Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

Men Oh Tokushima
456 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 10/9/12

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Men Oh Tokushima is the latest Japanese ramen chain to hit Los Angeles. Like the gourmet pizza/cupcake/burger, these shops seem to be popping up everywhere. However, the Little Tokyo scene has been rather quiet, with the likes of Tsujita, Yamadaya and Jinya opening up a presence outside of downtown. Sure, Shin-Sen-Gumi opened up a year ago to finally bring some competition (and relief for long waits) for stalwart Daikokuya, but there isn’t a whole lot of variety in the category (I dislike Orochon and find Mr. Ramen, Kouraku, and Chin-Ma-Ya to be second-rate at best).

Just this past week, Men Oh Tokushima opened their latest US branch in the Honda Plaza of Little Tokyo. They already have 12 locations around Japan and a couple in Northern California, so it seems like a successful concept. Their ramen is a little bit different from what I’ve had before, a shoyu-tonkotsu hybrid native to the Tokushima prefecture in the south of Japan. I’ve had both shoyu and tonkotsu (probably my favorite) separately but never together, so I was definitely intrigued. Standalone shoyu and tonkotsu broths are also available.

GYOZA pork pot-stickers

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The gyoza had a delicate skin and a good balance of pork and cabbage. I would’ve liked more of a crusty sear on the pan-fried side though, and the fact that the gyoza rested in small puddles of its own oil resulted in some greasy, soggy dumplings if not eaten quickly.

KARAAGE japanese-style fried chicken

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The karaage came out piping hot with a great crust and moist thigh meat. They did a good job of trimming the skin and fat, leaving an ideal ratio of meat to fat. An addicting sweet/salty sauce of soy, sesame and scallions completed one of the best examples of chicken karaage that I’ve had.

TOKUSHIMA RAMEN house-made noodles in rich pork bone and soy sauce-based soup topped with Chashu Pork (simmered pork), Butabara (stir-fried pork belly), Menma (bamboo shoots), Negi (green onions), Raw Egg

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The Tokushima ramen tasted, as advertised, like a rich hybrid of shoyu and tonkotsu broths. The milky pork broth was there, but the sweet soy depth was also present making something pretty unique for me. I enjoyed it (though I may like pure tonkotsu broths better), and the toppings were tasty too between the two different types of pork. I liked the noodles but thought they could’ve been just a tad more al dente, they were a bit soft for me…particularly as I finished the bowl.

TONKOTSU RAMEN house-made noodles in pork bone-based, salt-seasoned soup topped with Chashu Pork (simmered pork), Seasoned Boiled Egg, Menma (bamboo shoots), Kikurage Mushroom, Negi (green onions), Nori (seaweed)

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I also wanted to try the pure tonkotsu, something more familiar and comparable in LA. I thought this one felt lighter in flavor than what I was expecting, though still with a nice fatty sheen on top. Bamboo shoots, scallions and mushrooms made things a little more interesting, but this broth lacked the depth that the Tokushima offered. Noodle-wise, I had a similar opinion with the texture, though I preferred them over the straight Hakata-style variety.

I thought Men Oh put together a pretty good meal. Their Tokushima ramen is something rather unique so it’s hard to directly compare, but I probably like the tonkotsu bowls at Daikokuaya and Shin-Sen-Gumi better (though I definitely prefer their tonkotsu over Men Oh’s tonkotsu). Having said that, Men Oh is something different and quite tasty on its own, so I’d say its worth a try (maybe for the chicken karaage alone). At the very least, I’m glad to have found another viable ramen shop in my neighborhood.

The Parish (Los Angeles, CA)

The Parish
840 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 10/5/12

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The Parish is downtown’s newest gastropub (dubbed a modern English gastropub), opened a couple of months ago at the intersection of Spring and Main streets. The chef is Casey Lane, who made a name for himself at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice. The Tasting Kitchen is a place I’ve wanted to try for some time but never made the cross-town trek; given The Parish’s downtown location, it was only a matter of time until I’d find myself here.

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The constantly-changing menu features an array of intriguing selections including a couple of poutine options (fried oyster, pigs feet, crispy pork shoulder), fried frog legs, and a couple of pot pies (pork head, mushroom). However, I’ve heard early mixed reviews about The Parish, which was partially why it took so long.

POUTINE OF FRIED OYSTERS spicy gribiche

POUTINE OF FRIED OYSTERS spicy gribiche

I found the oysters to be rather large, plump juicy morsels, delicious with a rich but slightly acidic gravy. Like the fries though, I found the batter to be a bit soggy – I don’t know if these sat at the pass for some time, but I wanted more texture. All the flavors were here and on point, though.

POUTINE OF CRISPY PORK SHOULDER paneer & mint

POUTINE OF CRISPY PORK SHOULDER paneer & mint

Similar to the other poutine, I found this one to be on the soggy side too. Neither the fries nor the pork were as crispy as advertised. However, I thought the flavors were tasty, with the pork having a strong smokiness and mint providing some interesting depth.

BEETS, MACHE, & HERBS ancient grain granola, molasses yogurt

BEETS, MACHE, & HERBS ancient grain granola, molasses yogurt

For something on the lighter side, the simple beets dish offered a balance of sweet and tart, with some texture from a housemade granola.

CLAMS salumi picante, sherry & leeks

CLAMS salumi picante, sherry & leeks

Our table had mixed feelings on this dish. I thought the sausage-fennel-leeks flavor provided a pretty good balance, but others thought there were too many things going on here. Crusty, charred bread was an ideal way to soak up the broth.

FRIED CHICKEN brussels sprouts, date vinaigrette

FRIED CHICKEN brussels sprouts, date vinaigrette

I found both the light and dark meat to be pretty moist, something that seems to be a rare accomplishment. I really liked the batter too, being both light and crunchy with a good ratio of batter-to-chicken. Brussels sprouts and the date vinaigrette provided some acidity to counter the richness; the sweetness of the dates worked well with the chicken too.

FISH AND CHIPS

FISH AND CHIPS

I thought this was one of the better versions of fish & chips that I’ve had in some time (though also one of the more expensive at $20). Flaky moist fish was smothered in a light batter – simple and well-executed. A cornichon gelee was an interesting way to bring a tart acidity to the mix.

Three desserts were available; we sampled one of each.

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

I thought this was a solid rendition of a sticky toffee pudding with all the familiar flavors. A moist cake was doused in a rich toffee sauce, topped with a light whipped cream.

HUCKLEBERRY TRIFLE

HUCKLEBERRY TRIFLE

This was the lightest of the three desserts featuring an interplay of tart and sweet between the fresh hucklberries, creme fraiche and whipped cream.

GULAB JAMUN

GULAB JAMUN

The table was unanimously disappointed with this one. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a gulab jamun before (so this could be an excellent example of one), but it really wasn’t what I expected. The fried dough was kind of soggy and mushy, sitting in a sweet, fruity syrup. Not sure how this one fit into the English gastropub theme.

While I’m pretty tired of the LA gastropub movement, I think The Parish is one of the better ones. The restaurant presented a couple of very good dishes and a few that were almost there. I really thought the poutines, particularly the fried oyster one, could’ve been excellent if not so soggy. The cocktails were very good, with my favorite being the Nightshift, a mix of bourbon, Czech Fernet, espresso, pu-erh tea, chocolate syrup and milk; an odd combination of flavors but delicious. If there was one major drawback though, it was that service was frustratingly slow and somewhat error-prone, particularly with our drinks.

Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito (Los Angeles, CA)

Return of Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 10/1/12

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It’s been almost two years since Test Kitchen ended its run, something that I thought was one of the most interesting things to happen to the LA dining scene in recent years. Quite frankly, I’ve kinda missed it. A rotating cast of notable chefs spent a few days each in the kitchen, cooking whatever they wanted. The ever-changing menu continually kept things fresh and no two meals were alike. It revolutionized the pop-up restaurant in a way, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been fully duplicated since. However, the Test Kitchen legacy has lived on through its derivative restaurants such as Sotto, Picca, Playa and Short Order.

After years of rumors that Test Kitchen would eventually return, it finally seems to have come to fruition with another stint from 10/16-11/11 at upcoming Bestia restaurant in downtown LA. While I will be out of the country during its entire run, I was able to attend the launch and baton-passing from the former space (now Sotto) to the new space. For this occasion Test Kitchen hosted Rocco DiSpirito to cook his version of comfortable (and healthy) Italian fare. Joining DiSpirito in the kitchen were alumni from NYC’s Union Pacific, a restaurant DiSpirito opened in 1997, including Josh Dechellis, Neal Fraser (Grace), and Quinn Hatfield (Hatfield’s).

DiSpirito was promoting and cooking out of his latest cookbook Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy–All Under 350 Calories, the title of which is a mouthful, pun intended. He was on hand to chat and sign cookbooks for everyone.

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Crudo of Tuna, Meatballs, Kale Chips, Grilled Pane Carasau with Rosemary & Super Olive Oil

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We started with a quartet of antipasti. Tuna was bathed in a cool citrusy bath, while meatballs were smothered in a rich marinara. Thin bread chips and kale-parmiggiano chips (which I’m guessing were baked, not fried) provided the texture; I found the latter to be rather chewy…pretty much like undercooked kale. “Super olive oil,” a blend of olive oil and white wine, was a lighter and less fruity substitution for real olive oil, kind of defeating the purpose.

Lasagna Bolognese

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The main flavor profiles in the lasagna were the sweet tomato sauce and strong basil. With a little bit of shaved mushrooms and meat, I found it to be a hearty dish without being too rich…I’m guessing exactly what Rocco was going for.

Black Cod Puttanesca, Contorni of Polenta, Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

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Next up was a silky smooth piece of black cod; I’m accustomed to the denser, richer fillets so I think this may have been a different breed. I liked it! Earthy olives and capers grounded out the flavors, while the sweetness of tomatoes brightened everything up. The polenta wasn’t particularly memorable, but the Brussels sprouts were better, getting a lot of flavor from the charred bits at the edges.

Cheesecake, Panna Cotta, Instant Strawberry Italian Ice

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Lastly, we were served a disappointing trio of desserts. The strawberry Italian ice was creamy, fruity and refreshing. However, the cheesecake (middle) was gritty, chalky and lacking in the flavor department. Lastly, the panna cotta was a little denser than I would’ve liked, and the subtle caramel flavor couldn’t hold up to the tart dessert.

Pine Nut Cookies

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To take home, we received a batch of pine nut cookies. These weren’t very good either, but I guess they were only 49 calories..

I thought the black cod was excellent, but I found the rest of the meal to be rather ordinary or mediocre. However, given DiSpirito was going the ‘healthy’ route I thought he actually did a pretty decent job for the most part. If the calorie count was correct, this was one of the few sub-1200 calorie meals I haven’t been able to finish (it was a lot of food!). Having said that, Test Kitchen is all about trying out new things and I’m excited for its return…just sad that I will miss its entire run.

Previous Test Kitchen posts:
Test Kitchen Dinners (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Closing Night – 12/13/10
Reunion – 9/19/11

5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ ink. (Los Angeles, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner
ink.

8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Dining date: 9/16/12

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This past weekend was the final 5×5 Collaborative Dinner of the season. I was lucky enough to attend 3 of the 5 dinners, which were some of my most anticipated dinners in LA this year. For this final dinner at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., the guest chef was scheduled to be Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Pigg). However, a late-game change of plans called for a couple of substitutes – Michael’s equally talented brother Bryan and Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food. Given I’ve been wanting to try Bryan’s food and have followed Ideas in Food for some time, I considered this a more than suitable substitution!

Similar to the rest of the dinners, 7 courses were served: 5 from the main chefs and 2 from the guests for $150 a plate.

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ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch ‘doritos’, pho
Michael Voltaggio, ink.

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch 'doritos', pho

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch 'doritos', pho

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch 'doritos', pho

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this quartet of amuse bouches. A tiny bouqet of something was unmemorable, but it got more exciting with fresh radishes dipped into a BBQ mushroom sauce. Kind of odd – I enjoyed the deep savory flavor. Voltaggio’s homemade cool ranch doritos were very close to the real thing, while fried beef tendon “chips” (a play on the flavors of pho) were the highlight with Southeast Asian notes and a spritz of lime.

avocado gazpacho hokkaido scallop, king crab, oyster, mariscos cocktail granite
Josiah Citrin, Melisse

avocado gazpacho hokkaido scallop, king crab, oyster, mariscos cocktail granite

Our first proper course was this seafood-centric avocado gazpacho. An assortment of fresh shellfish and vegetables were scattered at the bottom of the bowl with a creamy, cool gazpacho soup. I found each of the individual components enjoyable, but I’m not sure the dish as a whole came together as well as anticipated.

hawaiian hearts of peach palm heirloom beets, young fennel, candied macadamia nut & beet vinaigrette
Rory Herrmann, Bouchon

hawaiian hearts of peach palm heirloom beets, young fennel, candied macadamia nut & beet vinaigrette

Next up, this dish was centered around a pureed hearts of palm in the shape of a terrine. Crunchy macadamia nuts and a subtle fennel flavor sought not to overwhelm the delicate hearts of palm flavor.

wild monkfish blood sausage, weiser farms piquillo peppers, pickled celery
Michael Cimarusti, Providence

wild monkfish blood sausage, weiser farms piquillo peppers, pickled celery

I think this may have been the best dish of the night. Predictably, the monkfish was cooked to perfection, a moist and flavorful chunk of meat. The accompanying salad had just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness of the fish, while rye-tasting breadcrumbs provided an earthy texture. The blood sausage flavor was lost in this dish, though.

maltagliati di polenta lobster amatriciana sauce
Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria

maltagliati di polenta lobster amatriciana sauce

Throughout this dinner series, Angelini has consistently prepared a dish near or at the top of our favorites. The simple, homey cooking was right in line with what our stomachs wanted, and this was no exception. The polenta-based flat pasta still had a slightly chewy texture, smothered in a rich shellfish-based sauce. Small chunks of lobster of fava beans completed the bites.

lambcetta trail mix, smoked almond, cocoa, raisins
Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT & Range

lambcetta trail mix, smoked almond, cocoa, raisins

Bryan Voltaggio’s lamb was cooked perfectly; I’m not sure what cuts were used, but the meat was rolled up in the style of a pancetta. He opted to pair the game with flavors of trail mix – smoky almond here, chocolate there, and the sweetness of raisins there.

blueberry pancakes
Alex Talbot, Ideas in Food

blueberry pancakes

We finished with simple sounding blueberry pancakes. Of course, these weren’t ordinary blueberry pancakes; instead pieces of a light and airy sponge cake were topped with a vanilla/caramel (and buttermilk?) ice cream, fresh blueberries and blueberry boba. How interesting. I thought the flavors of the pancakes did come through quite well, though not sure how the boba fit in. Plus, some were undercooked yielding a sort of chewy, gritty texture.

After dinner at ink., we decided to sneak in one more course at nearby Tacos Leo, notable for their tacos al pastor.

tacos leo

tacos al pastor

I’ve had the tacos al pastor once and found them on the dry side. These were better, though I can’t say I’d go out of my way for them. For a buck apiece, I can’t complain.

If I had to rank this evening’s food among the three 5×5 dinners I attended this season, I’d place this one in between the Melisse and Bouchon meals. There were some good dishes, sure, but nothing extraordinary given the caliber of chefs cooking on this night. On the opposite end, nothing was particularly bad either. These are still some of the most interesting and exciting dinners in LA, so I’ll be coming back next season.

Lunasia (Alhambra, CA)

Lunasia
500 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
Dining date: 8/27/12

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Dim sum is something that I often enjoy as a weekend lunch. It’s a very ‘social’ meal always involving the sharing of a variety of small plates. The multitude of flavors and textures is something that’s pretty unique, and it has become a sort of comfort food even though I didn’t eat it all that often growing up.

I’ve been going to the Lunasia spot for a few years now, the first time being when it was Triumphal Palace. Ownership/management changes have resulted in some name and chef changes, but I’ve enjoyed meals here pretty consistently. Long lines on the weekends tell me I’m not the only one.

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Lunasia’s ordering is menu-based; you order off a menu and the plates come directly from the kitchen. It’s not quite as playful or curiosity-inducing as the cart-based places, but I find the food to come to the table much fresher. Turnover is usually pretty quick at popular joints with the carts, but you never know how long it takes a dish to get from the kitchen to the table. My favorite “delivery model” is actually a combination of both; some places are menu-based with a handful of carts coming around – the best of both worlds.

Pictures of each dish and English descriptions is key in choosing what to order!

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Scallop Taro Cake

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A crispy exterior hid a hot filling of taro, scallop and what I think was ground pork. The sweet-salty combination was a good one, and it was fried just right.

Steamed Chicken Feet

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Hong Kong Roasted Duck

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I thought this was a well-executed roast duck with a crispy skin and succulent, moist meat. A sweet soy glaze provided extra depth in flavor.

Crispy Shrimp Roll

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This was a different one for me; small chunks of shrimp, complemented by parsley, were fried in a light batter. Loved the textures, and the shrimp and parsley were balanced well.

Shrimp Har-Gow

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A dim sum standby, I found these to be a good example. The noodle had a nice sticky chew and was packed with plump shrimp.

Pork Siu-Mai

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Another dim sum staple, these came out piping hot. I thought these were very flavorful, though a bit heavy on the fat-pork ratio.

Shanghai Dumplings

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The next thing to come out of the kitchen were these dumplings, which I found to be on the doughy side and devoid of the characteristic juicy filling. Not sure what happened here.

Pan-fried Potstickers

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I thought these simple potstickers were a disappointment too. The dough was sort of soggy and easily broke apart, not to mention being kind of oily too.

Shrimp Rice Noodle

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We rebounded with one of my dim sum favorites. Soft, glutinous noodles were wrapped around individual shrimp and drenched in soy – this simple dish was done well.

Egg-roll Rice Noodle

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This was another new item for me – shrimp paste was fried in a dough, covered in rice noodle. I liked the crispy texture that the fried dough provided, while the shrimp/rice noodle/soy combination had already proven to be a winner.

Located in the same plaza, milk tea from Tea Station was an ideal cap to the meal – always a plus when dining at Lunasia!

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There were a few misses, but due to vast menus, it’s hard to find a spot that does everything well. I found the food to come out fresh and hot from the kitchen, and the ‘highs’ greatly outnumbered the ‘lows.’ In my opinion, Lunasia remains a strong bet for dim sum in LA.

The Taste: Flavors of LA (Los Angeles, CA)

The Taste 2012: Flavors of LA
Paramount Pictures Studios
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 9/2/12

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Day 2 of The Taste brought two more events: ‘Flavors of LA’ during the day and ‘Dinner & Drinks’ at night. I went to the daytime session, featuring an eclectic mix of LA’s food scene. Some of the main highlights, to me, were the cooking demonstrations on this day. A very strong lineup of chefs would be showcasing their talent including Ludo Lefebvre (LudoBites), Kris Yenbamroong (Night + Market), and Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca).

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Like the rest of the weekend’s events, all food, drink and seminars/demos were included in the price of admission ($65 in advance, $75 at the door, $50 via LivingSocial promo).

The Glendon Bar & Kitchen bourbon buffalo wings

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Valerie Confections brown derby grapefruit cake; blum’s coffee crunch cake

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valerie confections coffee crunch

Ombra Ristorante vitello tonnato

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Wurstküche mango jalapeno sausage, caramelized onions; rattlesnake and rabbit sausage, sweet peppers

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Saffron Spot tutti frutti and saffron ice creams

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Schulzies Bread Pudding assorted bread puddings (salted caramel and earl grey pictured)

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Tamarind of London tangy semolina shells; mango-passion lassi

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Mayura butter chicken, aloo palak, garlic naan

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Bulgarini assorted gelati

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Sam’s By the Beach artichoke souffle, roquefort cheese, chives

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Susan Fenniger’s STREET paani puri

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Waffles de Liege liege waffle

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Coupa Café beef empanaditas; arepas

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Locando del Lago farro ai funghi

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CHAYA watermelon mojito; tuna burger

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Gottsui okonomiyaki

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Lukshon sichuan pig ear terrine; kimchi bloody maria

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Picca/Mo-Chica unagi causa roll

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La Casita Mexicana mole poblano chicken

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bashi/Terranea caramelized shrimp, green papaya salad

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Plan Check smokey fried chicken, smoked milk gravy, yam preserves, spicy pickled okra

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Farmshop heirloom melon gazpacho, sweet corn, la quercia speck ham, opal basil, za’atar

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Sushi Roku halibut, yuzu vinaigrette

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The Cake Mamas chocolate salted caramel, good witch, churro cupcakes

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Carvel 90210 custom dipped ice cream cones

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Coolhaus assorted ice cream sandwiches

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Of course, alcohol was plentiful at the event (as well as some non-alcoholic options!).

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I also caught a glimpse of Jonathan Gold, Sang Yoon, Gustavo Arellano and Evan Kleinman discussing the state of the LA food scene.

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And Ricardo Zarate talking about and preparing his highly regarded Peruvian ceviche.

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I thought this was another successful event. Similar to the prior day, I didn’t find too much of the food to particularly stand out, but the overall variety of events was more than enough to pique my interest. Food-wise, perhaps my favorite bite of the weekend was Valerie Confections’ coffee crunch cake. Moist and light, it had just the right amount of coffee flavor and textural crunch, reminding me of the cake I had so many times growing up in San Francisco. Plan Check served a generous portion of their smokey fried chicken, a dish that’s quickly becoming a notable one around town. Exceedingly juicy, the chicken had a nice crust and paired well with the smokey milk gravy. Waffles de Liege served their namesake liege waffles hot off the iron – delicately crispy yet fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. Lastly, Bulgarini served up some excellent gelato, including a refreshing jasmine flavor.

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Note: This event was hosted.