I just got back from a long weekend in LA, stuffing my face (as usual) at a bunch of your restaurants. In chronological order, with further details below:
Thursday night: Father's Office
Friday breakfast: Bob's Coffee & Donuts
Friday lunch: Loteria Grill, Singapore's Banana Leaf, Short Cake/Single Origin
Friday dinner: Bottega Louie
Saturday lunch: Cafe Brasil
Saturday dinner: Soot Bull Jeep
Saturday late-night: Tacos Leo
Sunday lunch: Pa Ord Noodle
Sunday dinner: Best Fish Taco in Ensenada
Of the bunch, I think the only food that I didn't enjoy at all were the fish tacos at BFTiE. I wish I had gone to Yoshinoya or Versailles Cuban or something, anything, instead. What a profound disappointment, and a terrible way to end my trip to LA! Regardless, it was generally a solid trip food-wise.
I arrived on Thursday night, prepped to eat. After drinks at the Los Angeles Brewing Company in downtown (incl. a free one, check their twitter @ labrewingco), we went to Father's Office in Culver City for dinner. I'd just had Umami Burger's namesake for the first time a few weeks earlier in SF, and to be honest, I think I prefer Umami's to Father's Office's burger. The medium-rare was undercooked, and the meat as a result, rather than slightly crumbly, was almost mushy in a raw meat way. The arugula was a good touch for cutting through the intensity of the cheeses and the caramelized onion though. Glad that they cut the bread in half so that it was much easier to eat. The fries and aioli were also good but nothing special to write home about. At $15 for the burger & fries, and $6 for my Racer 5 though, I don't feel like it was a good use of either my caloric or monetary budgets. Plus the place is a scene and even though I'm a 20-something, it was a little much.
On Friday morning, I wandered over to the Grove because I had a Craig Ferguson taping to go to at CBS later that afternoon. I had intended to caffeine up with a CHer-recommended Aunt Nancy's Shakerato at Short Cake/Single Origin but I couldn't find the stall so I decided to go to Bob's Coffee and Donuts instead. There were a fair number of patrons sitting around chatting with coffees already and a small line waiting to order. I got a sublime sugar doughnut and a small coffee with cream. The doughnut reminded me of all the great things that I love about pastries, soft yet chewy, sweet but not excessive, satiating but not overly-filling. And for $1, not about to break the bank! The coffee (American Blend) was very old-school tasting, almost the type that you'd get at a pre-second wave Italian cafe. The closest I can describe it to is the coffee you can find at Zabar's in NYC.
I went back to the Grove for lunch later, getting the chicken mole poblano and chicken tinga tacos at Loteria Grill. They were both delicious - the first a silky concoction of chicken, mole, and diced white onions. The chicken tinga had less of an impact on me, though it was by no means bad. Slightly pricey at $3.50 given that taco trucks are a dollar. At Singapore's Banana Leaf, I ordered the chicken curry with rice and sat across from a sassy old Indonesian lady who had travelled up from San Diego to visit her kids. She had ordered the beef rendang which she thought was a little bland (she asked for salt) and the colour of the sauce seemed too red and not brown enough (in my uneducated eyes). She suggested that I check out a place called Ramayani further west on Westwood Blvd. My own curry was good enough but a little soupy. The employees were very pleasant and if I were in the area again, I'd like to try the laksa or the mie goreng. A little expensive ($10.xx incl. tax) for fast food-ish al fresco dining. As a treat, I got the Aunt Nancy's Shakerato which was incredible - not too sweet yet just sweet enough, coffee flavours pronounced but not dizzying, creamy yet not unhealthy-tasting. Possibly one of the best coffee-based iced drink I've had in the past few years. I just wish the cup had been larger....
Dinner at Bottega Louie's elbow-people-in-the-face/free-for-all space was great. I ordered the trenne pasta at our waitress' suggestion, and was pleasantly greeted with a slightly seared (not the right term) pasta with succulent chunks of rib eye and kale along with a tomato sauce and shaved parmesan. My friends were both impressed by their calamari appetizer to the point they scrounged up all the crumbs even though one of them doesn't even like squid all that much. For about the same price as Father's Office ($16 w/o tax or tip), this was a substantially better meal in a much more beautiful space.
At Cafe Brasil's Venice Blvd location, I ordered the Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast plate which came up with fried plantains, rice, black beans, salsa, and a vegetable soup. Everything was good, though I think the secret ingredient winner in all of this was the hot sauce that came with the table. It was the typical Brazilian hot sauce, the liquidy one that is both sour and piquant and a mesmerizing addition to rice. The chicken was slightly dry but the soup and hot sauce compensated. The fried plantains were appropriately moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. My friends enjoyed their breakfasts as well but thought that the "fresh squeezed" passionfruit juice may have had sugar added. I noticed that they also have feijoada, which I'd like to try their version some day. I thought it was well-priced ($12) given how full I was by the end.
After doing some exploring in downtown (Pete's Cafe at W 4th/S Main has Horny Devil Belgian Ale!!!), we got dinner at Soot Bull Jeep in Koreatown. The options were down to Hamji Park for gamjatang, So Kong Dong for soon dubu, and Soot Bull Jeep for charcoal BBQ, having removed Park's given how expensive it was. We decided on the last, and ordered beef galbi, as well as spicy pork bulgogi. My friend, who isn't a huge fan of pork, surprised me by saying that she preferred the pork more, while I preferred the galbi more. The charcoal was nice, lending the meat a smoky charred character. Service was good (unlike some other reports), though that might have been the result of them thinking I was Korean. The banchan was decent, though I was surprised by the kimchi in water, which I thought was more of a winter kimchi??? The meal cost as much as I expected it to, $50 w/o tip for the 2 of us. I would go back, though I'd like to see if Park's is well and above beyond Soot Bull Jeep.
Late-night dinner at Tacos Leo after partying in WeHo was brilliant. I got 6 tacos - 3 al pastor, 1 carnitas, 1 carne asada, 1 pollo. Got there about 1AM, and there was already a line. I enjoyed the pastor the most. Sublime, just sublime. You guys are all lucky to have something so great so close to you and for so cheap too.
A hang-overy morning later, we went for noodles at Pa Ord Noodle in Thai Town. I had originally wanted to go to Pailin, but it's closed on Sundays, so we settled for Pa Ord. Small space, but efficiently-run and fairly-fast seating. While waiting, we got the sugarcane/coconut juice/coconut flesh "smoothie" from its plaza next-door neighbour which was good, though I preferred the sample without the coconut flesh. Once seated, we shared a medium-spicy papaya salad and I got the #1 tom yum noodle soup while my friend got the pad kee mao. Let me just say that this was definitely the spiciest meal I've had in YEARS. I regularly eat Thai, Szechuan, and Korean, but this was unbelievably spicy. My friend resorted to picking out little pepper flecks, while I tried in vain to swallow my noodles smothered in hot chilis. It was kind of ridiculous, though I guess that's one way of making you not as hungry! The soup flavour (what I could taste of it at least) was not bursting with the hot or sour as I know it, but had a very mild sourness to it. The dish also had some Thai char siu, bean sprouts, beef balls (not beef tendon), clumped ground pork, and liver. If it wasn't so spicy I think I would've loved it, but as it was, I couldn't even eat it without taking forced water/drink breaks. From what I could taste of my friend's pad kee mao, the noodles were just bursting with flavour and 'wok air'. I ordered a hibiscus drink afterwards to settle my upset stomach, and though good, it had sugar added. I'd like to explore the menu more, asking definitely for the not-spicy option.
Afterwards, we got fish and shrimp tacos at the Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, which was the most disappointing meal of my trip. Like the methods of preparation, none of the ingredients seemed to meld together in its final incarnation. While I liked the fish more than the shrimp, they both tasted really sloppy and the result of just clumping random ingredients together. The fish didn't have any of the creaminess or smoothness of other fish tacos I've had, and I didn't enjoy the batter that came with it, nor the tortilla that it was placed on (too crunchy). The shredded lettuce tasted old, and the cream didn't make it any better. The tamarind drink that I got was not all that hot either. The only redeeming thing about the place was that the horchata was good. My friend said that she thought they made it with pumpkin seeds like her mom does. Sadly, the owner is kind of a riot and super nice, so it makes me a little sad to have to speak so unfavourably about the place.
Anyways, as usual I had a fun time exploring LA's budget culinary scene. Looking forward next time to exploring more of the Peruvian mom and pop restaurants (are there any?), as well as all the great Chinese restaurants out in the SGV. Thanks to everyone for their insights. They helped me pick and enjoy the meals I had!