Just wanted to post on all the eating I was able to do around town while I was visiting.
Philippe's--Cielito Lindo--Mr Churro (Downtown/Olvera Street)
One of my favorite trios when I'm in the area. I had a few visitors from NY and Japan with me and they all loved the combination of foods. Made the mistake of not ordering double dipped sandwiches, but after ordering a lamb with blue cheese, pork with swiss, and beef with cheddar, the clear winners were the pork and lamb. I hadn't had the lamb with blue before and I always suspected the blue cheese would interfere with the lamb, but it didn't. Everyone loved the pickled eggs too. Taquitos at Cielito Lindo was also a hit. We made sure not to fill up too much at Philippe's to save room for the taquitos and one was tempted to get more, but I stopped him before we went to go for churros. My usual is the half strawberry and half custard filled in a freshly fried churro. I still think these are some of the best fried snacks in LA.
Tahoe Galbi (Wilshire/Wilton)
This was my first visit to Tahoe and we had a large party of 10 people so we were placed in one of the private rooms, which only have gas grills. I didn't notice where the charcoal grills would be, but no biggie. Tahoe was decided upon as a compromise among all the folks with dietary restrictions, after I couldn't secure a table at Yongsusan. The veggies were happy with the non-meat chap chae and mushroom grill, but for the rest of us, we dug into the galbi, beef tongue, and the best item of the night -- the pork belly. These were thick cut slabs o' pork and when grilled to develop a nice crust, boy, were these good.
Wat Thai temple (North Hollywood)
Took my visitors to Wat Thai on a Sunday before noon. I knew it was going to be a good day, when I immediately found a spot inside the small parking lot there. We all went a little crazy with ordering and had a little too much. Best savory items were the larb, sausage grill, the grilled chicken, and the tom zap boat noodle soup. I had a taste of the pad thai, which wasn't very good. I didn't have too much more since I wanted to save room for the desserts like the kanom krok (coconut custard) and the mango sticky rice, both of which were as good as I remember. Also had a small container of the eggy coconut custard over sweet black rice (not sure which stand that was from) which was also tasty. Better than the fried bananas were the fried sweet potatoes too.
Brodard (Garden Grove)
We were in the OC later in the afternoon after the Wat Thai morning, and met up with some folks who are regulars at Brodard. We were a group of about 12 people and it took some time before we got a table, and we left it up to our hosts to order for the table. Of course we started with the house special rolls, which are always fantastic. A first for me was a clay pot rice dish that I'd never had in a vietnamese restaurant. It was filled with seafood and chicken and vegetables and all cooked the crock with the rice. My Japanese visitors were impressed with this Vietnamese "takikomi gohan." I also like the chicken salad, (goi ga I think it's called), which is huge is a great example of the many textures involved with eating Vietnamese. Also had the egg crepe with shrimp and vegetables (banh xeo) for the first time at Brodard. Another well-executed dish. The grilled pork was also a winner with the group.
Van Bakery (Garden Grove)
We rushed out of Brodard just in time to get to Van Bakery on Bolsa before they were closing up to get the pandan waffles for dessert. These waffles are made with a batter with coconut and pandan leaf flavoring, and when they're freshly made, they just rock. They aren't bad the next day either after popping into a toaster oven for a little bit. Their cream puffs are pretty good too, and a good deal at $.60 apiece.
El Pollo Loco
We had a slight SNAFU with one of our visitors feeling ill and tired after getting back from Santa Barbara, so we couldn't make it to our planned dinner, so instead I thought about getting some Pollo a la Brasa and/or Dino's which are both nearby, but was foiled by it being Tuesday (when Pollo a la Brasa's closed) and just couldn't wait too long for Dino's. Time constraints suck. So El Pollo Loco was the compromise, and for a chain, it's still pretty good. I like the avacado salsa at the salsa bar and filled several of those little packets. I also remembered someone posting about the flan being good, so I got a few of those too. I must concur, they are pretty tasty. The flan has a little of that too-good-to-be-true texture that you expect good food chemists to create, as it wasn't very eggy, but really really creamy and had a good amount of caramel flavor throughout, not just at the edges. This could turn into a guilty pleasure.
Sushi 333 (Little Tokyo)
I can't remember what the restaurant is actually called, but it recently replaced Fujiyoshi in Little Tokyo Plaza. I heard rumblings that it's pretty good through my father who knows some shopkeepers in the plaza and keeps a good sushi radar out for us. So there are new owners and worth a try. Again, we were a large party, so we couldn't sit at the bar as I would have preferred, and we ordered omakase style at the table, letting the sushi itamae prepare sashimi and sushi dishes as he saw fit. We also ordered a few cooked dishes, which turned out to be pretty good. Good salmon skin salad, agedashi tofu, nasu dengaku, tempura and things like that. The sushi turned out to be kind of mixed. Not everything seemed to be in peak condition as they could have been. I'm not sure if it's just the season, but the oysters I had there and in Santa Barbara earlier in the week were as flavorless as I've experienced. I asked for as many "hikarimono" (shiny fish like mackerel, aji, kohada, etc.) but we hardly got any, so that wasn't a good sign. However, the usual suspects like hamachi, toro, amaebi, awabi, tai, hirame, anago, and the like were pretty good, so maybe I'll grant them some slack. I liked that the amaebi heads were presented in a miso soup, instead of being fried as you usually find. Not the greatest sushi experience, but I would certainly visit again to see how they do at the bar.
Ichimian Honten (Torrance)
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Zankou Chicken (Hollywood)
My usual order is the tarna plate and I try to get some mutabal and extra pickles if I'm taking it with me. Still good.
Playita Siete Mares (Silver Lake)
Got my usual shrimp taco and a fish taco. Fish taco this time were better than I remember. Quality is generally variable, but I must have hit it at a good time. I've never been disappointed with the shrimp tacos here.
Mario's Peruvian (Vine/Melrose)
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After feasting at Mario's, we went to check out Lou's wine bar as one of our party knows someone working there. We basically went for some desserts and wine. The dessert choices are a little slim with a walnut tort and an espresso-tinged plate of cookies. Both were pretty good, but I usually want something a little more "wet" like a good custardy dessert. The wines are pretty interesting in that they concentrate on a lot of Syrahs (CA and France) on the reds and many unorthodox whites like albariño or greuner veltliner (sp?).
Sawtelle Kitchen (Sawtelle)
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I followed up with one more visit to Sawtelle Kitchen and this time got the hambagu steeki (hamburger steak) lunch. I had to try something with the demi glace sauce, though I feel my choice was somewhat redundant with what I had last time. I've started making my own demi glace sauce in order to make Japanese yoshoku style food at home, and if anyone has tried to make demi glace, you know what a procedure it is. It usually takes 2-3 days to make. And from eating at yoshoku places in Japan in my last few visits, many places take pride in their demi glace. And this one didn't disappoint. Only a minute trace of graininess from the flour, but very smooth and with a good meat flavor. I suspect some of this goes into the curry as well.
Empress Pavilion (Chinatown)
We always seem to end up here for family birthdays and celebrations as it's central from any direction, and the parking is easy, and we've gotten to know the manager pretty well after having some large events at Empress. So while the main room was fully booked for a wedding, we got one of the small rooms for a group of 28. I always feel bad when I see walk-ins having to eat at the tables in the bar area. Most items were as consistent as I've had there, but others, like the fried rice, was lacking in seasoning and technique. As I mentioned in the Mario's thread, I thought the fried rice at Mario's was much better than the one at Empress. I suppose since we don't order the big ticket items like bird's nest or shark fin, and such (I know, I know, I should get the winter melon soup, but I wasn't in charge of this gathering), so we probably get the B-team cooking for us, especially considering there was a 500-person banquet going on in the main hall. I'd love to see the inside of that kitchen once during one of these big banquets.
Pie & Burger (Pasadena)
Hadn't been to Pie & Burger for a couple years, and since I was in the area, I made sure to stop by for a burger and a piece of pie. I brought a couple newbies and they were both very pleased with the experience and quaint communal ambiance. And for me, we were seated right in front of the big TV near the back of the counter and was able to catch the last part of George Mason's upset of UConn in the NCAA tournament. I also got a piece of banana cream pie (with the meringue however) and really enjoyed it.
El Parian (Pico near the 110)
After all the comments on El Parian's carne asada and other offerings, I decided that I had to have some of it before I left for NYC. My final dinner at home was going to be a potluck with my brother and sister getting some things and I decided to get some stuff from El Parian. I got an order of carne asada, a pound of carnitas and a large container of birria. My only mistake was not ordering more of those freshly made tortillas. As I was waiting for my food I was asked how I wanted the carna asada cooked, and in spanish the man said "mediana?" and I said "sí", but I also wanted to know how to say medium-rare, but according to him, it's encompassed in the mediana category (so effectively, there's only raw, medium, and well done). Unfortunately, it took a while to get the group together to eat, so the carne asada sat around a bit before we were able to dig into it (though I did cut some pieces off to test while it was still hot). Good stuff. The carnitas were also quite good, though I've had better elsewhere. And while the birria was also hearty, and I'm no birria expert, I've had some decent birria in NYC and this wasn't too different. I think the carne asada is clearly the outlier here. Next time, I'll have it there while it's hot off the grill.
Finally, I guess I haven't been to LA in the spring for a while, but I don't remember such a bounty of fruit like I was enjoying last week. I was eating lots of avocados (fuertes) and oranges and lemons that people were picking from their own trees, and they were all so big and juicy/meaty. We had so much around the house that a lot of it unfortunately perished. I brought some back to NYC with me, and now that they're all finished, it seems to indicate to me that the haze of my LA outing is really behind me.
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