Soup (Chicken Soup Cooked with Barley, Carrots and Sweet Peas:
On this 2nd visit, their Barley Soup was a great starter: Lighter than the usual Lentil Soup offered in many places, it was nicely balanced, a bit earthy, vegetal, with a gentle sweetness from the Carrots.
Lubia Polo (Green Beans, Tomato Sauce and Diced Filet Mignon Mixed with Rice, Served with a Skewer of Ground Chicken Kabob (or Ground Sirloin)):
And then we get the Lubia Polo, the reason we visited and @J_L’s recommendation: The Chicken Koobideh Kabob is moist, juicy, and well-seasoned. It is delicious! I would say Shamshiri’s Koobideh is a bit more heavily marinated / seasoned, with Shaherzad’s being a bit lighter, but both are juicy and flavorful.
But it’s really about the Lubia Polo Rice… The Lubia Polo is fragrant, delicate, perfectly cooked and far better than Shamshiri’s Lubia Polo. I loved the Green Beans and the Diced Filet Mignon was well-marinated and tender with every bite. Thanks @J_L!
1422 Westwood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Tel: (310) 470-3242
This was a surprising little Breakfast spot buried in an office complex.
Breakfast Burrito (Cage-Free Eggs, House Glazed Bacon, Sausage, Cheddar, Bistro Roasted Potatoes, Pico de Gallo):
Initially it tastes like a rather sophisticated Breakfast Burrito, non-greasy, nicely cooked ingredients. But after a few bites, it all starts to come together: The still moist, fluffy Roasted Potatoes, properly ripe Tomatoes, Eggs, but it’s that Glazed Bacon and Sausage that really helps to bind it all together.
It becomes increasingly tasty the more you eat it.
Thanks to @ipsedixit for the recommendation.
16277 Laguna Canyon Rd., Suite B
Irvine, CA 92618
Tel: (949) 753-0227
Attari Sandwich Shop
Another popular restaurant around Westwood that we ignored until now, I remember reading so much about Attari’s Beef Tongue Sandwich, and wanting to go, but all the arguing on our old board just scared us away.
Looking at the menu, they have a Brain Sandwich that my crazy offal-loving friends are going to love.
Beef Tongue Sandwich:
The simplicity of the Sandwich belies how fantastic it is: It starts with the soft, flexible Bread (delivered fresh by a local bakery), and then Lettuce, Tomato, Mayo, Mustard and the slow-cooked Beef Tongue. It’s super tender, luscious and just a great Sandwich… it almost reminds me of eating Beef Daube for some reason (that’s how tender it is). Wonderful!
I regret not visiting Attari until now. If anyone has other suggestions on their menu please let me know.
Attari Sandwich Shop
1388 Westwood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA, 90024
Tel: (310) 441-5488
Tel Aviv Grill
And we finally made it out to Tel Aviv Grill. After hearing so many good things about it, and after having had a paradigm shift on what great Chicken Shawarma and Falafel could be like at Ta-Eem Grill, it felt like a great time to try Tel Aviv Grill to compare.
The menu and ordering seems very similar to Ta-Eem: You walk up and order at the register, they have a large flat-screen TV displaying the menu, and it looked like every single table had either Chicken Shawarma or Falafel (which is what we wanted to taste test anyways).
All of their proteins & Falafel could be ordered (like at Ta-Eem) in Pita, Baguette, Laffa or Plate form.
After ordering, you walk up to the counter area and point out which Israeli Salads you’d like to include with you order.
Chicken Shawarma Plate:
Their Chicken Shawarma Plate is a huge order, with loads of Chicken Shawarma directly cut from the vertical spit, but unlike Ta-Eem Grill, Tel Aviv doesn’t grill / sear the Chicken afterwards.
Sampling each of the Israeli Salads, they are fresh, pretty tasty, but they lack the distinct separation that Ta-Eem’s Salads have. For example, at Ta-Eem Grill, the Spiced Carrot Salad is very unique tasting and standout against their other Salads. Same for the amazing Red Cabbage Salad, crunchy, creamy, and distinctly spiced. These separations help to tease the palate and it makes the dishes even more enjoyable.
The ones at Tel Aviv are fresh, but the flavors seem to blend easily together.
Their Chili Sauce (which looks like the equivalent to Ta-Eem’s Harissa) is fine, but it lacks that distinct vibrant layering that makes Ta-Eem’s Housemade Harissa and Housemade Skhug so fantastic! They really elevate the dishes there.
One distinct difference at Tel Aviv Grill (thanks @CiaoBob @Ns1 for the tip), is that they provide a giant plate of French Fries & Roasted Eggplant, in addition to the Israeli Salads.
It’s a bit crazy at first (most place might charge you for the amount of Fries and Roasted Eggplant), but it’s all complimentary here, which is a nice touch.
The Fries, even though they are fresh-cooked, are on the soft side (sort of like In-N-Out Fries (cooked once)). It’s not bad, but not really “amazing” Fries. The Roasted Eggplant is fantastic though! Perfectly roasted through and soft, they add a nice layer to each bite.
The Pita Bread at Tel Aviv is thankfully also great (like Ta-Eem), fluffy and fresh tasting. However, while it’s served warm, that’s all it is. Ta-Eem’s Pita is slightly toasted (but still fluffy, airy on the inside), so you get a bit of textural contrast when you get a bite of the Shawarma, Falafel, etc. with the Pita and Israeli Salads. At Tel Aviv Grill, it’s still nice, but there’s no textural contrast.
They also only give you 1 Pita, even for a full Plate, and they’ll charge you $1 for each additional Pita. At Ta-Eem Grill, we got 2 Large Pitas and 2 Small Pitas (free) with every Plate order we got.
The actual Chicken Shawarma is moist, well-seasoned, and I’d say just as tasty as Ta-Eem’s. The difference is that Tel Aviv Grill doesn’t sear the Shawarma on the flat top at the end, so it’s just moist, directly off the spit. Ta-Eem’s Shawarma has some crisped edges (some gorgeous caramelization) and it adds to the taste.
I liked both of them in their own ways, and thought it was pretty even, which meant both were delicious!
Tel Aviv’s Falafel was moist, loosely packed, and well-seasoned. They were not overly dense hockey pucks (like some places), and it had an almost “Veggie Burger” taste to it (in a good way). They were very good.
But we liked Ta-Eem’s Falafel better: Ta-Eem’s Falafel were more crisped on the exterior (nice textural contrast again), with the moist, airy interior, and the seasoning was more distinct at Ta-Eem.
Overall, Tel Aviv Grill is another game changer (for us): Delivering Kosher moist, flavorful Chicken Shawarma and airy, nicely seasoned Falafel with a large array of Israeli Salads to go along with it. If it wasn’t for Ta-Eem Grill, this would be my favorite Shawarma and Falafel place around L.A.
But after trying Ta-Eem Grill 3 times in the last few weeks and then trying Tel Aviv, we just like the flavors of the Israeli Salads, the Shawarma’s searing finish and their Falafels a bit more (sort of like “1” and “1A”). They are both great, and I’m glad we have these options in these 2 distinct parts of the city.
(Closed Friday Evening and Saturdays.)
Tel Aviv Grill (Tarzana)
19014 Ventura Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 91356
Tel: (818) 774-9400
Shin Sen Gumi (Irvine)
I’ve been to many of the Shin Sen Gumi branches over the years, and they are just getting worse and worse, but since I found myself in Irvine, a good friend of mine wanted to meet up at the new Irvine branch of Shin Sen Gumi…
I was dreading eating their mediocre Hakata Ramen, but opening up the menu I was shocked to see how drastically different it was from all the other Shin Sen Gumis: They had a bunch of Small Plates (Izakaya style dishes), Salads, but then… Handmade Udon Noodles(?!).
In fact, 90% of their menu is not Ramen, and they’ve relegated their mediocre Hakata Ramen to the back page (which says alot).
Their Kaisou Salad was delicious: A nice mix of a various Marinated Seawood, fresh Greens and Tomatoes, in a light Sesame Miso Dressing.
Fried Chicken Cartilage:
Their Nankotsu was surprisingly solid: Fried Chicken Cartilage chunks, lightly seasoned, perhaps a touch oily, but tasty.
Chilled Udon with Duck Meat Dipping Sauce:
Their Zaru Udon - Handmade In-House(!) - was the perfect density and chew. It was on the slightly thinner side (great), and the Warm Duck Dipping Sauce was nicely seasoned, not too salty and giving it a nice temperature contrast.
Shrimp Tempura Chilled Udon with Dipping Sauce:
Their “Tenzaru Udon” essentially, featured decently fried Tempura (not overly oily) with a balanced Dipping Sauce.
But it’s their Handmade Udon Noodles that really are the star here. I’m genuinely shocked that Shin Sen Gumi Irvine has Handmade Udon, and that it’s pretty darn good! There’s a good chew and bite to them. They are slightly thinner than Marugame Monzo, and it lacks the finesse and more interesting flavors, but this is very solid and quite enjoyable.
I’d be gladly back for the Handmade Udon. It’s such a surprise 2 of the other branches of Shin Sen Gumi that I called (to ask if they were featuring Udon) scoffed at the idea. When I told them Irvine had Handmade Udon, they were shocked and thanked me for the info.
Shin Sen Gumi (Irvine)
6404 Irvine Blvd.
Irvine, CA 92620
Tel: (949) 596-7036