Susan Feniger’s Street (Los Angeles, CA)

Susan Feniger’s Street
742 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 11/21/11

signage

Susan Feniger (with Mary Sue Milliken make up the “Two Hot Tamales” and co-owners of the Border Grill chain) opened up solo venture Street in 2009. The name says it all – the restaurant serves street food from all over the globe. Cool concept right? Interestingly, there isn’t a lot of European representation; the menu seems to cover a large part of Asia and the Middle East. It’s an intriguing concept, as far as I know unique in its breadth, but it begs the question “can one restaurant have a strong command over so many styles of cooking?”

interior

menu

We had  2 vegetarians in the party, so many of the dishes we ordered were non-meat.

ANGRY EGGS deviled eggs with Malaysian hot chile relish topped with green sriracha

angry eggs

A good deviled egg, with some extra heat from a green sriracha sauce.

SHRIMP LUMPIA crispy Fillipino style spring roll served with chile dipping sauce and fresh herb salad

lumpia

These were fried to a nice crisp, though I would’ve appreciated just a little more shrimp flavor. The herb salad was a nice touch. Cool and refreshing.

KAYA TOAST toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam, served with a soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper

kaya toast

This has to be the most popular dish here and for good reason. It’s an unexpected combination of flavors (at least to the American palate) that works really well – the sweetness of the coconut jam, the rich egg yolk and the salty dark soy all come together quite well. We actually got two orders of this.

ANATOLIAN MUSHROOM RAVIOLI tossed in a smoked paprika lemon butter with mint yogurt sauce and fried chickpeas

mushroom ravioli

I didn’t try these, but I heard they were good.

ALBACORE POKE small salad of diced sashimi tuna, honey crisp apple, spicy sesame over crispy leeks

albacore poke

I feel like poke has become a fairly mainstream dish nowadays (following on the heels of the tuna tartare) so this wasn’t as intriguing as the other dishes. The poke was decent; the crispy leeks added some texture but there was something in here that was pretty sweet.

SINGAPORE STREET NOODLES stir fried rice noodles with homemade madras-style curry, rock shrimp and marinated pork loin

street noodles

This was one of the dishes I was most looking forward to, but I thought the noodles were disappointingly mushy.  There was a hint of curry but the flavors were largely muddled. The shrimp was cooked well, though.

TRINIDAD DUCK CURRY Caribbean fresh herb curry paste, potato, green beans, and plantain

trinidad duck curry

For the vegetarians, we got this without duck. Sadly, couldn’t even get the duck on the side. There was definitely some heat to this dish, but it was also very sweet. The rice made it the most filling dish we ordered.

VIETNAMESE SKIRT STEAK with chilled vermicelli rice noodles, marinated vegetables, fresh herbs, crunchy peanut topping and green sriracha sauce

viet steak

The steak was cooked well and I thought the peanuts added some good texture as well as depth. The green sriracha sauce was on the mild side, but I still enjoyed the balance between the cool, refreshing vermicelli.

Street’s Kaya Toast is the real deal, but I thought everything else was more on the “okay” side. I appreciate the fact that one can try so many countries’ street food in one spot, but it’s going to be significantly more expensive and less authentic than the real thing.

Short Order LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Short Order LA
Farmers Market
6333 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 11/19/11

short order night2

Short Order is the newest addition to the Farmers Market/Grove dining options in mid-city, opened Friday. The concept is rather simple, centered on high quality burgers and conceived by the late Amy Pressman and Mozza’s Nancy Silverton. I first had a taste of Short Order at this year’s Taste of the Nation, where one of the highlights was a bolognese slider. It was both different and delicious; just like that, my interest was piqued.

The restaurant had a friends and family night Thursday and grand opened Friday. Overwhelming reports from those nights praised the good food, but also expressed frustration at extremely long waits for food. I will admit I was a little apprehensive about going so soon, but I’m glad I did.

order window

The restaurant has two floors, with an abbreviated menu on the ground level (take-out window shown above). When we first arrived, we were told the upstairs was closed to customers because it was packed full. Bummer. We were willing to wait, so we asked the host to check how long the wait would be. When he came back, he said that there were two seats available at the bar (there were actually four empty spots). Score!

upstairs

Dining at the bar was the perfect opportunity to see Julian Cox (who has to be the busiest man in LA mixology this year) and his team in action. Cox is in charge of the cocktails; a limited list of craft beers and wines are also available.

bar area

Fistful of Dollars craft method brandy, Combier, Amaro Montanegro, fresh lemon, cinnamon bark syrup, angostura, spiced castor sugar

fistful of dollars

Palma Fizz vodka, szechuan pepper corn ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, Bruce Cost’s unfiltered ginger ale, rose water

palma fizz

I really enjoyed the Palma Fizz, lightly carbonated with ginger and lime notes up front. Thankfully, the cocktail contained just the flavor and not the heat (or numbing sensation) of the szechuan peppercorns. The Fistful of Dollars had a strong brandy flavor, complemented by the lemon rind and some cinnamon spice.

The menu features 7-9 burger options (beef, turkey, pork, lamb and tuna are the proteins offered), and a few other sandwiches and salads. Frozen custard is made in-house with Northern California’s Straus Creamery dairy (same dairy as San Francisco’s Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe); a variety of custard shakes are offered as well. We opted to try three burgers, a custard shake, and fully-loaded spuds (french fries weren’t available).

Short Order Burger grass-fed beef, morbier, griddled mushrooms, bibb, mustardy mayo

short order burger

short order burger2

The first thing I noticed here was the beef. A thick patty was cooked medium-rare, pink/red throughout. Looked like the cross-section of a perfectly grilled steak.  Clearly the restaurant wanted to showcase this meat and it didn’t disappoint – beefy and juicy, delicious. Some mushrooms added an extra earthy flavor, while the lettuce was crisp and cool. The bun was soft, warm and yielding to each bite. A well-constructed and tasty burger.

Lamb Burger Sonoma lamb, feta, lamb’s lettuce, salsa verde

lamb burger

lamb2

This lamb burger wasn’t nearly as pink as the beef; the temperature was medium-ish, almost medium-well (not sure if this was intentional). The lamb flavor was there, slightly gamey, complemented by a rich feta cheese. Not quite as exciting as the Short Order Burger, but I gobbled this down just as easily.

Frisée Lardon Raft grass-fed beef, frisée, artisan slab bacon pieces, fried egg, lemon vinaigrette

frisee lardon raft

frisee lardon2

The raft was a variation on the burger where an uncut bun served as a “raft” on the bottom, while the rest of the ingredients were piled on top, open-faced. Unfortunately, the egg yolk broke, and the kitchen opted to present it upside-down (sigh). As with the Short Order burger, the perfectly cooked slab of grass-fed beef was tasty on its own. A fried egg and smoky chunks of bacon added a ton more flavor and richness, while the frisee, dressed with a lemon vinaigrette, helped to cut through some of the richness. I didn’t see the appeal of the raft over a typical burger (makes it more of a fork-and-knife sandwich), but the flavors were all there.

Coffee Malt Custard Shake

coffee malt shake

As expected, the shake was rich and had a deep coffee, malty flavor. I heard that some spiked shakes will be offered in the future, so I’d be interested to see what Cox puts together here.

Short Order Spuds with Dipping Sauce and Truffle Salt

spuds

spud sauce

The dipping sauce and truffle salt were both optional add-ons at $2 apiece, but we decided to go all out on these spuds.  These potato wedge-like creations were baked, lightly smashed then fried, yielding a very crispy exterior and fluffy interior. Fried potatoes are almost always better with truffle salt, but these would have been delicious on their own. The dipping sauce, a sour cream/chive/bacon mix, clearly resembled the flavors of a baked potato.

While waiting for dessert, I asked the bar to create a cocktail to pair with our pie.

Bee’s Kiss 12-yr Jamaican rum, cream, honey, cinnamon

bees kiss

Pear Pie vanilla custard

pear pie

A selection of pies will be available depending on the season (pear and cranberry were available this night). The pie was good, though I wish it was warm (maybe I’m just being picky) to capitalize on the hot-cold combination with the custard. The vanilla custard was quite delicious on its own, but did go very well with the pie. The cocktail was a strong pairing; its own creamy sweetness was a welcome addition to the dessert (I was enjoying it so much that I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway through).

Short Order is a place to splurge (calorie-wise) on some hearty burgers, crisp potatoes and thick custard shakes. Maybe even some pie a la mode. I think a lot of places can make a good burger or good fries, but it doesn’t always come together. Short Order has strengths in both of these, and even has good pie, custard and Julian Cox cocktails to boot. Hard to go wrong with that – I expect the restaurant to be popular for the foreseeable future.

Service was good (although I really wish that egg was right-side-up) and our food came out quickly. I imagine the restaurant is still working out some kinks in its system, but there appeared to be a marked improvement already.

Urbano Pizza Bar (Los Angeles, CA)

Urbano Pizza Bar
630 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Dining date: 11/14/11

exterior

There aren’t many good options for pizza downtown. Bottega Louie serves a good, though somewhat inconsistent, pie. Drago Centro can make one, but it’s definitely not a focal point. And chains like Pitfire and California Pizza Kitchen are around. So, whenever a new pizza place opens up, it has the potential to fill a sizable void.

Urbano Pizza Bar opened in June from the same owners of the next-door Library Bar, CoffeeBar and Spring Street Bar. Given that it’s close to the office, I’ve been a few times for lunch.

Looking for a last-minute dinner choice with 7 co-workers, someone mentioned Urbano. Given there was recently a BlackboardEats promotion, this was perfect timing.

interior1

interior2

The menu is made up of a large number small plates (almost all under $10)  and about 10 pizza options ($12-18).  A small list of wines and craft beers are also available.

BEEF MEATBALLS with warm pizza bread

meatballs

This was the lone appetizer ordered in a sea of pizzas and it was a good one. The meatball was good; dense, with a meaty and herbal flavor…as expected. What separated this dish was the warm pizza bread. Fresh out of the oven, it was soft, slightly chewy and was the perfect bread for a meatball sandwich. I foresee a lunch based on this dish in the near future.

FUNGHI wild mushrooms, burrata, red onion, tomato, thyme

funghi

We had a vegan at the table, so the one pictured had no cheese. I’ve had this pizza (with cheese) at a previous lunch; the mushrooms added an in-your-face, strong earthy flavor to the pie. Definitely good for the mushroom-lover.

QUATTRO FORMAGGI mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola, parmigiano, castelvatrano olives

4 cheese

Of the pizzas we ordered, this one sounded like the most boring and it didn’t prove to me otherwise. It was fine but I didn’t think it had much depth.

SOPRESSATA mozzarella, fresno chili, tomato, scallions

sopressata

In previous visits, this has been my favorite. The sopressata and chili are balanced very well, lending both meaty and spicy flavor profiles. Some scallions provided a fresh bite.

SALSICCIA fennel sausage, caramelized onions, tomato, mozzarella

salsiccia

Good sausage. For some reason, I thought the caramelized onions were a little bit too sweet though.

SCIMMIETTA smoked bacon, pumpkin, goat cheese

scimmietta

This may have been my favorite of the pizzas served that night. Perfect for the season, the sweet, creamy pumpkin worked well in tandem with the smoky bacon. The goat cheese was not too pungent, adding an extra richness and creaminess to the pie. Very good.

I don’t think Urbano will make any “best-of-LA” pizza lists, but it’s a very viable option downtown. Is the pizza better than Bottega Louie? Hmm…maybe. I’m not sure, but they’re close. The pizzas at Urbano are a little more creative, topping-wise; but I think some were better balanced, flavor-wise, than others. The crust has been crispy yet chewy, and pretty consistent across visits and pies.

Tsujita LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Tsujita LA
2057 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 11/11/11

sign

Tsujita is one of the latest high-profile ramen shops to open in LA this year. As far as I know, this is the first American location for Japan-based Tsujita, which serves its own version of a tonkotsu ramen. The restaurant opened in August, only serving its Japanese fusion dinner menu to guests…which did not include ramen. Why? Because the restaurant wanted to make sure its ramen was just right before serving it for lunch hours only. Sounded like they were serious about their “artisan” noodles and it quickly became somewhere I wanted to try as soon as possible.

The lunch menu is as simple as it gets; ramen and tsukemen (noodles are brought out separately and dipped into the broth upon eating) are both available, with a few ramen add-ins and rice bowl combos. While ramen is clearly a draw, the restaurant seems to be even more notable for its tsukemen. I was excited to try both.

tsujita line

Having the Veteran’s Day holiday off, I wanted to make it count. After lunch #1 at Baco Mercat in downtown, we rushed across town to Tsujita to find an impressive line out the door. Apparently, others on holiday had the same idea. Dammit. While in line, they ran out of tsukemen (and many of the sides). Dammit again. We came all the way over here to try the restaurant, so we decided to stick around and try the ramen.

kitchen1kitchen2kitchen3

A number of table-side toppings were available to add into our soups. The server recommended the hot leaf mustard with the ramen.

accompaniments

Negi Ramen green onion ramen

green onion ramen

Char-Siu Ramen extra char-siu

chashu ramen

The bowl of ramen looked beautiful, carefully and deliberately put together. The soup clearly had a lot of depth with a nice porky flavor and a milky consistency. The noodles were very good too; I forgot to order ‘hard’ noodles but they still displayed a chewy consistency. The chashu was good too, tender and meaty…not too fatty. It’s really hard to compare to old standbys like Daikokuya, Shin Sen Gumi and Santouka.  They’re all similar, yet very different. Tsujita seemed to be a bit more refined (and more expensive), and I thought the flavors may have been a bit cleaner. Personally though, I still prefer Daikokuya for the noodles, the in-your-face fatty broth, and all the oft-overlooked side dishes.

Kaedama (Extra Noodle)

kaedama

I opted for extra noodles, which included extra soup too for $1.50. I’m not sure what happened here; the noodles were in one large clumpy ball, and individual strands were virtually inseparable. What was left was rather mushy. For a restaurant so deliberate in its actions, I wondered if this was intentional, but it seemed the noodles just weren’t stirred at all while cooking. Major disappointment.

In all, I had a very good bowl of ramen (aside from the refill). Not exactly a bowl I’d drive cross-town for again, but very satisfying if in the area. I was pretty disappointed that they ran out of tsukemen so I guess I have to return for that. Will wait for the crowds to die down a bit, though.

Baco Mercat (Los Angeles, CA)

Bäco Mercat
408 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 11/11/11

exterior

Bäco Mercat is the latest offering from Josef Centeno (Lazy Ox Canteen), a casual spot in the up-and-coming Arts District serving up a menu based on something called the baco, as well as savory flatbreads and some small plates. The bäco is Centeno’s own creation, a sandwich made up of various meat and sauce combinations rolled up into a tortilla-like flatbread (advertised as a “sandwich-taco-pizza hybrid”). To me, they resemble a loosely-wrapped burrito or gyro.

baco interior2

baco interior

I’ve heard great things about these baco, which occasionally popped up wherever Centeno was cooking. So when it was announced there would be a restaurant dedicated to this sandwich (walking distance from the office and where I live), I was excited. I dropped by for lunch during their soft opening – the grand opening is planned for Monday the 14th.

Prices are very reasonable, with the bazole soup being the most expensive thing on the menu at $10. However, one item (i.e. one baco) probably isn’t enough food for a meal.

bazole bäco soup house made egg noodle, pork-chile broth, fried egg

bazole

We started with this interesting soup. The soup was based on a traditional pozole, spruced up with noodles, a fried egg and chunks of meat. The soup was very flavorful and hearty, quite spicy too. I think these are the same meats as seen in “the original bäco” (which were delicious), and the noodles and egg were both good too. Kind of an odd mix of ingredients, but I think the soup came together well. A heavy starter, for sure.

the egg coca salsa verde, farm egg & ricotta cheese

egg flatbread

We tried one of the flatbreads – here, one topped with salsa verde, cheese and a fried egg. The flatbread was pretty thin and very crispy. Hard to go wrong when combined with salsa verde, fried egg, and cheese. Nothing special really, but tasty.

We tried four of the baco sandwiches.

the original bäco pork belly & beef carnitas, smoked aioli, salbitxada

original baco

I liked the crispy, meaty pork belly and beef, and the smoky aioli sauce really bulked up the flavors. Leafy greens (I noticed spinach) helped to balance out the flavors. I could easily have mistaken the flatbread for a regular tortilla.

pesco bäco crispy shrimp, cabbage, sriracha & chive dressing

shrimp baco

A solid sandwich, the crispy shrimp was paired with a cabbage coleslaw. The sriracha-based sauce was almost overpowering, but it did add some heat and extra flavor. At $8 a pop, it won’t be displacing the fish/shrimp taco anytime soon.

porchetta bäco eggplant, apple & sahawep

porchetta

We were expecting warm, thick chunks of porchetta but this was actually made up of cold, thin slices of the pork. And no skin. Not my favorite, it didn’t feature much of the pork flavor I was expecting.

fava bean fritter bäco poblano-feta, chickpea & salmorejo

fava bean fritter baco

Didn’t get a lot of flavor in this one either, I thought the slightly spicy sauce was the main flavor profile amidst the earthy tones.

I had high expectations for Bäco Mercat, and my experience fell short of those. Maybe I just didn’t understand it, but conceptually I didn’t think the bäco were that interesting. All four had a very similar orange sauce that became monotonous when trying a variety, and I didn’t think the flavors of each baco stood out on their own. The flatbread itself resembled a thick tortilla, served lukewarm – it was fine.

The restaurant is convenient to me so it’s hard to say I won’t return, but I don’t have any desire to at the moment.

Carmela Ice Cream (Pasadena, CA)

Carmela Ice Cream
2495 E Washington Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91104
Dining date: 9/27/11 and 10/23/11

signage

Carmela makes my favorite ice cream in LA. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I do have a soft spot for ice cream. Occasionally, I crave the stuff.  I once made a round trip from downtown LA just to get ice cream here. In all, I’m not sure how many times I’ve been here…six? seven? Not enough.

Located in northeastern Pasadena, near Altadena, its location isn’t exactly convenient to most of LA. As a result, I’ve never seen it too busy – sure, there have been a couple instances where the line was (barely) out the door, but there’s also been a number of visits when only a couple of guests are there. I’m pretty confident that if this was in mid-city LA, long lines would be a frequent occurrence.

pastries

interior

The shop is minimal. Outside of ice cream, they sell only a few items – some baked goods, Intelligentsia espresso (for an affogato), and a couple other miscellaneous sweets. There are no tables or chairs (there is a bench outside though), so it’s not an ideal place to lounge around and slowly enjoy a scoop or two. It doesn’t matter though. I’m here solely for the ice cream, and it’s damn good.

There’s usually about a dozen flavors available at any time. About half are constants on the menu, while the others change frequently.

menu

Dark Chocolate, Fresh Mint w/ Cacao Nibs, Intelligentsia Espresso

dark choc, fresh mint, espresso

Lavender Honey, Waffle Cup

lavender honey in waffle

Earl Grey, Brown Butter Sage
Intelligentsia Espresso and Salted Caramel

earl grey and brown butter sage, espresso and salted caramel

I’ve been able to try just about every flavor throughout my visits. I can’t say I have a favorite (it seems to change often), but seriously just about every flavor has been good. The Intelligentsia espresso has a bold, deep coffee flavor…just as expected. I really enjoy the fresh mint flavor, especially with the small bits of cacao scattered throughout. Lavender honey and salted caramel are two of my favorite ice cream flavors in general; they’re excellent here. And, while the flavors are obviously integral, I think the consistency and mouth-feel of the ice creams are just as important. Carmela’s has a wonderful richness and creaminess that coats the mouth, with a slightly yielding bite (I bite my ice creams, not lick). So good. It’s not my favorite ice cream shop ever (Bi-Rite), but it’s definitely up there.

Often, I bring a cooler to take a couple pints home. If I can enjoy the ice cream for a few days, it makes the drive that much easier to justify.

to go case