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

Phoenicia Returns to Its Lebanese Roots

About 15 years ago, the owner of Phoenicia, the warm and welcoming Ara Kalfayan, was doing California cuisine. Then he changed the restaurant to Kix. About six months ago, it became Phoenicia again, but this time serving Lebanese-Armenian food.

For sheer variety of well-done dishes, including an exceptionally smooth kibbeh nayeh, and topnotch service, this place is a winner, says ttriche.

The Arz meze selection is a positive feast: warak enab; kibbeh nayeh; hummus; baba ghanouj; tabbouleh done right, a salad of parsley with some fine bulgur sprinkled in; falafel; soujouk; two kinds of madammas; and a few more.

The falafel may be more ethereal at Sahara, the soujouk more lemony at Carousel, and the prices lower at both, but Phoenicia makes for a great dining experience on the whole, suited for dinners with the parents or business travelers (they’re open till 11 p.m. even on Mondays). On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s live entertainment.

Phoenicia [Eastside]
343 N. Central Avenue, Glendale

Sahara [Eastside]
2226 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena [Eastside]

Carousel [Hollywood]
Hye Plaza
5112 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles

Carousel [Eastside]
304 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale

Board Links: Phoenicia in Glendale—Lebanese with a flourish

Eastern Sprawl

There’s a new Indonesian restaurant in town, in the shadows of the Duarte Inn, where an Indonesian food fair dusts it up every Saturday. On other days, Manja Resto represents just fine, says Vegasbuff.

The lontong cap gomeh ($6.95) is a virtual smorgasbord in a bowl. There’s beef rendang, long-simmered till tender in coconut milk—it’s spicy, with a hint of sweetness. Chicken stewed in a flavorful but mild yellow curry broth is infused with flavor down to the bone; sticky rice and a hard-cooked egg rolled in spices and deep-fried round it out.

Chicken marinated in sweet soy sauce and hot chile sauce (ayam bakar kecap manis, $6.75) is sweet when it first hits your palate, then warms up a bit with subtle spice. Covered in sweet chile sauce and fried shallots, it’s not overly spicy (there’s sambal oelek on the side if you want to heat things up).

And Indonesian fried chicken (ayam goreng garing, $5.95), lightly battered, is tender and juicy underneath its crispy—not oily—crust. No spice on this one at all; condiments are at your discretion.

Service is very friendly, resembling the Olive Garden ads in this one way: When you’re here, you’re family.

Manja Resto [Inland LA]
1206 E. Huntington Drive, #A, Duarte

Indonesian Food Fair [Inland LA]
Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Duarte Inn Parking Lot
1200 E. Huntington Drive, Duarte

Board Links: Manja Resto (Indonesian) – Review
Indonesian Food Bazaar this Saturday in Duarte

Shop Till You Bap

Good food at the mall? Hell yeah, if you’re talking about the Koreatown Plaza. Bon Vivant hit this place with some friends and tried a variety of dishes.

Chew Young Roo specializes in Chinese-style dumplings, hefty things that are more like steamed bao. They’re made to order, and the fresh dough is stuffed with a flavorful mix of vegetables, including leeks and onions sautéed in garlic and ginger, and crunchy celery.

Bibimbap is the star at Gamja Bawi, and the staff may try to steer you toward the plain ol’ number one bibimbap. Resist! Dolsot bibimbap, in a hot stone bowl, one-ups the regular kind with a tantalizing crust of browned rice around the edges. Beef is richly flavored, and a variety of vegetables and a freshly cracked raw egg are perfect for mixing up into a yummy mess along with some sweet-hot chile sauce.

Plaza offers naeng myun, or cold buckwheat noodles, in a chilled beef broth. The flavor is delicate; you might want to amp it up with some vinegar and mustard.

Each of the dishes was about $7.

Koreatown Plaza Food Court
928 S. Western Avenue, #300, Los Angeles

Board Links: REVIEW (w/foodie cam!): Koreatown Plaza’s Food(ie) Court

Trek to Pasadena for a Himalayan Feast

The menu at Tibet Nepal House can be overwhelming. With dozens of dishes, half from Tibet and half from Nepal, it’s hard to know what to choose. So pleasurepalate sat down with the restaurant’s owner to plan a Himalayan feast.

Results: mostly fabulous, with a couple of dull exceptions. Standouts included:

Yak momos, or dumplings, are surprisingly tasty, and nicely seasoned—they’re great on their own or with the accompanying sauce.

Chicken breast can be dry as a bone, but after soaking in sour cream and Himalayan spices, the kukhura sekuwa is moist and tender, with sweet-hot flavor. Another chicken dish, chyamtango pujaari, gets pumped-up flavor from dry chile, cumin, garlic, and Nepali spices.

There’s good stuff for vegetarians, too. Tofu saag is basically a nondairy version of saag paneer, with fried tofu soaking up the flavor of puréed, spiced spinach. The ginger hits you hard in Arun Valley saag, bok choy also cooked with garlic, onion, and celery, which tastily balance out the ginger in the end. The chef has an interesting way with mustard greens, as well, cooking them with cabbage, tomato, and spices in a dish called goodruk. The bitter greens go well with the tomatoes’ acidity.

Tibetan bread is whole wheat, but don’t kid yourself it’s healthy—it’s deep-fried, not baked. But it’s always fun to eat light-crispy fried dough, right? Another whole wheat bread, chyamtange dhopzi, is more like bad pita.

And house-made rice pudding is a winner of a dessert: light, creamy, and just sweet enough.

Set menu, prearranged, is $35 per person.

Tibet Nepal House [Eastside]
36 E. Holly Street, Pasadena

Board Links: “Himalayan Feast” at Tibet Nepal House (review+pics)

When You’re Craving Pasta in SGV, and Not Mian

The sign for Red Tomato Spaghetti House is in English and Chinese, but the menu is straight-up Italian, a nice option for San Gabriel Valley dwellers, says Chandavkl.

OK, so there are a handful of Chinese dishes, like Hainanese chicken, and you can get Japanese tofu pasta if you want it. But farfalle with crab and corn, a special, compares well with a favorite dish at Farfalla, and the owner emphasizes that they make their own sauces. The pasta selection is fairly standard—linguine with clams, fettuccine Alfredo, lasagne, ravioli, spaghetti Bolognese—about 15 choices in all.

Appetizers are a bit more eclectic, but the chicken quesadillas and smoked salmon carpaccio are pretty tasty.

Entrees are $6.95 and $7.95 at lunch, $2 more at dinner; appetizers are $4.95 to $6.95; and the portions are generous.

Red Tomato Spaghetti House [San Gabriel Valley]
125 N. Garfield, Monterey Park

Board Links: Red Tomato Spaghetti House in Monterey Park

Indian Mangoes Are Finally Here

The first mangoes to be legally imported from India have arrived on our shores, but even if you manage to score some, the waiting isn’t over.

Professor Salt was among the first in line, forking over $35 for a dozen of what are supposed to be the world’s best mangoes. Do they live up to the hype? Since they’re shipped green, we’ll have to wait to find out. Even ripe, though, they won’t quite be as good as the tree-ripened fruits back in India.

Devraj “Dave” Kerai, owner of Pioneer Cash & Carry (the biggest grocer in Little India), says he was determined to be the first to carry the mangoes in the Los Angeles area. The next shipment should arrive Thursday or Friday, and sell out by Saturday.

The high price, determined by the high cost of air freight, probably won’t drop much in the future. But look for more varieties grown in Mexico.

Pioneer Cash & Carry [Little India]
18601 Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia

Board Links: Mangoes from India

Surprisingly Authentic Foo Chow

Foo Chow is one of Chinese food expert Carl Chu’s favorite places. Get over the tourist patrons and the Rush Hour tie-ins, and order from the Special Style menu—the rest is “gwai lo fodder,” says Will Owen.

Foo Chow is known for its Fuzhou fish balls, with a core of ground pork. You can order them in soup—cfylong says his wife, who’s from Fuzhou, buys them to make at home. The restaurant also has weekday lunch specials starting at $2.99.

Thinly sliced pork comes in a red wine sauce that tastes like something a very good French chef might make if he were stuck in a Chinese restaurant: rich and smooth, with more than a hint of five-spice powder. Deep-fried boneless eel is colored an alarming magenta, but it’s light, tender, and utterly greaseless, not sweet at all.

There’s more than a little mystery in “fried seafood and meat with vegetable.” What’s the vegetable? Where’s the meat? The sauce is standard but satisfactory; the seafood is quite good.

Foo Chow–style cabbage with noodles isn’t that distinctive, but it’s tasty enough to make you clean your plate.

Foo Chow [Chinatown]
949 N. Hill Street, Los Angeles

Board Links: The Wayback Machine: Foo Chow in Chinatown

Mmmmmm … Doughnuts

Every spring for the last 10 years, sku has done a minitour of favorite doughnuts. This year, it got major, encompassing all of the city’s most fabled doughnuterias. The verdict, from an avowed lover of glazed?

Best Doughnut: Primo’s Buttermilk Bar (crisp and sugary outside, divinely buttery within)
Best Cake: Bob’s (perfectly crisped on the outside, soft on the inside, slightly sweet with a pinch of nutmeg)
Best Specialty: Stan’s (chocolate peanut butter)
Best Raised Glazed: Stan’s
Best All-Around: Stan’s

Notable omission: Glendora’s Donut Man. Yes, the famed fresh strawberry doughnuts are good, but not drive-to-the-edge-of-San-Bernardino good. The raspberry cheesecake doughnut has all the right ingredients, including a quality cream cheese frosting, but there’s so much of it, it just overwhelms the doughnut.

Honorable mention: The butterscotch doughnut at Grace, which is not exactly a doughnut shop, but a restaurant. The BD isn’t really a doughnut either, more like a beignet offered for dessert. But the butterscotch filling tastes of butter and caramel, though isn’t very sweet.

Primo’s Westdale Doughnuts [West LA]
2918 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles

Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts [Mid-City]
6333 West Third Street, #450, Los Angeles

Stan’s Donuts [Westwood]
10948 Weyburn Avenue, Los Angeles

Stan’s Donuts [San Fernando Valley]
658 N. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks

Donut Man [Inland Empire]
915 E. Route 66, Glendora

Grace Restaurant [Mid-City]
7360 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles

Board Links: The Great Doughnut Round-up
Ok, friends, now I HAVE to try Primos Donuts!!

Fraîche New Look in Culver City

A major addition to the upgraded landscape in downtown CC is Fraîche—upscale, comfortable, a good value, great wine list, and food worth returning for.

The golden beet salad with mâche, hazelnuts, ricotta, and an oj dressing is a winner. The farro salad gets raves, too. It comes with grated cheese and sweet peas.

Monkfish in white wine and shallot sauce on a bed of spinach and mashed potatoes exceeds expectations. The kurabota pork and agnolotti get a solid recommendation. The steak is fine, and the lamb rigatoni comes with a hearty lamb ragù.

The wine list wows. The selections are well thought out and priced at about 1 1/2 times retail. Good wines at decent prices that enhance the food and the overall experience—what a concept!

Appetizers are $8 to $12, pastas $10 to $13, and entrees $18 to $23. It’s quality Cal-Med chow at an attractive price point.

Fraîche [Culver City]
9411 Culver Boulevard, Culver City


Board Links: Fraiche is Really Good

It’s a Hit

Itz-a-Deli in Lake Forest features not only a very tasty corned beef on rye with piles of meat and excellent bread, but also a veggie sandwich on squaw bread (wheat and rye sweetened with honey) that will be a favorite. The price is a deal at $5 for a sandwich and a small serving of salad (available before 11:30 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m., when they close).

Itz-a-Deli [South OC]
20651 Lake Forest Drive, Lake Forest

Board Links: One month in the OC, some pleasant surprises