From your old CH friend Thi N. - hello, goodbye, hello


#1

(I posted this on chow hound and then ipsedixit directed me here)

Oh god, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles chow hounders, I miss you.

It’s been three years. I moved to Utah. Did I tell you this? I think I forgot to say goodbye. I left in this horrible rush and insanity. In the end, I had to choose between an academic career and food and food writing. Probably I made a mistake. Anyway, I almost chose the food writing, but it looked like the LA Times food section was collapsing, so I got out.

So I live in goddamn Utah now and there’s like one good Pakistani restaurant and one good Vietnamese crawfish restaurant and that’s it. THAT’S IT. I can’t believe I took for granted the ability to just cruise down San Gabriel or East LA and have my pick of… anything. Everything.

To my old friends on Chowhound: I miss all of you.

The real reason I’m posting is selfish. I think I get to return for like 3 days in a month. So, what have I missed in the last three years of my Utah exile? What are the absolute deadliest, most important things? What has San Gabriel boiled forth? What has Koreatown boiled forth? There’s one half-way decent Korean restaurant in Utah. Tell me. What have I missed?

One last thing: I’ve gotten a bunch of e-mails asking me if I ever indexed my food writing for the LA Times. I finally got around to it. It’s here:

If anybody has any updates on any of these places - closings, changed owners, sudden losses of glory, let me know, and I’ll make a note of it on my list.

I’m not doing restaurant reviews anymore - I think doing it for money burned me out. But I’m starting to direct my philosophy work in the direction of thinking about food from a more philosophy-of-art angle, and this will show up there.

Oh LA. God, I miss you.


#2

What’s up man ???

I think you steered me towards the dope fucking fried catfish and hush puppies from Flossie’s. I didn’t really get around to ttrying it until you mentioned it. And of course for years I hit up their dope fried chicken and short ribs as part of their meats and threes (always the syrupy sweet candied yams - in a beyond exceptional kind of fucking way - collard greens, and of course their exceptional Mac n cheese). Banana pudding and sweet tie was always the order of the day to wash that delicious stick to the ribs crap down. Fucking delicious.

However, Flossie’s Healthy Cuisine (was it ever really healthy for fuck’s sake) closed down a couple months ago. No clue on whether it has resurfaced.

The Grand Central Market is just fucking brilliant. They still have the antediluvian spice shoppes catty corner from those only in LA MExican sweets stores. But now there’s a butcher shoppe get lunch counter serving what may be the best fucking cheeseburger in the entire fucking city (and you can really get a decent gourmet burger even from your local bar these days). I mentioned this burger under a separate GCM burger thread.

Of course while you’re there you should hit up a slut or two or three because why the fuck not ???

Mori Sushi on Pico is doing some
Of the very best nigiri sushi in the entire fucking city. A curated sushi list that seemingly changes with the season coupled with the best tofu appetizer with homemade ponzu to gild the proverbial Lilly as well as the whipped tofu with burnt black sugar reduction sauce to end the meal on a fitting coda. The dueling duo of uni is a thing of utter beauty.

Dino’s Burgers is still great on the utter fucking cheap. A complete meal for under 6 bucks. The only thing that has changed is that the price has slowly and incrementally crept up. That sauce on the fries is superb and sometimes even beats the Prixe Fixe meal of sorts that you are there for.

Bestia has opened which I’m not a huge fan of but others will note that it’s the best restaurant to hit the LA restaurant scene in nearly a half decade.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Shunji especially his unique, iconic, purely idiosyncratic creations from his superb signature, the agedashi tomato, to his monkfish liver mousse lacquered with a bitterly sour ponzu to his penchant for seasonal crab preparations. His lobster four ways including a lobster tartare laced with truffles is a item beyond reproach. And you might as well look out for the seemingly elusive truffle Gohan on a fourth, er rather fifth visit. By the way, did I mention his suave chocolate mousse that puts die hard pastry chefs to shame ???

Tarte Tatin bakery is doing incredible home style Israeli breakfasts: simple but great. And some of the best chcolate croissants in the city. And the eponymous tarte Tatin of course and a plum tart. Even his espresso drinks are pretty fucking swell.

Langers is still around and doing its thing So you needn’t worry. It’s still there. But enough has been said about the fucking joint.

Both WF and Rubins Red Hot have closed done years ago.

Westside tavern does some solid American ears (in the proverbial vein of a fucking Houstons in case you happen to get hungry after an endless omnibus of foreign films). Their fried chicken on special is fuckingg superb. Their salmon burger is competent. And their sticky toffee pudding with mascarpone mousse (to cut the richness down to size) is good if potentially saccharinely sweet.

The Apple Pan is still there doling out its simple hickory burgers and slabs of banana cream pies to hungry hordes at even more elevated prices.

Gracias Madre does some great margaritas.

Chengdu Tadte does great seafood leaning Sichaun. And this interminable lines fucking complete attest to that.
Seafood Village does an incredible garlic showered whole crab, we rather typhoon bomb shelter crab in addition to a perpetual plethora of braised duck and stewed sea cucumber preparations.

And what more can I say about Sqirl ??? Hipster to a fucking teeeee. Butt exceptional caramelized onions on the green eggs and jam, a collection of unique jams on toast, and a novel fucking spin on iced Sua dua laced with frothy egg whites.

Tacos Punta Cabra doles out some good fish tacos in addition to an incredible cauliflower tostada sneered with a piquant cashew butter.

Orleans and York is the fucking rave for its shrimp po boys sluiced with inordinate amounts of the buttery vingeary crack sauce.

But my heart is still set on Little Jewel and its fried shrimp po boys layered on crusty Leindenheimer bread, or better yet the soft shell crabs in season.

It’s a great time to be eating in LA. And that ain’t no fucking joke.


#3

Yo Kevviiin! Oh Flossie’s. Oh, oh Flossie’s. Though, the one thing Utah does kind of well is fried chicken.

Before I left, I celebrated getting my PhD at Shunji’s. Meal made me almost cry. Top 5 of my life.

Chengdu Tadte - I definitely have not heard this name before. Sichuan I may miss more than anything else.

Things you mentioned that I haven’t heard of before: Chengdu Tadte, Sqirl, Tacos Punta Cabra, Orleans and York, Little Jewel. They’re all on the list.

Thanks.


#4

Welcome back ThiN.
Miss you.

I think kevin has given you some great thoughts, though I personally would remove both Orleans and York and Little Jewel from the plans - both are fine but nothing worth going out of one’s way for. You are not returning to LA, just L.A., so why bother with stuff like that?

Others -
Broken Spanish
Maple Block BBQ
Taco Maria
Guerilla Tacos
Rustic Canyon


#5

I fucking second Maple Block and Guerilla Tacos. I may have a review on it somewhere for fuck’s sake.


#6

Oh yeah - just remmebered your amazing reporting on Thai food -
Luv 2 Eat Thai Bistro is a MUST.


#7

Guerilla Tacos, the gourmet food truck, has been around for a couple of years now.

Parking exactly one day a week near a Culver City third-wave coffee house and

another couple days in the once again fashionable and decidedly trendy artist’s

district a stone’s throw from downtown’s Little Tokyo. The truck’s facade plastered

with a vivid, deeply saturated blueish hue beckoning customers from across the city.

You might just think that it’s merely another soporific, trite, overplayed taco truck

that’s part and parcel of the whole craze still going on that has now surely worn out

it’s welcome; Guerrilla is anything but.

Chef Avila devises unique, idiosyncratic creations that sometimes simply defy your

expectations of what is surely possible. The compositions and meticulous plating,

where each herb is placed with care and precision, are surely worthy of a three-star

gastronomic temple. And yet the intricate dishes are merely served on disposable

paper plates and cardboard boxes like you’d find at a simple fast-food

lunch counter. The chef works his magic in a Lilliputian space with two assistants.

Suffice to say, the cramped space is beyond tight even by the standard’s of a ship’s

galley. However, delicious eats infused with utter flavor do come forth for your

ultimate delight.

A recent visit was no different and gave off a complete sense of verisimilitude if it

were possible for a mere dish to achieve that. The sweetbread, namely the buttery

portion of a calf’s thymus gland, was fried to a tee giving off the impression of the

love child of a fried oyster crossed with the “Rocky Mountain” varietal though

downsized to perfect ovals the size of tiny heirloom cherry tomatoes. They were

garnished with a spicy chile sauce that gave off an earthy kick. It must be said that

the kick is composed with the Boyle Heights street-taco scene in mind rather than in

conjunction with Westside tastes, which is a good thing.

The open-faced quesadilla filled with beech mushrooms (from where else but the

local farmer’s market), pungent hominy kernels, and a scattering of herbs to

complement the masterfully fried Oaxacan string cheese with all its caramelized

blackened eggs is beyond tasty and seems to be a menu mainstay.

The real reason you are here is for the novel, ground-breaking, almost earth-

shattering skate wing taco with persimmons (that have been marinated just so to

bring out the sweetness of this seasonal treat) and a pine nut chile that can be eaten

with a spoon if the felicitous occasion had arisen. The flakey pieces of skate wing

melt in one’s mouth like no other fish taco in town right now with the condiments

(pistachio, pine nut chile, marinated persimmons, lemon juice) belying what an

exceptional concoction this is.

And Chef Avila, despite his artistry and the uniqueness of his creations, does gladly

make concessions and modifications in deference to his customers such as leaving

off the chorizo on the quesadilla or employing the corn tortillas for the quesadilla

instead of the large flour tortillas for the gluten-averse.

It would be far from surprising if Guerilla Tacos did not become a bricks-and-mortar

institution to rival the city’s best restaurants in the all too near future.


#8

Nice to see your name. Been wondering where you disappeared to! Your 3 year absence coincides with a sea change in Chinese food. LA is unquestionably the capital of Chinese food in the US and it’s due to emergence of new restaurants representing various regional cuisines from Mainland China. With everything else going on in LA, I’ll limit my suggestions to the previously mentioned Chengdu Taste (not only the best Sichuan restaurant in the US but also changing the face of that cuisine here in the states) and Szechuan Impression, located within a half mile of each other on Valley Blvd. in Alhambra.


#9

One restaurant I have not seen recommended yet is Republique. Fantastic.

Also Bucato has closed.


#10

And Beacon has closed in the Bucato space.

Has anyone happened to know where the chef from fucking Beacon resurfaced to ??? I think he was one of the original opening chefs of Chinois on Main ???


#11

thanks for the updates.


#12

Hi, ThiN! I’m pretty sure I was still in lurk mode just as you were leaving (and I was posting as “ilysla” several yrs ago), but I remember that I was always excited to see a post from you b/c of how beautifully written they were! So glad to see you’re here again (on the board, if not actually in LA ), and I look forward to seeing your writing again.

There was a brief article 1-2 yrs ago (I think) about the use of language in menu-writing which you might find interesting (but it was non-academic). I’ll see if I can dig it up…

+1 on Sqirl, Tacos Punta Cabras, luv2eat. Not that the others are a negative; I just haven’t visited them (yet). Only went to luv2eat once, but the crab curry was truly magical (and phenomenally spicy, even at medium!). I think Guisados had already open by the time you left; I went to the WeHo location recently and loved it.


#13

Thanks for the kind words. I am going to be writing about food again, but I don’t think ever restaurant reviews again. I burned out on those doing them on deadlines at the Times. I think a part of me always to take them bigger - philosophical issues, cultural issues.

And I do write about the philosophy of art, professionally, but that stuff is super-academic, dry, objective-ish.

I’ve been yearning to start writing about food again, but in a stranger way - somewhere in between the review form and the academic philosophy form. I just don’t have any good place to put it. If you know any weird-ass food publications, let me know. For the moment, I’m just sticking it all on objectionable.net - that’s actually why I finally got around to making a site, so I could have someplace to shove all this weird food-writing stuff I want to do that doesn’t really fit anywhere.

I would LOVE to see the menu-writing thing.


#14

You’re making me so hungry it’s actually upsetting, right now.


#15

Strangely, the thing that SLC does quite well is Berkeley-style local, delicate, medium high-end stuff. There’s actually a strangely brilliant molecular gastronomy place out here - Forage - that challenges the best I’ve had in LA/SF/NY for about half the price.

What SLC is missing is: Asian, Central American, and, most of all, anything middle eastern. I mean, ANYTHING. That’s what I’m craving most. I asked a Lebanese dude I met where the best Lebanese restaurant was in town and he laughed sadly and said it’d be nice if there was A Lebanese place.


#16

Ever try any of the Chinese restaurants on State St. in SLC south of downtown?


#17

The falafels from Simon’s in Sherman Oaks are superb. As well as a new joint, or new to me, called Hagpop also in Sherman Oaks:

This nondescript, storefront joint is an exceedingly unheralded storefront gem which I have never heard mentioned anywhere in the mainstream press.

It is definitively an unqualified find even though its hiding in plain sight, rather than being inconspicuous, on a relatively busy stretch of Ventura Blvd, hard by the neighborhood liquor store.

The joint has a simple, homey decor that does feel like you’re sitting in an urban cafe in the bustling portion of Beirut. And there’s arak to drink, which they ultimately soften with water and ice cubes, until the high-octan liquid turns to a milky, cloudily celestial, etherial cloud. Suffice to say, it’s still quite strong with the added attraction of the weakening agents.

The husband-and-wife team have been going about their business beyond modestly for the better part of three decades now (since they immigrated from Lebanon years ago) in the same storefront raising children, and now grandchildren, who now crawl around the tables with utter bliss, oblvious to the fact that it’s actually a restuarant. Their warm though much too modest welcome is truly an extension of their home. This is no ordinary restuarant. And serves as a home base for expats who think nothing of downing bottle after bott

The food is great, though it will not be winning any accolades nor profusive plaudits in the press. Their PR stretches mere steps beyond a token few posts on Yelp (though even restaurants with no press in magazines and newspapers will still receive a few Yelp posts. There’s almost nowhere Yelp has ceased to stretch it’s long-arm, and that is truthfully no joke). They do have a bare-bones, utilatarian, perfectly sensible website (though the nascent site did not seem to be in perpetual existence just a few weeks ago).

You will order the minced beef kebab because that makes up more than the dozen dishes on offer and you will be beyond complacently happy. Much more so if you are already knee deep in a bottle or two of arak with that unmistakable anise-cum-licorice scented funk.

The kebab with pressed griddled pitas topped with their namesake charbroiled onions and grilled tomatoes is beyond reproach, especially when paired with the pickled radishs and jalapenos and more piping hot pitas to sop up the garlickly kebab juices.

The hummus is swell and house-made. And the solid, garlicky bastruma (the old-world pungent precursor to Jewish pastrami) is the real deal, a fitting foreward to the onslaught of kebabs.

But did I mention there is arak to drink and Johnny Walker Blue, MacCallan, and even selected Lebanese wines by the glass in these humble, almost chaste, if not quaint surroundings ?

And for dessert ? What else but some more arak for fuck’s sake ? It must make everything better and transports you for an all too fleeting moment to a nostalgic point in time.


#18

Welcome home.


#19

where is jim thurman anyway?

anyway, when it comes to the SGV beyond the recent szechuan craze, some pretty good shanghai places that didn’t exist or now exist in a different incarnation: the original owners of wang jia returned and opened old shanghai kitchen on garvey in rosemead.

shanghai dumpling house produces one of the most delicately constructed XLB’s in terms of dough thinness, amount of broth yet no leakage. most everything else is pretty good too.

another relatively recent opening that became a personal favorite is flavor garden in alhambra, but i think they’ve slipped since they became more popular. they’re one of the few places that gets packed for lunch even during the week. their fish dumplings are as good as qing dao bread food’s. and their beef roll (where they’re on) is better than 101 noodle express’ across the street (and IIRC they’re currently closed for sanitary violations - cockroaches)

liang’s kitchen on atlantic deserves a mention. formerly a franchise location with a franchise menu, they are now the last one, and have abandoned that franchise menu and come up with an eclectic range that might qualify as one of the few authentic pan-chinese places in LA. they do a fried then steamed noodle dish that was on every other table the last time i was there. their lamb noodle soup also rocks. noodles are handmade and can be almost a yard long

.


dim sum has also upped its game moving from carts to menu driven places that are more expensive but also better in quality and size when it comes to things like siu mai/ha gao and the like. the kings in the SGV remain elite & sea harbour and now recognized as belonging to the royal family are newer places like king hua & china red which IMO represent a better bang for the buck. there’s also a place called lunasia, but that’s more like shakespeare’s edmund in king lear - just about everyone there speaks mandarin - staff and patrons. and avoid shi hai.

yoma myanmar may have been around before you left but i agree with tonyc that it should be a priority destination within the SGV for burmese. the last time i went, i was able to order 6+ dishes and none of them overlapped in terms of flavors and textures.

also a lot of newer dongbei regional places. sadly, the quality from place to place can be uneven.


#20

@ThiN: Found it

I’ll post the link in “Uncategorized,” since it’s not about an LA restaurant…

(edit: it’s moved to the Food-in-the-Media part of the board)