The Spice Table (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

The Spice Table
114 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 12/14/13

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The Spice Table opened about two and a half years ago and quickly made its mark on the city being named one of the city’s best new restaurants by a handful of publications. Its most notable accolade was when chef Bryant Ng was named a 2012 Best New Chef by Food & Wine, propelling him and the restaurant into national awareness. While the restaurant still feels relatively new, it will be meeting a sad and unique demise at the end of the year to pave the way for a new metro station.

I revisited the restaurant one last time to sample Ng’s fiery Southeast Asian flavors. Influences from all around Asia can be found on The Spice Table’s menu, as well as a small but well-curated craft beer list (and wines!) featuring local brewers.

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b.o.s. (Los Angeles, CA)

b.o.s.
424 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 11/12/13

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b.o.s. is one of the newest restaurants to open in the Little Tokyo area. Inside the Honda Plaza next to the ever-popular Sushi Gen (and across the way from Men Oh Tokushima), the restaurant has a rather unique focus: beef nose-to-tail dining. Mainstream diners have become more engaged in this concept and I think Little Tokyo is an ideal location for a somewhat upscale opening of this type.

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Like most restaurants in Little Tokyo, it’s a small place with the prime seats being a six-seat chef’s counter looking into the kitchen. Chef David Bartnes is the point-man behind the counter; having spent much of his life traveling around the world, Bartnes combines these worldly influences (primarily Asian) with his classical cooking background. The resulting fare is an interesting mix of flavors that change frequently but could include an oxtail ravioli, beef cheek risotto, tongue carpaccio, grilled heart or roasted bone marrow. Both an omakase and an a la carte menu is available; on this first visit, we sat at the chef’s counter and had the 5-course omakase ($55).

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Le Grand Fooding (Los Angeles, CA)

Le Grand Fooding Crush Paris – Los Angeles
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 N Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 4/26/13 and 4/27/13

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This past weekend, Le Grand Fooding made its first foray into Los Angeles. The traveling event, hosted in San Francisco and New York in past instances, seeks to promote chefs of both nations cooking a sort of bistronomics concept – fine dining concept in a more affordable atmosphere. The event was a two-day affair at downtown’s Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (in addition to an exclusive pre-event dinner cooked by Craig Thornton (Wolvesmouth) and Miles Thompson (Allumette) – full pictures here).

The chef lineup was pretty impressive, with 11 big-name chefs from both LA and Paris. Some of the chefs cooked on only one day and a handful cooked on both days. General admission tickets were $50 and included one dish from each chef and a glass of champagne. Ticket prices went up in three tiers, all the way up to a $125 VIP ticket that included early entrance, a secluded dining area, and an extra dish from a VIP-only chef. Tickets sold out in a hurry, but I managed to purchase a base level ticket for each day.

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For the two evenings, MOCA’s outdoor venue was set up with a DJ tower, multiple chef booths and an impressive Veuve Clicquot tower.

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Ikemen (Los Angeles, CA)

Ikemen
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St #108
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 1/28/13

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Ikemen is the latest ramen chain to open up shop in Little Tokyo (following other notables Shin-Sen-Gumi and Men Oh Tokushima). Located in Weller Court (the plaza shared with super-spicy Orochon), it kind of replaces the recently-closed Chin-Ma-Ya. Ikemen’s first location opened up in Hollywood in late 2011; I’d read mostly positive things about the shop but never made it out to Hollywood.

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Ikemen isn’t your traditional ramen shop; it’s actually kind of weird (modern?). The philosophy is very clear (it’s painted on the wall) – they aim to create edgy and stylish ramen.

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The specialty is what Ikemen calls ‘dip ramen,’ essentially a tsukemen where you dip noodles into a warm broth before eating. Except, they call the soup au jus here, and an option for the Ghostbuster Dip Ramen combines this jus with heavy cream, truffle oil, roasted marshmallows. Yep. My coworker and I weren’t quite brave enough to go that route, and stuck to some of the slightly more conservative options. Continue reading

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.

Sushi Gen (Los Angeles, CA)

Sushi Gen
422 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/6/12 and 4/11/12

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Sushi Gen is one of Little Tokyo’s most popular restaurants (4.5 stars on Yelp with 1500 reviews is a good indication), seemingly always having people waiting outside. It’s probably one of my favorites too, and one of the first restaurants I remember dining at in LA. I’ve been back many times so a post is long overdue.

To me, Sushi Gen offers two pretty distinct experiences. One is at the sushi bar, where diners sit in front of the sushi chefs and the menu is pretty much sashimi/sushi-only. The other, and seemingly more popular option, is to sit in the dining room where sushi is available, as well as a variety of composed cold and hot plates. While my best meals have been at the sushi bar, dining at the tables presents much more variety and value since there are a number of combination plates that provide more bang for the buck.

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Recently I dropped in for lunch at the sushi bar (the wait for a table was 45 mins. even though there was immediate availability at the bar), and came back for dinner a few days later for dinner (in the dining room).

Lunch

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Salmon and Yellowtail

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Beautiful. We started with two good pieces, soft and tender with clean flavors.

Red Snapper

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The fish was slightly warm and slightly chewy, complemented by some light acidity.

Toro

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As expected, this was soft and silky with a fatty melt-in-mouth texture. Always a highlight.

Scallop

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This was one of the highlights too – it was very soft and delicate, and the yuzu kosho topping was exactly what I was looking for. We enjoyed these so much that we ended up getting another order.

Monkfish Liver

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In between sushi courses, we also ordered this dish of monkfish liver. Creamy and rich with a clean sea flavor, it was a pretty good example. Subtle heat and acid complemented the rich liver.

Sweet Shrimp

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Frequently one of my favorites, the sweet shrimp here was succulent and sweet with a great snap to it. The shrimp heads came either fried or in soup; I opted for the latter. I liked the shellfish flavor it imparted into the soup.

Giant Clam

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This giant clam was chewy, sweet and not at all fishy. A little bit of yuzu kosho was a zesty accompaniment.

Tuna

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I loved the deep red color of this tuna; it was tender with a good flavor.

Albacore

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Onion, soy, and a light citrus (ponzu?) topped these soft pieces of albacore.

Spanish Mackerel

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The crisp, sharp flavor of the raw onion countered and fatty fish with a little bit of ginger coming through too.

Unagi

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Tender with a sweet sauce, I liked the delicate texture and nuttiness that the sesame seeds offered.

The sushi was quite good; in fact, better than I had remembered it to be. Totally better than the stuff sold down the street at equally-popular Komasa. The fish were cut a little bit thicker and wider than what I typically see, and this helped to create some great meaty bites. The price wasn’t bad at all either, coming in just over $50pp after tax. Makes for a pretty guilt free lunch too, health-wise.

Sushi Gen doesn’t have much in the way of dessert, but I’ve got the perfect after-lunch sweet/drink. Mikawaya’s mochi is a good bet, but I prefer this:

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(Boba) Milk Tea

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Yay! Half a block down, Ozero makes some good milk tea. There’s a pretty extensive menu, but I’ve stayed within a very narrow range of a few different milk teas (black, green, oolong). My favorite is easily the regular (black) milk tea without boba, on the right.

Dinner

A few days later my aunt, uncle and cousin were in town and they always come here. We opted for a table in the dining room since it offers a more varied menu. Unique to the dining room, a bunch of combinations are offered from sushi/sashimi to more standard fare like steak, chicken and salmon teriyaki. The combinations come with miso soup and sunomono, and a choice of sashimi or tempura.

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Chicken Teriyaki

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Chicken teriyaki isn’t the most unique dish here, but they do it pretty well. A generous piece of dark meat is seared to get a crispy skin (that’s key!), while the teriyaki was a welcome addition, not being overly sweet or thick.

Tempura

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The tempura was done pretty well too; the batter was fairly light and fried well. I think there were two shrimp, sweet potato, a carrot and a couple other vegetables.

Salmon Teriyaki

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Like the chicken, the salmon teriyaki is pretty good as far as salmon teriyaki goes. I don’t think this dish has been cooked as consistently as the chicken though, sometimes being a bit overcooked.

Sashimi Dinner

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On this occasion I went with the sashimi dinner. There are a few cooked preparations to go along with the sashimi and there’s a lot of variety on this plate. I could make out squid, cooked tuna, spicy tuna, raw tuna, yellowtail, crab, albacore, cooked salmon, and chopped tuna with green onion. The quality of fish in this dinner combination is definitely a notch or two below what’s at the sushi bar, but it’s good enough considering the $26 price tag (which includes the tempura).

Sushi Gen is ultimately a very satisfying restaurant for both those that want a higher-end sushi experience and also a pretty good value play for some good Japanese food. Even the sushi is relatively reasonable for the quality; I think one could go all out and still spend less than $100. Sometimes I’ll find a middle ground and order sushi to supplement one of the combinations, but for some reason the sushi just doesn’t taste the same when it’s brought to the table.

I have definitive favorites when it comes to Japanese food in Little Tokyo. Daikokuya and Shin-Sen-Gumi for ramen, Fat Spoon for curry, and Hama and Sushi Gen are tied atop for sushi. Given the fact that Gen offers much more than Hama in terms of cooked dishes (Hama is a sushi bar only), Sushi Gen might be the restaurant I recommend most often in Little Tokyo.