Tokyo Fried Chicken Co. (Monterey Park, CA)

Tokyo Fried Chicken Co.
122 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Dining date: 4/11/14

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Tokyo Fried Chicken Co. garnered plenty of attention when it first opened (almost a year ago) for its fried chicken and Japanese-accented side dishes. Long waits for its no-reservation tables kept me away at first; like most restaurants, the initial buzz died down and a table became much more manageable. Monterey Park seemed like as good a place as any to open up an Asian-slanted fried chicken shop.

While a la carte is available, most order ‘chicken dinner sets’ at a not unreasonable $12.50 per person. It turns out to be about 2-3 pieces per person, a side to share and a bowl of chicken rice. Hungrier eaters can supplement with additional ~$2 for wing/drumstick, $3.50 for a thigh and $6.25 for a breast. Our party of 6 ordered a large chicken set with some supplemental side dishes.

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Choco Chicken (Los Angeles, CA)

Choco Chicken
403 W 12th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 5/28/14

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At first, chocolate and fried chicken sounded like an odd pairing. When I thought about it some more, I was intrigued and really wanted to try it. I imagine chicken & waffles smothered in a syrup elicited the same initial response, but has become a classic pairing. Some have likened this savory chocolate-chicken application to a mole sauce, though this would be very different. Among almost 20 other spices, a cocoa powder is applied to the chicken’s batter for a unique flavor. That’s after brining the chicken in a mixture that, of course, also includes chocolate.

Adam Fleischman, who brought the Umami Burger and 800 Degrees concepts to life, is also behind Choco Chicken. I’m a pretty big fan of both of those restaurants and figured I would be in good hands during this media preview evening. The restaurant is supposed to open to the public any day now in the former Corkbar space a few blocks away from the Staples Center. Owners feel strong about the concept, with expansion already in the works for a Santa Monica location.

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Farmshop (Santa Monica, CA)

Farmshop
225 26th St. Ste 25
Santa Monica, CA 90402
Dining date: 6/30/13

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My previous visit to Farmshop yielded one of my favorite singular dishes in Los Angeles – their fried chicken. Golden brown and crispy on the outside, while juicy and moist on the inside, it’s the best fried chicken I’ve had in this city. It’s been a while, but when recently pondering the choice of best spot for a fried chicken meal, a re-visit to Farmshop was in order.

Farmshop typically serves a seasonal/local a la carte dinner menu, but Sundays are reserved for a family style feast centered around the fried bird. The ever-changing three courses are $48, making this one of the steeper fried chicken meals you can get around here. Surrounding the main dish are typically lighter salads and sides which showcase the season’s produce.

Since my last visit, Farmshop has expanded to include a small marketplace full of artisan goods. Unfortunately it closed before our dinner ended, but my brief glimpses revealed some top-notch meats, cheeses, and a variety of other items a home cook would love.

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San Tung (San Francisco, CA)

San Tung
1031 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
Dining date: 12/24/12

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San Tung is consistently one of San Francisco’s most popular Chinese restaurants, known for its long waits almost as much as its food. Located in the Sunset district of the city, the first-come first-served restaurant always seems to have a crowd waiting outside, especially on the weekends. Its 3,000+ Yelp reviews (currently a 4-star rating) place it in the top 10 of most-reviewed S.F. restaurants and I feel like I always hear it mentioned when people talk about “must-try” dishes in the city.

What’s the must-try dish? San Tung is known for noodles and dumplings, but their real signature is their “dry fried” items. Shrimp, calamari, flounder, beef and chicken are fried by the batch here, then glazed in a sweet-savory sauce. The most popular, by far, is the chicken wings.

We came early on a Monday for lunch and got one of the last tables available.

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Lexington Social House (Hollywood, CA)

Lexington Social House
1718 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Dining date: 1/8/12

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I first took notice of Lexington Social House during last year’s Taste of the Nation, where their fried chicken was one of my favorites of the afternoon. My second encounter with the restaurant was at The Taste where, again, the fried chicken was one of my favorites of the event. In both instances, white meat was served and it was full of juicy flavor with a crunchy batter. Addicting. It quickly became a restaurant I wanted to visit.

Located at the intersection of Hollywood & Vine, it definitely fits into the lounge/bar “nightlife” category where I always seem to be skeptical of the food. However, who says a trendy Hollywood restaurant can’t also be serious about the food?

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My skepticism peaked when we were the only ones in the restaurant at 6:30. For a restaurant with a sizeable dining room and expansive lounge, I was a bit surprised. “It’s early” we told ourselves; actually, we were one of only two parties in the restaurant throughout the duration of our meal. For shame; the restaurant was better than that.

We ordered some cocktails to start.

THE HONEYVINE pisco porton, st germain elderflower, honey syrup, lime juice, fresh cucumber, lavender bitters

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MAPLE HILL blended scotch whisky, maple syrup, angostura bitters, orange bitters, islay scotch rinse

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THE LEXINGTON earl-grey infused woodford reserve bourbon, honey, lemon juice, orange bitters

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LA CURA casa noble tequila, mescal rinse, lemon juice, ginger syrup, agave nectar

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I was just coming down with a cold so I didn’t try anything other than my cocktail – the Maple Hill. Flavors of maple and citrus were the main flavors I got from this one, balancing the bite of the scotch.

FENNEL CURED SALMON TARTARE dill aioli, cucumbers, capers, red onions

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The salmon was good, albeit a little fishy. The dill aioli was a nice touch for the classic dill-salmon pairing, while fried onions added some delicate texture.

CELERY ROOT RAVIOLI black truffles

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This was one of the appetizer specials – the pasta was cooked well with a warm, creamy filling from the celery root. A light butter sauce complemented the pasta, but the black truffle flavor was fairly muted.

SONOMA PORK BELLY honey chipotle glaze, local apples, fennel, orange vinaigrette

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Fatty and meaty, the pork belly had a welcome crispiness to it and was quite flavorful. The accompanying slaw of apples, fennel and vinaigrette were cool and refreshing, and I thought they did a nice job of cutting through the richness of the belly.

HAMACHI COLLAR grapefruit, pomegranate, shishito peppers, cilantro, soy

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Given the relatively straightforward (safe?) nature of the menu, I was a little surprised to see this on the menu. I liked the presentation with everything stacked on the hamachi collar.  Lightly grilled, the smoky flavor definitely came through, while pomegranate and grapefruit helped to counter the smokiness and complement the fish.

SHORT RIBS creamy polenta, sauteed wild mushrooms

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The big hunk of short rib was rich, beefy and tender while the polenta was nice and creamy. Nothing particularly special, but this was a homey and satisfying dish.

FRIED CHICKEN smashed potatoes, bacon braised kale, mustard sauce

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Ah, what brought us in. I found the chicken to be good…but not as good as I remembered/expected. It wasn’t that moist (though not dry) but did have pretty good chicken flavor. The crust was flaky, but I thought there was more batter than I recalled from my prior tastes – slightly higher batter:meat ratio than I would’ve liked. The smashed potatoes were too thick for me, having an almost sticky consistency.

NY STRIP crispy potatoes, sprouting broccoli

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A couple of my favorite comfort foods on a plate – a hunk of crusty-seared steak cooked a perfect medium rare and some crispy, fluffy potatoes. This was probably my favorite entree as the steak was juicy and beefy, while the potatoes gave the texture and starch that I was looking for. Not unlike the spuds from Short Order, these potatoes appeared to have been baked/par-boiled, smashed and finally deep fried. Quite nice.

On to desserts; we ordered four.

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE almond milk cream

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The server raved about this chocolate souffle, but I found it to be fairly standard. It was rich, fudgy and served hot, just not particularly memorable.

VANILLA BEAN PANNA COTTA pomegranate, aged balsamic

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The panna cotta was light, creamy and sweet with a present vanilla flavor. I thought the pomegranate added some fresh fruit flavor, as well as texture from the seeds. However, I’m personally not big on the seeds and I didn’t think they paired well with the delicate custard, texturally.

BEIGNETS strawberry rhubarb jam, strawberry powder

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I was expecting these to be light and airy, but rather these were very dense and slightly chewy. Totally unexpected. Raspberry sauce added some sweetness and acidity.

MONKEY BREAD brown sugar, pecans, banana ice cream

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This may have been the best of the desserts with a double dose of banana flavor from the bread/cake and the ice cream. Served warm and soft, the bread exuded a buttery banana flavor, while the pecans and banana ice cream fit it well.

Lexington Social House exceeded expectations – the food was flavorful and fairly well-executed. There was nothing particularly standout in the menu full of hearty, comforting dishes but it was a very satisfying meal. In a scene full of restaurants/lounges where food takes a backseat, Lexington presents a legitimate food option when in the area.

Fried Chicken @ Farmshop (Santa Monica, CA)

Farmshop
225 26th St
Santa Monica, CA 90402
Dining date: 9/17/11

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I always hear about Farmshop in discussions about the best brunches in LA. I’ve wanted to try it for some time, but given its Brentwood location I haven’t made it out there yet. However, the restaurant just began dinner service, something that clearly expedited my first visit.

Chef/owner Jeff Cerciello left Thomas Keller’s side last year to pursue his own project. Cerciello had a hand in all of Keller’s projects, but Ad Hoc seems to be the one that struck him most…at least for dinner service. The concept for the dinners seems truly to be inspired by Ad Hoc’s. Dinners are market-driven 3-4 courses served family-style ($40-$60), continually rotating. I’ve known that Farmshop was planning to serve dinner (and an Ad Hoc-like fried chicken) for a while now, so when it was announced that this past Sunday would be the first fried chicken night I had to drop by.

Heirloom Tomato Salad reed avocado, pickled red onion & opal basil

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An appetizer duo came out first. The salad was light and refreshing; I thought the meaty chunks of avocado went really well with the sweet acidity of the tomatoes and pickled red onion, while the fresh basil added some depth.

House-made Ricotta & Pistachio Salsa Verde

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The whipped fresh ricotta was a little more interesting and pretty tasty. The consistency was like a light whipped cream with some citrus (lime juice?). The flatbread was a little thicker than expected; combined with the pistachios I thought it was sort of a textural overload.

Herbed Fried Chicken

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Next came what we’d been waiting for…the chicken. The crust was richly and uniformly browned, topped with an assortment of herbs. Upon my first bite (into white meat), I was impressed with the juiciness of the bird. It was full of flavor and displayed a lemon-herb essence from the brine. Expectantly, the dark meat was moist as well with a wonderful depth of flavor. A little bit of the crunchy crust in every bite made for some great fried chicken.

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The comparison to Ad Hoc’s chicken is unavoidable. They’re pretty similar actually, but I thought this chicken was more moist than the Ad Hoc chicken served at Bouchon Beverly Hills, and maybe even more than I remember at Ad Hoc (maybe – I need to return soon). There’s more of a lemon flavor coming through in the meat too, which I liked.

Two sides came with the fried chicken.

Cabbage, Fennel, Cucumber & Poppy Seed Slaw

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Sweet Corn & Peppers

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Both of these had just a few carefully chosen ingredients. I thought both dishes made good companions to the chicken, mainly for the sweetness of the peppers and corn and the crisp, cool acidity of the slaw.

Poached Peaches frog hollow farm peaches, lemon curd & oatmeal cookies

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The peaches were delicious and sweet, while the curd added a countering tartness. The oatmeal cookies were pretty good too, adding the textural element. Would’ve preferred them warm, but still good. I appreciated ending with something rather light, showcasing some “farm-fresh” ingredients (notably, the peaches).

Within the same complex that houses Farmshop is Sweet Rose Creamery, a shop I see on ‘top ice cream’ lists over and over. This would be the perfect opportunity for me to finally visit.

Sweet Rose
225 26th St
Santa Monica, CA 90402

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A number of flavors are available each night (some permanent, some rotating), as well as some sweet treats like ice cream sandwiches, bon bons, milkshakes, floats and sundaes. Given it was our first time (and we were already kind of full), we kept it simple.

Toasted almond and chocolate hazelnut

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Salted caramel, chocolate waffle cone

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Coffee and chocolate hazelnut

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The ice cream was pretty money. While none of us liked the almond (it was too grainy), everything else was very good. I really liked the coffee (made using Verve coffee beans) – it had a really deep, rich coffee flavor. Felt like it was gonna keep me up all night. The salted caramel was top notch too, and probably the best I’ve had in the city (even over Carmela).

Overall, I was pretty impressed with Farmshop’s meal. The food was rather simple and well-executed, showcasing some great ingredients. Most importantly on this night, the fried chicken was delicious and has to be some of the best gourmet fried chicken in the city right now. I’ll be curious to see what else is being offered for dinner and would try them out too.

The atmosphere/decor is pretty casual, but somewhat uncomfortable. Even though we had reservations, we were seated at a center communal table with benches. I understand the casual atmosphere, but unless I’m in a bar/lounge or quick-serve restaurant, I’d really appreciate an actual chair as my back starts to hurt after a couple courses.