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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.

It Tastes So Good, Who Cares If the Calories Are Empty?

So it’s your birthday, and you want to pig out. Where do you go? If you’re ipsedixit, you head to 85 Degrees Celsius teahouse, which is no less than a Taiwanese culinary crackhouse (and open till 1 a.m.).

Don’t look for traditional Taiwanese pub food—there are no oyster omelets, tsong-tzi, stinky tofu, or mi-feng. Instead, you get updated Taiwanese food for a younger clientele that favors JDM cell phones and the Mercedes G-class.

And what does this group eat? Brick toast sweet butter is like a cream puff without the puff: a thick slice of white bread coated with butter, sweet condensed milk, and coconut crème. Oh, and then more butter, and powdered sugar. Popped into the toaster oven, it comes out piping hot, way better than a doughnut but just as sinful.

Squid jerky is deep-fried squid, coated with a sweet sauce that might as well be opium—it’s that addictive.

To drink, there’s plum Coke: “Think Coke made with sweet and savory plum juice.” If you can.

85 Degrees Celsius [San Gabriel Valley]
425 W. Valley Boulevard Suite 101, San Gabriel

Board Link: Today, I want to discuss junk food … Taiwanese junk food to be exact.

Chowhound Also-Rans

Nearly 90 people (and counting) have weighed in on their favorite restaurants that fly under Chowhound’s radar. That’s way too many to sum up here, so go check it out!

Board Link: Restaurants you love that are rarely mentioned on Chowhound

Asa Ramen, Straight Outta Japan

Asa Ramen just opened in Gardena, and rameniac says he hasn’t been this excited since Santouka came to town.

This isn’t the “old guy with a cauldron” brand of ramen shop—it’s a rustic-modern place of the style that’s all the rage in Japan.

The ramen is superbly well crafted, with “a proprietary hakata-style noodle that is light years away from anything the other ramen shops have in town.” It’s not quite orgasmic yet, but the place hasn’t been open a month, and it’s second only to Santouka (gachimai thinks it’s even better).

Portions are on the small size and pricey, even by Japanese standards. Two bowls with a few toppings plus takoyaki and a beer run more than $30.

The restaurant itself is also very small, with just three tables and an eight-seat counter. There’s no sign out front; the shop is boarded up by day, and a large wooden board gets flipped out at night to indicate it’s open (hours are 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.).

Asa Ramen [South Bay]
18202 S. Western Avenue, Gardena

Santouka [South Bay]
21515 S. Western Avenue, Torrance

Santouka [Orange County]
665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa

Santouka [Westside–Inland]
In Mitsuwa Marketplace
3760 S. Centinela Avenue, West Los Angeles

Board Link: ASA RAMEN–brand new hidden gem (review)

New Sushi Spot Has Creative Flair

The new Hashigo Sushi is a worthy destination in Huntington Beach, says kingkong5. Head chef Koji formerly owned Koji’s in Hollywood and at the Block on Orange, and he worked at Wasa Sushi on the Bluffs in Newport Beach.

Grab a seat at the bar in front of Koji-san or Shin-san, and let them work their magic. A request for Shin-san to be creative yields impressive results: seared yellowtail belly nigiri, topped with jalapeño slices and soaked with ponzu; Spanish mackerel with its deep-fried bones on the side; creamy, blood-red, melt-in-your-mouth bluefin tuna; and crisp geoduck, tasting like the sea. Ankimo is marinated before steaming to remove any liver taste and served with ponzu sauce—superb. Rib-eye steak comes wrapped around asparagus, dressed in its own juices, and topped with fried shallots.

Special rolls: White kelp salmon roll includes crab and cream cheese with crunchy white seaweed, wrapped in cucumber skin instead of nori. Spider roll is tasty and soft-shell crab delicately fried, without a hint of grease.

The place seems to do well with frying: Tempura and fried sesame chicken are also done quite nicely.

For dessert, the kitchen has something called the Hashigo roll: like an egg roll filled with chopped Granny Smith apples, served with caramel sauce and ice cream.

The space is dimly lit and has modern décor; the sushi bar seats about 20, with tables for 40 more.

Hashigo Sushi [South Bay]
18685 Main Street, Huntington Beach

Board Link: Hashigo Sushi (huntington beach) new!

Tuck into a Taiwanese Banquet

Chef Eric, formerly of Tsuru and currently heading the kitchen at May Garden, is a wonder and worth more than he charges, says Pei. She had a great Taiwanese banquet at his new restaurant.

Round up a group and make sure to call ahead for the banquet option, or you’ll end up eating orange chicken and other Americanized offerings. Standout dishes include deep-fried seafood rolls, freshly boiled mochi, squid rolls with masago and seaweed, Taiwanese sticky rice, and Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. russkar loves the giant sashimi platter and lobster or shark fin soup.

The price can be anywhere from $30 to double that, depending on what you order. Getting lobster or shark fin soup can make a huge price difference without a huge taste difference, cautions Pei.

May Garden [Orange County]
1400 SE Bristol Street, Santa Ana

Board Link: May Garden (Santa Ana)

Totally Hot for Ankimo

hrhboo tasted her way through some of the best sushi spots in town, looking for the perfect ankimo experience. The best bargain? The stunning ankimo nigiri at Echigo: “The slices were so big that they didn’t fit on the rice, so about 1.5 inches were cut off the ends and served on the side. Really, really delicious, and a bargain at $5.” It’s a worthy second to the incredible stuff at Sushi Zo, which is also warm and naturally textured—sliced off the lobe, not molded.

The famed Echigo lunch special, now $12, is very fresh and very good: salmon, snapper, tuna, albacore, and yellowtail nigiri, and a blue crab hand roll. The nori is beautifully toasted and crisp, the rice warm and loose. But vinosnob comments that the sauces that accompany almost every piece of nigiri overpower the butteriness of the fish.

Kiriko is a different kettle of fish—or rice, actually. The fish is stellar, but the rice is not warm. Nigiri includes some unusual options like barracuda and bonito, both excellent, and the house-smoked salmon, absolutely sublime. Ankimo here is more like a pâté, served cold.

Lunch omakase also includes a blue crab hand roll, miso soup, and a salad—a lot of food for $32.

Echigo [Westside]
12217 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles

Sushi Zo [Westside]
9824 National Boulevard, Los Angeles

Kiriko [Westside]
11301 W. Olympic Boulevard #102, Los Angeles

Board Links: Ankimo at Echigo…Wow.
Ankimo at Kiriko…not so much.

The Bistro that Launched a Thousand Corny Thread Titles

David Myers’ new restaurant, Comme Ça, already has generated tons of buzz on the boards. As a classic bistro/brasserie, it fills a niche in LA.

It has had a bit of a schizo personality in its initial days, though—Woolsey’s review begins: “Comme Ça has the best-smelling bathrooms in all of Los Angeles. The toilet chambers have a beautiful floral-citrus perfume pumped in, as well as soft, strange, almost fairy-tale music. The men’s and women’s toilets share a unisex wash area, where the beds of the sinks are lined with river rocks.”

But while loving attention has been paid to certain areas of Comme Ça, others seem like they were just slapped together; the bucketlike stainless-steel chairs at the tables by the bar and the white plastic gardenlike chairs were cited by several. And though dishes like the roasted bone marrow appetizer are meticulously thought out, the desserts are complete afterthoughts.

The best bet on the traditional menu is probably the steak frites—everyone loves the french fries, which have a meaty flavor that recalls the old McDonald’s fried-in-beef-tallow version (Julia Child’s favorite). French onion soup is just as it should be: a superb onion concentration with sweet undertones, along with rich strings of Gruyère.

The aforementioned beef marrow, served with oxtail jam, is gelatinous and creamy, and the rich oxtail jam is flavored with orange peel. Salmon with gnocchi parisienne is nicely seasoned and excellent, duck confit with red cabbage is very good, but the spätzle is kinda bland. Crispy skate grenobloise is also a standout.

The real star here could be the cheese bar, authentic to the point of putting off other diners with its stench.

Bouillabaisse has impeccably fresh whitefish, shrimp, and mussels but lacks depth of flavor; so does coq au vin. Sepia (cuttlefish) provençal is drowned in a sweet tomato sauce that’s more like a jam. Bouef bourguignon is oversalted.

Service is great, very attentive—if a little too enthusiastic. Everything on the menu, according to the servers, is the best in town.

The wine list doesn’t thrill anyone, and the bartending situation is a bit odd—there’s no cocktail list, but the resident “mixologist” will mix anything to meet your mood. Could be nice if you’re in the mood—or, if you’re not into the interactive thing, not.

The dessert list seems pretty much copied from Boule, for better or for worse.

Dinner for two runs about $150 with tax.

Comme Ça [Mid-City]
8479 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

Board Links: Ça Va
Un Billet Doux pour Comme Ça
Comme Ca
Comme Ca Just Say Ahhhh…...

Chicago Pizza Shout-Out

Open five months, Banducci’s can be added to the relatively short list of Southern California restaurants that do deep-dish Chicago pizza right, says RSMBob.

It’s a small place (just one long family-style table and a side counter), but the menu is extensive: pizza with thin crust and thick crust, deep dish, Chicago-style deep dish, and stuffed crust. All the standard toppings are available, along with several specialty pizzas. There are other Chicago favorites, such as Italian beef, hot dogs, ribs, and even cheesecake.

Stuffed-crust pizza is a double-decker, with a second layer of dough atop the fillings and cheese. Sausage-stuffed has a great balance of crust, cheese, and sausage, with a moderately chunky sauce. The crust has a pretty thick rolled edge, with soft-pretzel flavor. Unlike many pretenders, it’s not a gloppy mess. In fact, it could use a teeny bit more sauce. Thin-crust pizza is good, but nothing special—for thin-crust Chicago pizza, you still want Casa Bianca, says epop.

Tony’s Little Italy is another reliable pizzeria for deep dish; the crust has the flavor and texture of a buttermilk biscuit crust, says GoodEatz. Note for next time: Skip the Hawaiian and get something traditional, like sausage, mushroom, and garlic. And make sure to go for stuffed-crust. Tony’s is mostly a to-go operation, though it has about eight tables; you order at the counter. It’s just a basic strip-mall joint but very clean, it serves beer and wine, and you get real silverware and melamine plates for your pizza.

The third restaurant in RSMBob’s top three SoCal deep-dish pizza places is quite a trek: Chicago Pasta House, about halfway between Pasadena and Palm Springs. It’s not quite Lou Malnati’s (the Chowhound favorite in Chicago), says Jack Flash, but it’s tasty, reasonably authentic, and much closer than Chicago.

Banducci’s Famous Chicago Pizza Co. [South Bay]
2706 Del Amo Boulevard, Lakewood

Casa Bianca Pizza Pie [Eagle Rock]
1650 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles

Tony’s Little Italy Pizza [Orange County]
1808 N. Placentia Avenue Unit B, Placentia

Chicago Pasta House [Inland Empire]
24667 Sunnymead Boulevard, Moreno Valley

Board Links: Banducci’s Famous Chicago Style Pizza in Lakewood
Chicago Style Pizza?
Is there a ‘real’ Chicago pizza close to LA?

Tacu-Tacu and Saltado in the Valley

There’s an excellent new Peruvian spot in Tarzana called Lima, reports maggielyn.

In a former supper club tucked in the back of a shopping center, the restaurant is more upscale than many Peruvian joints. But don’t worry, it’s got your aji, your choclo, your Pisco Sours, and your chicha morada. The chef is from Lima, and the waitstaff seems to be made up largely of Peruvian students, who are ready and enthusiastic ambassadors of their globally influenced food.

Tallarines with beef, one of Peru’s typical Chinese hybrids, is like a really good tomato beef chow mein, says Galen, with very tender meat.

Seafood and steak are good bets, particularly the shrimp saltado—a stir-fry with french fries—and salmon in maracuyá (passion fruit) sauce. Tacu-tacu, an Afro-Peruvian dish of bean-and-rice fritters, is delish. There’s also Italian-Peruvian fusion in the form of spaghetti in a spicy cheese sauce that’s usually served over potatoes.

For dessert, there’s a lovely (and substantial) tres leches cake to finish off your meal.

Lima Peruvian Cuisine & Lounge [San Fernando Valley]
19540 Ventura Boulevard, Tarzana

Board Link: New Peruvian in Tarzana

Spiny Lobsters Have Landed

Spiny lobster season has arrived, and the freshest and cheapest place to get ’em is Pearson’s Port in Newport Beach, for $16.99.

On price alone, 99 Ranch always saves the day: $14.99 at the Artesia branch, $15.99 in San Gabriel.

Fish King in Glendale gets spinies daily, though it steams them all in the morning. Call the night before if you want some put aside. They’re going for $22.59 a pound, averaging 1 1/4 pounds. Very sweet and yummy, says PurpleTeeth.

Same price and size goes for Quality Seafood at Redondo Pier, where they’re meaty and flavorful, says torty.

Santa Monica Seafood has the goods too, but no word on pricing.

Pearson’s Port [Orange County]
100 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach

99 Ranch Market [San Gabriel Valley]
17713 Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia

99 Ranch Market [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel

Fish King Seafood & Poultry Company [Eastside]
722 N. Glendale Avenue, Glendale

Quality Seafood [South Bay]
130 S. International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach

Santa Monica Seafood [Westside]
1205 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Seafood [Orange County]
154 E. 17th Street, Costa Mesa

Board Link: Spiny sightings?