Guandong Based Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant Opens In Culver City

Ooak Kitchen opened up its first US location about three weeks ago in downtown Culver City. According to the server, the restaurant has over 40 locations in China. A second location opened up a week ago in Buena Park. Obviously, the first question is why Culver City and not the San Gabriel Valley? So I asked the manager, who replied candidly that his restaurant would never survive because of the competition there, the attention paid to quality imported ingredients, and that Culver City was carefully chosen (presumably for its demographics, with a larger vegetarian/vegan crowd). But the real question is whether it can survive in Culver City, because the menu looks like something that would play better in the San Gabriel Valley than in Culver City. For example their signature dish appears to be their vegan duck, something quite familiar to people who consume vegetarian duck/goose in the San Gabriel Valley, but certainly not to Culver City locals.

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Or how about vegetarian shaking beef, carved marvelously out of a giant black mushroom imported from China? Shaking beef? For the Westside crowd wouldn’t broccoli beef be something more familiar?

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Vegetarian sweet and sour chicken cutlets bear no resemblance to what most people know as sweet and sour chicken, reminding me more of the house special fish dish at Seafood Palace.

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Also, the choice of E Fu Mein as the main noodle dish seems out of place.

And when did I ever take a picture of a plate of white rice?

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Dinner came to $25 per person. I think what the manager meant was that he couldn’t charge that much in the San Gabriel Valley but they could in the Westside. (The vegan duck was $26.) Besides the Buena Park location, restaurants in Santa Monica and Malibu are supposedly in the works. Ooak Kitchen is at 9540 Washington Blvd. in Culver City. And as you can see, the restaurant is nicely appointed.

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Thank you for alerting me to a new and interesting looking restaurant that is close by. However, I don’t understand the constant shade throwing on Westsiders. We are not unsophisticated eaters who can only handle limited ingredients and preparations.

There was a restaurant in an office building on Wilshire near the Federal Building for many years that served food very much like what you show above. I’m not sure, but I think the name was Happy Family.

Real Food Daily served faux meat for 24 years in Santa Monica.

Many of the most “challenging” ingredients and preparations I’ve eaten have been on the West Side. The first time I had shad roe was at Michael’s (still in business).At Uzen Sushi (still in business) I’ve had sake with a snake inside the bottle, shiokara, sculpin fish that was still moving and had the still beating heart served to me in my sake. Tara’s Himalayan which is a few blocks from me serves yak and goat. The other branches closed, but the one on the West Side is still in business. I could provide more examples, but I think you get the point.

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Thank you!

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The place has been almost empty every day. It’s not looking good. Also, the shade at the West side is deserved.

this should be fun to watch

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I can only speak as to Chinese food, but for decades the Westside had been a wasteland for Chinese food which is only now changing, and in good part due to the presence of college students from Mainland China and other Chinese Americans moving into the area. There’s an old Asian saying that one should not mistake a finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. Likewise, one should not point to the existence of an occasional authentic Westside Chinese restaurant in the 20th Century as an indication of any kind of sophistication among general Westside diners back then when it came to Chinese food. Yes, the authentic Chinese vegetarian restaurant Fragrant Vegetable did open up on Wilshire Blvd. 30 years ago (a little bit further to the west than the Federal Building), though it didn’t last more than a couple of years. In addition to Fragrant Vegetable, there was Oriental Seafood Inn in Marina Del Rey in the mid-1980s and Unicorn Inn in Venice around 1990, but neither lasted very long either. The problem with Chinese food on the Westside was, quite bluntly, housing segregation which kept the Westside mostly white for decades. I’m old enough to remember as a teenager going househunting with my dad and being told by a real estate broker after looking at a house to not even consider making an offer on the house because the all the neighbors on the block had banded together and agreed not to sell to any nonwhite buyer. This environment limited the Chinese food choices on the Westside to white bread Americanized Chinese restaurants like Kowloon on Pico, Ah Fong in Westwood Village and Wan Q on Pico. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that there was any critical mass of authentic Chinese restaurants on the Westside with the opening of places like J.R. Seafood, Royal Star and VIP Harbor Seafood, and these were more triggered by demographic changes in the area. With this background, Chinese food sophistication on the Westside has started from a big hole and has not yet caught up to other locales in the Los Angeles area. Two recent cases in point are the recent demise of Newport Seafood on La Cienega’s restaurant row, one of the most revered Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, but which based on my visits attracted mostly a Chinese clientele with few non-Chinese patrons, and the previous demise of Hakkasan in Beverly Hills, the London based Chinese restaurant chain whose other worldwide locations are wildly successful. Yes, things have markedly improved for Chinese food in the Westside in the last two or three years, highlighted by the opening of Din Tai Fung last month, and more and more Westsiders gain an appreciation for good authentic Chinese food. But as a collective group Westside diners deserve the reputation they have had, at least when it comes to an appreciation for Chinese food.

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Well, the hammer swings both ways. SGV would probably not the best place to open an upscale Northern Italian restaurant, or a vegan salad/grain bowl place. People eat what is familiar.

The Chinese students you mention are not rushing out to eat at Gjusta, nor at the myriad of middle eastern places up and down Westwood Blvd.

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Yes, but Chinese are affected by the Chinese stomach so we wouldn’t necessarily expect there to be any interest in non-Chinese food among those groups. (Thanks for the opening to plug myself.)

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they are

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I think almost every cultural group suffers this “ailment” to varying degrees. As some cultures tend to be more accepting of the unfamiliar, others are not so much. Some.cultures’ attitudes and traditions change over time, some prefer cultural homeostasis.

Your family may have been excluded from somewhere in the Westside, but this attitude dissipated long ago. The Westside’s strength for many decades was its diversity. Venice High School had the reputation for many years as having one of the most diverse student bodies in the US. But it’s diversity probably played against creating a major ethnic food culture as well. The largest “ethnic” groups were Japanese, Latino, Jewish and African American. Still, the majority has been White through the post WWII growth period.

The buying power was concentrated among the Whites as well. The entertainment industry, academics, defense and aerospace, aviation, finance, legal and medicine were predominantly white. Even higher paying blue collar was mostly white - utilities, auto manufacture and construction.

With a majority white population with an inordinate majority of wealth whose roots are from majority white areas in the US and Europe, food tastes heavily leaned toward this demographic.

Real estate prices have turned much of the Westside more White again, as well as Asian to a lesser degree. With that said, when it comes to food, the whites of today are not the whites of past. They are far more likely to try food that was inconceivable I’m the past. And much of this is due to the ease of information dissemination.

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Upscale Northern Italian and a vegan salad/grain bowl place would actually probably do very well in certain parts of San Marino or Pasadena… You wouldn’t necessarily think a place like Julienne would be popular w/ Chinese folks… But it is (and w/ white folks, as well).

There are plenty of those in Pasadena and its environs

Re:Chinese Stomach

I honestly see this more in the older generation.

Skimming thru Chinese media LA guide books/pamphlets (I can’t read btw) I have seen Bestia, Mozza, Bottega, etc mentioned.

Any omakase joint is going to have a Chinese or two.
Or any Japanese markets for that matter.

Ktown? Have you been to Alexandria Plaza? Sun Nong Dan in Ktown has a huge amount of Chinese customers. I am convince it is in some guide book for all the Mainlanders who visit or live/school over here.
Don’t forget the Korean Chicken Soup places, at any given time I hear Mandarin.

But I don’t see these Mainlanders standing in line for tacos in Boyle Heights or South Central lol

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Funny you mention the Chinese presence in Koreatown. It’s an interesting part of my article that went up yesterday.

Note, however, the Chinese stomach is alive and well at least with the Mainland Chinese students as evidenced by the proliferation of authentic Chinese restaurants in small university cities and towns coast to coast across the country.

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I actually see a ton of young Chinese peeps at places like Gjusta. My friend and I were actually joking the other night about how this has become an informal test of trendiness.

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The one place that you missed was Madam Wu’s. That was our go to Chinese place in the 60’s. When she moved across the street to the north side of Wilshire at her new digs in an absolutely stunning building (for the time), that took Chinese places, for me, to a whole different level of sophistication. But if you ever read anything about Sylvia Wu, she would tell you that her food was geared to westside’s tastes and wasn’t that authentic. As she became more popular, Madam Wu slowly introduced dishes that were more authentic.

Asian millennials are the biggest foodies around. Just following where my kids eat gives me a good idea of what’s going on.

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FWIW, while i no longer patronize the place frequently, i’ve seen hispanic customers at the sam woo at 6th and valley - but that tends to reinforce your conclusion that they’ve embraced cantonese chinese cuisine. now that i think about it, a cuban friend of mine swears by won kok (on… alpine???) in chinatown as a place he can feed his family for only $40.

i’m sure you’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that the demographics of chinese students coming from overseas to study in the US has changed significantly in that now they’re all typically well connected politically (and hence, financially/socially as well) - and returning back to china when their schooling is completed. it bears noting that their spending/consumption habits should not be expected to mirror those of ethnic chinese in the US under different circumstances. and since we’re there, i’d expect the spending habits of the 626 taiwanese millenials born in the US to be somewhat different as well.

actually, i consider it likely that there are a number of different subcultures within each ethnic asian community here in the southland. i have a friend trained as a therapist who sees only asian-american patients. he was fascinated meeting me, an asian who was raised in an an otherwise exclusively caucasian midwestern suburb being completely unlike any other asian male he’d encountered up to that point. he happens to be nisei, and he once told me something that’s always stuck with me: “within 5 minutes, i can tell where a nisei was born and raised in LA”; between accent and vernacular, he could distinguish between nisei born and raised in the SFV, around little tokyo, down in gardena, etc. while i have chinese friends in LA, i find it interesting to note that all of them grew up in predominantly caucasian neighborhoods vs. having lived in chinatown.

the point of this digression is that even within ethnic groups, you can find subcultures/variations whose habits may deviate significantly from the norm.

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I’m at Gjusta fairly often, even if to just pick up bread, and I’ve never seen a Chinese person there, ever. In fact, unless they work there, I’ve never seen a black or Latino either. It’s so white hipster it could be a comedy skit (except that’s been done).

I keep forgetting Pasadena is part of the official SGV! :slight_smile:

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