If you’ve been living under a rock, you may have missed that the ban on selling foie gras in California has been lifted, though producing it in-state is still illegal. My feelings on foie gras are not as clear cut as you may think, but suffice it to say I do eat it, and I’ll leave it at that.
Last week, my friend Remil invited me to join him at VINU Wine Bar in Koreatown. The restaurant was offering a 3-course foie gras tasting for $25, and it included a glass of Pinot noir. I did check out the restaurant first on Yelp, and a few recent reviews mentioned that the foie gras was “tough” from overcooking, but at that price point I was willing to take a risk. I’m happy to report that I found no such issue with the dishes I had.
Foie Gras Bossam: The first course consisted of seared foie, bacon, raw Shigoku oyster, gochujang, and crown daisy wrapped in a Napa cabbage leaf. A take on Korean gul bossam, traditionally with pork belly and oyster wrapped in lettuce or cabbage leaves, this was a well composed dish. The unctuousness of the foie was counterbalanced by the brininess of the oyster and the brightness of the cabbage. Portioning was good too, with just enough foie to last through the 2-3 bites it took to consume the wrap. The restaurant’s Facebook/Instagram post called this “foie n’ bacon n’oyster oh my!” I called it delicious.
Foie Gua Bao: The second course consisted of almond-crusted foie, duck breast, orange gastrique, micro cilantro, served in a bao bun. A riff on Taiwanese gua bao, also traditionally made with pork belly, I could not resist dubbing this dish “foie gua bao”–with the orange gastrique, it also evoked duck à l’orange. Another well balanced dish, the sweetness of the bao bun and citrus paired nicely with the duck and foie. One could consider this the entrée of the tasting, as it was definitely heartier than the preceding course.
Foie Gras Board: The third course consisted of seared and raw foie, honey comb, bleu cheese, two different fruit preserves, Marcona almonds, and toasted bread. Clearly the dessert course, I liked experimenting with different combinations from the board. I found that the raw foie was best enjoyed on its own, while the seared foie could stand up to anything, even pungent cheese and sweet honey and jams.
Pecan Pie: For actual dessert, Remil ordered a pecan pie. He offered me a bite, but I am not a fan of pecans, so I declined. He did seem satisfied with it.
Carrot Cake: Apparently the restaurant was doing a photo shoot of various dishes at their bar, and afterwards one of the waiters offered to us the carrot cake they were using, on the house. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cake lacked walnuts (as far as I could tell), as I’m not a fan of those either.
As mentioned, I checked out VINU Wine Bar online prior to my visit, since I had not heard of it. It made a brief appearance on Eater LA, but nothing on Chowhound. Yelp had 50+ reviews at a 4-star average rating. The individual ratings seem to range from 3 stars to 5 stars, as expected, but a handful of 1-star reviews caught my eye. Seemed that a conflict involving a birthday party had occurred recently, and perhaps the owner hadn’t handled it well at the time, but I was glad to see that she was very responsive on Yelp.
The service we got was excellent for the most part, but a few things did jump out at me, like the use of paper napkins. Now I have no problem using white bread as napkins at Bludso’s, but not using cloth napkins seemed a bit incongruous with the ambiance at VINU. Also, our waitress did not tell us anything about the Pinot* that came with the meal, which we thought was unusual for a wine bar, and she kind of disappeared after bringing us our check (she was otherwise very responsive).
*I am not an oenophile, so I will not attempt to evaluate the wine.
Thanks! Yeah, I wish they had a full website too, but maybe they’re in the process of building one with the photo shoot we witnessed.
[Update: The chef/owner replied on Facebook that they had run out of clean cloth napkins that night, but that they use black linen cloth napkins normally.]
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience at VINU Wine Bar. $25 for 3 courses of foie gras and a glass of wine is really hard to beat, especially when the dishes were well conceived and executed. I would definitely return for the foie tasting again and to try some of the other dishes on the menu.
VINU Wine Bar
3785 Wilshire Boulevard Suite 32
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Surprisingly, it has been more than a year since I last dined at Tar & Roses. Wanting to remedy that sooner rather than later, I tried Reserve, a new concierge reservation app, to find a table. The service was able to get us a reservation for early evening on a Sunday, with just a day’s lead time!
Since I got a credit to try the app, my plan was to finally get the impressive Whole Fried Snapper for Two on this visit, but to work our way up to it, we ordered a few smaller plates to start…
Lamb Tartare, banana raita, grilled naan, za’atar [$10]: I’ve had tartare here before and I’ve had lamb here before, but I haven’t had them in the same dish. The meat was very clean tasting, to the extent that I couldn’t necessarily tell it was lamb, which for many people is probably preferred. For me, I don’t mind a bit of gaminess to distinguish lamb from other animals, but the absence of it is obviously not dealbreaker. Regardless, this was a great way to start the meal.
Pork Chicharrones, persimmon, pearl onion, pomegranate molasses [$9]: A great combination of flavors and textures, the version of this dish with figs instead of persimmons was one of the James Beard Foundation’s favorite dishes of 2014. I have to agree that the figs worked better than persimmons, but it’s not fig season right now, and the persimmons worked decently in this dish.
Jerusalem Artichokes, goat cheese, lemon vinaigrette, hazelnuts [$9]: A relatively new dish (I think), the sunchokes had a texture that’s a cross between regular artichoke heart and mushroom, and with a nuttier flavor. Tar & Roses always has great vegetable dishes on the menu, and this was no exception. (Louise‘s husband Will, on Instagram, introduced me to the term “fartichokes” as another name for these. Fortunately, I wasn’t any more flatulent than usual. Heh.)
Candied Sweet Potato, ginger aioli, togarashi, sesame seed [$9]: Speaking of great vegetables dishes, this was indeed a new one, according to the waiter. We had the shichimi togarashi (seven flavor chili pepper) on the side. Basically the best version of sweet potato fries we’ve ever had; the ginger aioli was the surprise hit of the show!
Whole Fried Snapper for Two, cold soba noodles, dipping sauce, [$58]: The pièce de résistance, this was more than enough to feed my family of four after our our opening dishes. The fish was flavorful, and, while not super moist, was fried nicely, with crispy skin and tender meat. The soba was al dente, just how I liked it. Saving room for dessert, we actually took about a half of this home, which I proceeded to have as a midnight snack later that evening.
Quite full, we decided to share just two desserts amongst the four of us…
Brown Butter Ice Cream, toffee, almonds, [$5]: A very clean and simple rendition, I actually didn’t get too much of the brown butter flavor, but it was a great scoop of ice cream nonetheless.
Sticky Toffee Pudding, whipped cream, [$9]: My wife cannot leave Tar & Roses without having this dessert. It’s everything you’d expect: ooey gooey (what does “ooey” even mean?), sticky, sweet, and salty.
As mentioned, I made our reservation through the Reserve app, which also handles payment. At the end of the meal our waiter informed us that the check would be paid automatically and asked if I wanted to see the bill anyway. I said I did, and I was presented with the receipt sandwiched by a folded message from Reserve.
So here’s the deal on Reserve. Yes, the service charges a $5 concierge fee, but only if you get a table and only after you’ve completed your meal. So there’s no risk in trying for a reservation through the app! They’ve already partnered with some of the best restaurants in L.A., including Alma, Bestia, Melisse, Republique, and Rustic Canyon. Obviously, while I was able to get into Tar & Roses with just 24 hours notice, results may vary.
If you want to try Reserve for yourself, download it from the App Store on your iOS device. Create an account, and use promo code OFFALOTWTR in the app (Account, Payments, Add Promo Code) to get a $25 credit.
Disclosure: While I have received dining credits to try out the app, I do not receive any sort of referral fee when my code is used. If you prefer, use LAKITCHEN5 instead to donate $20 to L.A. Kitchen. I believe you still get a $5 credit on your account to try the service once on the house.
Tar & Roses remains one of my favorite restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area. I would love to gather up a bunch of folks to try one of their advance-order large format T&R Suppers, like the wood fired goat or the paella. I am also looking forward to seeing what concept chef/owner Andrew Kirschner brings to his next project, Santa Monica Yacht Club, just down the block in the old La Botte space.
Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Noodle soups are some of my favorite food, whether it’s Japanese ramen, Vietnamese pho, Thai boat noodles. Unfortunately, with the exception of ramen, it is relatively difficult to get authentic noodle soups on the Westside, particularly Chinese noodle soups. However, one restaurant, opened just a few months ago, has been a game changer on that front.
Qin West Chinese Cuisine, of the smoking hot Far East Plaza in Chinatown, home of Chego, Scoops, the newly opened Pok Pok Phat Thai, and soon Ramen Champ, opened a second location in October on Westwood, just down the street from UCLA and its large Chinese and Chinese-American student body. Tony Chen (of SinoSoul fame) broke the news on Eater LA.
While one can find such (Americanized) Chinese restaurant staples as Orange Chicken and Broccoli Beef on the regular menu–I hear (but have not found out for myself) that the restaurant does a decent job on those dishes–it’s the 5-item specials menu, with three dishes from Shaanxi province, and two from Guangxi province, reflecting where the restaurant owner’s family lived in China, that deserves special attention!
On my first visit, my friends and I worked our way through the four noodle dishes on said menu:
Liang Pi: A dish that literally means “cold skin”, this handmade “dry” cold noodle dish from Shaanxi, topped with bean sprouts, cucumber, peanuts, and sauce, was interesting. Something in the flavoring of the sauce hit an Italian note in my brain, like oregano and chili flakes, but not quite. On my Instagram post of the dish, I received a few comments that it didn’t look like authentic liang pi. Unfortunately, I don’t have the expertise to judge. I did enjoy it, but not as much as the other dishes–it’s all about the noodle soups!
Guilin Soup: Also known as Guilin mifen (rice noodles), named after the city in Guangxi, the noodles were round rather than flat, and about the same thickness as spaghetti. They were essentially identical to Vietnamese bun. The broth had a gentle heat (I believe we ordered it medium spiciness) and a mild tang from the pickled cabbage. The slices of braised beef were tender.
Saozi Noodle: From Shaanxi, where the noodles are hand pulled, the bowl of was topped with diced pork, potato, and tofu. Unlike the other two noodle soups on the specials menu, this one came with thin, flat-ish, wheat noodles, rather than round rice noodles. Not sure if they were hand pulled or not.
Liuzhou Soup: Named after another city in Guangxi, the Chinese name is actually luo si fen, or snail rice noodles. The broth is traditionally made by boiling snails and either pork or beef bones, though no snail meat is served in the soup, and that is how it is served here. The flavor is briny, and sharper than any of the other noodle soups here, with the addition of sour bamboo shoots and lily flowers.
Chinese Mo: On a subsequent visit, after getting my fill of Liuzhou Soup, I did try the last item on the specials menu, known as rou jia mo (meat sandwich) in Chinese. A Shaanxi dish, like the Liang Pi, there’s some question about how authentically it is prepared, specific in regards to the bread. It is very thin and crisp here, but I’ve been told (on Instagram and Chowhound) the bread should be a bit thicker, better to soak up the stewed pork. Speaking of which, the meat filling wasn’t very memorable at all.
Of the five items on the specials menu, the clear winner, for me was the Liuzhou Soup, so much so that, after my first visit, I actually went back the very next day to have it again! That time, I ordered the soup extra spicy, and I added on slices of beef, both of which just made it that much better!
Chinese Cold Dish: Since I love all things offal, I did have to give one dish from the regular menu a try. Chinese cold dishes appetizers are a staple of Chinese cuisine. The dish here consists of braised, sliced pig ears, stomach, and cucumbers, in hot oil, a real treat (for me) on the Westside!
To illustrate just how much I’ve taken to Qin West and their fantastic noodle soups, I believe I’ve had more bowls of noodle soups there than I have ramen from all establishments combined in the past few months. In fact, I’m itching to go back. The food is delicious, filling, inexpensive (all the dishes above are less than $8).
The small parking lot, with a tendency for people to get parked in, and the occasionally-tough street parking make it sometimes difficult to eat there, but really no more so than trying to go to Tsujita (original or Annex) on Sawtelle. The somewhat bigger drawback is the lack of restroom on the premises, so make sure you go before you go.
To close, here’s one last shot of my favorite dish at Qin West:
If you like Vietnamese bun bo hue or Thai boat noodles, you’ll probably like it too! Not that it’s like either of those noodle dishes, but it strikes similar tangy, spicy notes in my mind.
Qin West Chinese Cuisine
1767 Westwood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
310-478-8829 or 310-478-8827
Yakitori is, to borrow my friend Chris Hei’s oft-used phrase, so hot right now, to the point where trolls come to Chowhound to stir up trouble about whether the (in)famous Little Tokyo yakitori-ya Kokekokko (Chris’s review) would actually be closing permanently or reopening elsewhere after shuttering their current location next month (alas, the mods have removed evidence of said trolls’ efforts). Even high-end DTLA restaurant Orsa & Winston is eschewing its tasting-menu format for the first two months of 2015 in favor of yakitori.
Away from the spotlight and drama, Torihei in Torrance has been quietly serving superb yakitori since 2009. As the South Bay is a bit of a trek for me, I’ve only been twice. Reservations are highly recommended, though I actually managed to walk-in both times by going early and alone, and eating fast. While not the most ideal way to enjoy Torihei, my meals there were still great!
My most recent visit to Torihei was just last month. While I mainly focused on yakitori and did not order any oden (stewed meats and vegetables in light broth, another aspect of Japanese cuisine that Torihei is known for), I did start with a great bowl of noodle soup. Continue Reading →
Having my sister visit in October gave me a chance to introduce her to Night+Market Song. It also gave me a chance to explore Grand Central Market. One other “place” that she wanted to try while she was out, based on a previous post of mine, was Guerrilla Tacos. Even though I only wrote them up in June, with chef Wes Avila’s ever changing menu, I thought a quick recap of the meal my sister and I had would still be well received. And I’ll even throw in some other highlights from my past six months’ visits. Continue Reading →