Night+Market Song

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written about Night+Market, the ultra-popular West Hollywood Thai “street food” restaurant, and quite a lot has happened in the past year.  Most significantly, Night+Market Song, the long-awaited Silver Lake location debuted in March.  Helmed by power-couple Kris Yenbamroong and Sarah St. Lifer, back-of-house and front-of house, respectively, Song has been receiving accolades from the start.  While less convenient a location for me personally, I made a point to dine there a handful of times since opening but had not been back very recently.  Having my sister, her husband, and their toddler son visit this weekend was the perfect excuse to have a big meal with them and my own clan.

Arriving right at 6 PM on a Saturday, we squeaked in before the crowds built.  By the time we left shortly before 8 PM, a large crowd had gathered outside waiting for tables.  I was in charge of ordering, and with some direction from the lovely Ms. Sarah, I got a good variety of dishes, including all four items on the Specials menu that night, starting with…

Pla Meuk Tod Gratiem ($12), wild Thai baby octopus, battered & fried, topped w/garlic & chile oil; served w/sriracha:  This was one of the specials of the night.  My friend Chris, who recently had this dish, said it reminded him of the Cantonese classic, Salt and Pepper Squid, and I have to agree.  The batter was light and crisp, the octopus was tender yet snappy, and the dish had a mild heat that snuck up on you.  The sriracha, perhaps made in-house, was smooth and a little tangy.

Pla Meuk Tod Gratiem (Fried Baby Octopus) at Night+Market Song

Pla Meuk Tod Gratiem (Fried Baby Octopus) at Night+Market Song

Larb Tod ($10), fried pork, pork liver, pork blood “meatballs” w/garlic oil & rau ram:  This was once a Specials but now appears on the regular menu at Song.  It reminded me more of a sausage patty than a meatball, and it’s not as mineral-y as straight liver.  It’s a good gateway offal dish.

Larb Tod (Fried Pork, Pork Liver, Pork Blood 'Meatballs) at Night+Market Song

Larb Tod (Fried Pork, Pork Liver, Pork Blood 'Meatballs) at Night+Market Song

Moo Yang Nom Khon ($9), fatty pork shoulder, soaked in condensed milk & fresh turmeric overnight, grilled & served over cucumber relish:  A relatively new addition to the regular menu, the cut of pork in this dish is very similar to the very popular Pork Toro dish, which is made with neck or jowl meat.  As a very flavorful, yet non-spicy, dish, this was a big hit with my kids, and really with everyone at the table.

Moo Yang Nom Khon (Grilled Fatty Pork Shoulder) at Night+Market Song

Moo Yang Nom Khon (Grilled Fatty Pork Shoulder) at Night+Market Song

Khao Pote Ping Ping ($7), grilled sweet corn brushed w/coconut milk & seasonings:  This was another dish from the Specials menu.  The corn was indeed sweet and perfectly cooked.  This was an excellent dish in its simplicity.  It’s also vegan.  Only gripe I have with it is the price.  $7 for three half-cobs isn’t highway robbery, but seems a little pricey to me.

Khao Pote Ping Ping (Grilled Sweet Corn w/Coconut Milk & Seasonings) at Night+Market Song

Khao Pote Ping Ping (Grilled Sweet Corn w/Coconut Milk & Seasonings) at Night+Market Song

Nam Khao Tod ($9), crispy rice salad w/sour pork, raw ginger, onion, peanuts, cilantro, bird’s eye chili:  This is one of my favorite dishes at Night+Market, where it was a consistent presence on the Specials menu before becoming a regular menu item at both locations.  A rather spicy dish, the two youngest at the table did not partake, but the rest of us really enjoyed it!

Nam Khao Tod (Crispy Rice Salad) at Night+Market Song

Nam Khao Tod (Crispy Rice Salad) at Night+Market Song

Pork Toro ($7), grilled fatty pig neck w/’jaew’ Northeastern chile dip:  As mentioned above, this is one of Night+Market’s most popular dishes.  Known as kor moo yang in Thai, this cut of meat is also very popular in Korean BBQ, where it is known as hangjungsal.  While I love this dish, I think I liked the Moo Yang Nom Khon slightly better, though my wife felt the opposite.  Regardless, there wasn’t a speck of either dish left by the end of the meal.

Pork Toro (Grilled Fatty Pig Neck) at Night+Market Song

Pork Toro (Grilled Fatty Pig Neck) at Night+Market Song

Gai Tod Naeng Noi ($11), fried chicken thighs served with namprik maengda (waterbug relish):  Another item from the Specials menu, the fried chicken thighs were crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, but of course everyone wanted to talk about the Thai relish made with the steamed innards of waterbugs.  I had had the namprik maengda last year at Night+Market in WeHo, and I found it to be innocuous.  It has a floral and/or herbal taste, nothing that you’d imagine a bug tasting like.  I also found it to leave a slight tingling in my mouth, more like from eucalyptus than from chiles.  The relish at this meal was really tasty; it was more smokey than what I had before, and I used the generous portion of relish long after the fried chicken thighs were gone, on the corn and with other dishes, it was that good!

Gai Tod Naeng Noi (Fried Chicken Thighs) w/Namprik Maengda (Waterbug Relish) at Night+Market Song

Gai Tod Naeng Noi (Fried Chicken Thighs) w/Namprik Maengda (Waterbug Relish) at Night+Market Song

Moo Sadoong ($9), grilled pork, basil, lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, lime, chile, onions, cilantro, rice powder:  Another popular dish on the regular menu, the ‘Startled Pig’ (the English translation of the dish’s name) is just multitude of flavor bombs in one dish.  It is also is quite spicy but can be made relatively mild.  It’s great on sticky rice.  I highly recommend this to anyone who loves pork.

Moo Sadoong ('Startled Pig') at Night+Market Song

Moo Sadoong ('Startled Pig') at Night+Market Song

Khao Pad American ($14), Thai strip club fried rice w/frozen peas ‘n’ carrots & raisins. Topped w/a sunny-side-up egg, served w/wiener blossoms & chicken wings:  The final item from the Specials menu, this was a fun dish!  The fried rice was sweet with the raisins, but it worked.  The hot-dog-topus were amusing!  I didn’t get to try the wings, but my younger daughter seemed to love it.  Not sure what makes this “strip club fried rice” since it seems more to me like “dorm kitchen” or “fridge/pantry leftovers” fried rice, where you just take whatever you have on hand and whip up a meal that’s a bit rough around the edges yet oddly satisfying.

Khao Pad American ('Thai Strip Club Fried Rice') at Night+Market Song

Khao Pad American ('Thai Strip Club Fried Rice') at Night+Market Song

Pad Thai, ($9), rice noodles, sweet radish, tofu, crushed peanuts, chile powder:  Our last dish of the night is not something I’d usually order, but I wanted to make sure those in our party who didn’t eat spicy had options.  The truth is that Night+Market’s pad thai works because of its simplicity, and I polished off quite a bit of this dish myself as everyone else was starting to get full toward the end of the meal.

Pad Thai at Night+Market Song

Pad Thai at Night+Market Song

As you can see, Night+Market Song, like Night+Market before it, is a great place to bring a large party.  There’s such a wide variety of dishes, and many are in the single-digit dollar range, so order a bunch and experiment!  Having said that, I’ve also been to both locations alone, ordering just two dishes and getting out for under $30 including tax and tip for dinner, and leaving satisfied!

Night+Market Song is truly a labor of love for chef Kris Yenbamroong, to leave the well-oiled machine of Night+Market WeHo and enter a space somewhat off the beaten path, where he’s the chef every night.  Apparently, Kris thrives under that pressure, because he’s turning out great new dishes as well as executing on the classics flawlessly.  I need to make a point of returning more often!

Night+Market Song
3322 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 665-5899
http://nightmarketla.com/

13 October 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Fried Chicken, Offal, Thai | Leave a comment

b.o.s. (Beef. Offal. Sustainable.), a review

In a cozy, 24-seat space next to venerable Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo, b.o.s. (beef. offal. sustainable.) has been trying to entice potential diners to experience their beef-centric, nose-to-tail concept since late 2013.  Despite positive reviews by press, blogs, and customers alike, business never really picked up, and, unfortunately, b.o.s. will be serving their last supper on Saturday, September 27.

This past week I had the privilege of dining at b.o.s. for my first, and possibly last, time.  I had met owner Jun Isogai and chef David Bartnes at the Plate by Plate benefit back in August, and was already in discussions to set up a tasting menu for a small group of friends when the announcement of their closure dropped.  But rather than dwell on the whys and wherefores of the demise of the restaurant, I hope to inspire you with this post to give b.o.s. a try before the end of the month.

When b.o.s. first opened, the menu had an omakase-style tasting menu option, but one is no longer listed.  However, a tasting menu can still be arranged with the restaurant with advance notice.  For our dinner, we had a budget of $300 for five people, and our goal was to sample the wide range of dishes available at b.o.s.  Jun and I narrowed the tasting menu down to 9 dishes from their a la carte menu that highlighted the breadth of nose-to-tail dining, including one large-format dish.  I also asked if chef David could create a dish just for our dinner, whatever inspired him at the moment.

Here was the progression of our meal:

Carpaccio of Tongue, pea sprouts, avocado, pickled shallots, Issan dressing:  While it isn’t totally indistinguishable from “regular” cuts of beef, if people can get over the idea of eating tongue, the taste and texture can come close to thinly sliced steak.  The tongue in this dish was sliced translucently thin, and had a delicate texture to match.  The flavors were light and bright, with just a touch of heat.

Carpaccio of Tongue at b.o.s.

Carpaccio of Tongue at b.o.s.

Sizzling Thai Tongue, Thai aromatics, lime chili sauce:  The second dish of tongue was quite different from the first, beyond the obvious hot-vs.-cold preparation methods.  Unlike in the carpaccio, the slices were thicker and thus meatier, so they did not overcook on the cast iron plate.  With the aromatics, this dish could pass as a simple beef stir-fry, a great “gateway” dish for offal-phobes.

Sizzling Thai Tongue at b.o.s.

Sizzling Thai Tongue at b.o.s.

Crispy Curried Calf Brain, butternut squash purée, arugula gremolata, grape compote:  Encased in a crisp breadcrumb shell, the calf brain had a relatively neutral taste, but its texture was creamy and fluffy at the same time.  The compote was unlike any I had tasted, not overly sweet, with a great astringency that contrasted with the creaminess of the brain.

Crispy Curried Calf Brain at b.o.s.

Crispy Curried Calf Brain at b.o.s.

Grilled Miso Heart, king oyster mushrooms, yuzu miso vinaigrette:  Another great “gateway” dish, the heart is an even more innocuous cut of meat than the tongue, in my opinion.  Beef heart tastes like really lean beef with a very fine texture.  Grilled rare, it retained a great tenderness.  Pairing it with the “meaty” king oyster mushroom was a great choice.

Grilled Miso Heart at b.o.s.

Grilled Miso Heart at b.o.s.

Sweetbread Tacos, salsa verde, pico de gallo, sriracha sour cream, pickled radish:  The only true disappointment of the night, this dish came highly recommended by other customers, but I found it to be just passable.  The breading was too thick and the sweetbreads a bit dry.  If only the tacos came with the excellent crispy calf brain instead…

Sweetbread Tacos at b.o.s.

Sweetbread Tacos at b.o.s.

Housemade Turkish Sausage, small intestine casing, ground beef, rice, herbs, spices, w/housemade harissa, yogurt sauce, shaved baby carrot salad:  I mentioned requesting a “chef’s choice” dish, and this was what chef David prepared for us,  inspired by a recent trip he took to Turkey.  The sausage was rather lean without being too dry, and a bit crumbly, almost like chorizo.  The inclusion of rice in the filling reminded me of meat-filled dolma.  This was a table favorite!

Housemade Turkish Sausage at b.o.s.

Housemade Turkish Sausage at b.o.s.

Fried Tripe “Calamari” & Small Intestines Chicharrón, cilantro garlic yogurt dip, Issan dressing:  This was one of the more offal-y dishes of the night, specifically the small intestines.  Mind you, they still tasted fairly mild, but I’m more used having intestines from pigs, whose diets not as clean as cows!  This was yet another delicious, accessible dish!

Fried Tripe 'Calamari' & Small Intestines Chicharrón at b.o.s.

Fried Tripe 'Calamari' & Small Intestines Chicharrón at b.o.s.

Roasted Bone Marrow, housemade furikake, 61° egg, sesame gochujang:  Marrow is not an unusual dish these days, and I originally eschewed it when setting up our menu, but Jun was generous enough to bring some out for us to try, on the house.  Boldly, chef David accompanies the already unctuous marrow with a similarly textured 61° egg.  This pairing works surprisingly well, with the different fats and proteins actually mellowing each other out rather than making the dish too heavy.

Roasted Bone Marrow at b.o.s.

Roasted Bone Marrow at b.o.s.

Braised Veal Cheek Pasta, shiitake mushrooms, braising sauce, olive oil poached tomatoes, housemade pappardelle:  This dish would have fit the nose-to-tail progression better at the start of our meal, but as a somewhat heavier dish, coming out later made sense.  I wasn’t sure how the pasta would be here, but I was pleasantly surprised by how perfectly al dente it was for my tastes.  I don’t usually eat veal, and I would have expected it to be more delicate, but the meat had some heft to it.

Braised Veal Cheek Pasta at b.o.s.

Braised Veal Cheek Pasta at b.o.s.

Whole Braised Oxtail, w/ras el hanout, farmer’s market vegetables:  This was our one large-format dish, advance order required.  Before chef David brought it out to the table, we could see him plating it at the chef’s counter, building our anticipation!  The oxtail itself probably measured 18″ long, and was quite a sight!  None of my fellow diners had seen a whole oxtail before.  And it tasted as impressively as it looked.  The braising accentuated the deep, rich, beefiness of the meat, the gelatin in the bones and fat in the meat made it tender and moist.  It was undeniably the best oxtail I’ve had!

Chef David Bartnes plating our Whole Braised Oxtail, at b.o.s.

Chef David Bartnes plating our Whole Braised Oxtail, at b.o.s.

The bigger surprise was how wonderful the vegetables were.  Surrounding the oxtail was an assortment of roasted heirloom carrots and peewee potatoes, 130° poached tomatoes, and pickled cauliflowers seasoned with North African spices.  The tomatoes, which were still snappy like raw tomatoes but had a more concentrated flavor from the poaching, were terrific.  I especially liked the pickled cauliflower, which were crisp and tart!

Whole Braised Oxtail at b.o.s.

Whole Braised Oxtail at b.o.s.

Beef Tendon Risotto, w/English peas, pea sprouts, radish, lardons:  Since we started off with tongue, I would have thought we’d end with tail, beyond the fact that the oxtail would be an incredibly tough act to follow.  But I was quite happy with our last dish of the night, and quite impressed with chef David’s execution of the two Italian dishes he served us.  Like the pasta, the rice was cooked perfectly, so that while it gave off enough starch to impart some creaminess, the individual grains still had some bite to them.  The rice was also packed with flavor from the beef stock that I assume was used in cooking it.  This was a great end to an amazing meal!

Beef Tendon Risotto at b.o.s.

Beef Tendon Risotto at b.o.s.

I am genuinely saddened by the closure of this ambitious restaurant.  The dishes at b.o.s. are not gimmicky at all, something that even I, an offal-phile was wary of, and the food was just downright delicious.  I was impressed with owner Jun Isogai’s pragmatism and positivity in the face of b.o.s.’s end, and with chef David Bartnes’s inventive and inspired cooking.

Jun told me after our meal that the nose-to-tail concept was his own, and when he was looking for a chef to execute his vision, he didn’t necessarily go looking for a chef who already knew a lot about offal.  Instead, he wanted to find a great chef who would just be inspired by the ingredient.  When he met David, the chef had never cooked with many of the ingredients he deftly handles now, like beef heart, but Jun said David told him that he just had to put the heart in his hand, and he will figure it out.  A romantic notion, but after tasting his cooking, I believe it.

If you have a chance to try b.o.s. before it closes, please do.  I wish all the luck in the world to both Jun and David in their future ventures, whether together or separately.

b.o.s.
424 E 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 700-7834
http://bos-la.com/

Acknowledgment:  With “offal” in my name, b.o.s. has been on my radar since it opened, but I just hadn’t had a chance to try it up until now.  A few months ago, I had an idea to crowdfund a restaurant review.  I knew this wouldn’t be a sustainable model for monetizing my food writing, but I figured I’d give it a try.  Of course, right as I was about to kick off my campaign, the “Potato Salad” Kickstarter thing went viral, so I held back for a bit, but after a few weeks I decided just to gogo for it, and the campaign ended with $100 in its funds!

So, this meal was fully funded by two individuals, each contributing $50.  After fees, I received just under $88.  My portion of the bill was $60 for the food, $3 for an iced green tea (I’m not a big drinker), plus tax and tip; I left $85.  The remaining $3 may not have covered gas for the drive (1.5 hours there, 30 minutes back–gotta love L.A. traffic), but I absolutely can’t complain!  My benefactors have decided to remain anonymous, but they (and I) know who they are, and I want to say “thank you” to them one more time!

14 September 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Brain, Fusion, Heart, Intestine, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Marrow, Mexican, Offal, Oxtail, Sweetbread, Tacos, Tendon, Thai, Tongue, Tripe, Turkish | Leave a comment

The Misfit’s $5 Bar Fly Lunches in Santa Monica

Crispy Chicken Sandwich at The Misfit

If someone asks you what Santa Monica is known for, as far as food goes, there are a few ways to go.   If you’re a gourmand, you’re likely to mention destination restaurants like Tar and Roses, Rustic Canyon, or Melisse.  If you’re a New England expat, though, perhaps the newly opened Dunkin Donuts is on your mind.  But “gourmet burgers” and “cheap eats” are probably not your first or second thoughts, and certainly not together.

However, even if you don’t realize it, Santa Monica is kind of known for gourmet burgers.  Within the city borders lie The Counter, Father’s Office, Hole in the Wall, Pono, Stout, Umami, to name a few.  But they are definitely not cheap eats!  In fact, it is unlikely you can lunch at any of these establishments for under $10, considering the burgers themselves start at $9 (or higher) and just go up from there!

There is one place in town quietly peddling a gourmet burger that holds its own against the above high-end specialists, and it can be had for only $5!

The Misfit, a restaurant and bar in the space previously occupied by Anisette Brasserie, at the base of the historic Clock Tower Building off the Third Street Promenade, has a “Bar Fly Lunch” special Monday through Friday, where one dish a day is available for $5.  The menu lists only three rules you must follow to take advantage of this deal: 1. only at the bar, 2. no holding seats, 3. done at 4 PM (doors open at noon).

The gourmet burger in question is available on Tuesdays for $5 at the bar.  The eponymous Misfit Burger (regularly $14) is made with grass-fed beef from Bartels Farms in Oregon.  It’s dressed with cheddar, dijonnaise, and caramelized onions, and served on a sesame brioche bun.  A fried cage-free egg is available gratis on request, and gluten-free buns or “protein” style serving options are available as well.  The burger itself is quite good and a decent portion, probably weighing in at a third of a pound.  The fixings are classic and complement rather than overwhelm the burger.

The Eponymous Misfit Burger at The Misfit

The Eponymous Misfit Burger at The Misfit

If burgers aren’t your thing, The Misfit still has you covered.  Two of the five Bar Fly Lunches are non-burgers/sandwiches.

Continuing on, Wednesdays‘ special is a Shredded Kale + Quinoa Salad (regularly $11).  Chicken or salmon may be added for an additional $4 or $6, respectively.  On the healthier side compared to the burger, the salad is composed of the aforementioned main ingredients, plus sunflower seeds, grapes, preserved lemons, manchego, and parmesan.  The dish is good but needs something in it to contrast more with the natural bitterness of the greens and cheese; the grapes help, but they aren’t quite enough.

The Misfit's Shredded Kale + Quinoa Salad w/Grilled Salmon

The Misfit's Shredded Kale + Quinoa Salad w/Grilled Salmon

Thursdays keep the health kick going with an Heirloom Brown Rice Bowl (regularly $10).  Replete with organic red quinoa, black beans, feta, pistachios, dandelion greens, with a poached egg cut right in front of you over the salad, and a bold smear of harissa against the side of the bowl, this is a well composed dish for ovo-lacto vegetarians, and anyone who wants to eat healthier without compromising on flavor.  The dandelion greens are particularly good!

Heirloom Brown Rice Bowl at The Misfit

Heirloom Brown Rice Bowl at The Misfit

Returning to meat-between-buns is FridaysAhi Burger (regularly $15), made with carefully ground sushi-grade tuna, seared, and topped with avocado, and spicy mayo.  You don’t come across many ground tuna burgers; most are just grilled solid filets of fish.  I was surprised at how well the patty held together.  With the other ingredients, this is a spicy tuna roll in burger form, which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does!

The Misfit's Ahi Tuna Burger

The Misfit's Ahi Tuna Burger

Circling back to the beginning of the week, and probably my favorite of the specials, Mondays‘ $5 Bar Fly Lunch is a Crispy Chicken Sandwich (regularly $14).  Made with Jidori chicken breasts, and dressed with a fennel apple slaw and spicy mayo, this dish is a winner (winner, chicken d–oh, never mind).  The breasts are plump and juicy, with a really crisp breading on the outside.  This is one of the better chicken sandwiches I’ve had–much better than Plan Check’s, in my opinion!

Crispy Jidori Chicken Sandwich at The Misfit

Crispy Jidori Chicken Sandwich at The Misfit

For sides, The Misfit makes some pretty decent shoestring fries (regularly $6 on the dinner menu, I believe it’s cheaper at lunch at the bar).  One order of fries is large enough for 2-3 people, so, if you’re solo, be prepared to take some with you.  But if you don’t want to fill up on fries, and one order of the special is not quite enough, you can order multiples!  I saw a guy eat three ahi burgers at the bar on a Friday once.

But save some room, because each meal at The Misfit (Bar Fly Lunch and otherwise, I believe) ends with complimentary salted chocolate chip cookies!  They’re not the best in the world, but they’re decent, and free!

The Misfit's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Misfit's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

So what are the downsides?  The bar is first-come, first-serve, so you might find it difficult to sit together if you have a large party.  Also, the place is pretty generous with the burger/sandwich toppings, making for pretty messy eats.  However, unlike some of the fancy burger joints mentioned earlier, The Misfit does allow modifications, so if you want to go light on the dijonnaise or have the fennel apple slaw on the side, you can!

The Misfit also has a day-long happy hour, well drinks for $5 until 7 PM and discounts on other drinks.  Since I had to go back to work on the occasions I visited, I mostly imbibed Kombucha Dog‘s pleasantly funky Wild Berry Ginger Kombucha, on tap at The Misfit for $4 during happy hour!  The 1% ABV means they have to card you, but at least you won’t smell like a lush back at the office.

Kombucha Dog's Wild Berry Ginger Kombucha at The Misfit

Kombucha Dog's Wild Berry Ginger Kombucha at The Misfit

Oh, if you have little ones, they are allowed to sit at the bar to take advantage of the deal.  Makes them feel real grown up.  Just be sure to cut them off after a few Roy Rogers and Shirley Temples.

The Misfit
225 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310-656-9800
http://www.themisfitbar.com/

06 September 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: American, Fried Chicken, Gastropub, Hamburger, Salads | Leave a comment

Sushi Tsujita Dinner Omakase

Chutoro (Medium Fatty Tuna) Sashimi at Sushi Tsujita

Sushi Tsujita
2006 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-231-1177
http://tsujita-la.com/sushi-tsujita/

Sushi has never been more ubiquitous in Los Angeles.  A quick Yelp search, limiting the query just to sushi bars in the “Sawtelle” neighborhood (defined generously as the area bounded by Wilshire/National to the north and south, and Sepulveda/Centinela to the east and west), produces 26 results!  It is in this crowded field that Sushi Tsujita debuts.

Reservations at the 10-seat bar are already difficult to come by, so buzz is certainly on the side of the two-week old restaurant.  With the success of the two noodle shops just down the block, can Tsujita pull off a hat trick with their entry into high-end sushi?

From the moment you arrive, Sushi Tsujita gives you something to talk about, even before stepping into the restaurant proper.  The chandelier in the “enclosed patio” (as the website calls it) imbues the space with a hip, lounge-y vibe.  Indeed, I witnessed members of a large reservation of 10, mingling there with pre-dinner drinks while waiting for their entire party to arrive, and it was very much a party!

The interior design is a polarizing topic, at least on Chowhound; some have gone as far as to swear off the restaurant because of it.  The truth is that the walls, which I described as “geometric and geodesic” in my Eater LA piece, is not nearly as distracting in person as it might appear from the wide shots of the interior.  If you’re sitting at the bar, you will be focused on your itamae, or, more specifically, on the food he is serving.

Even at a banquette, while interviewing Tsujita’s general manager Kenta Ikehata, I did not find the designs to be a distraction.  However, if you’re truly put off by the walls, just close your eyes while eating.  Even if you like the decor, many of the dishes you will taste may cause you to do so anyway, as you pause to savor them.

The kuromaguro akami zuke, lean Atlantic bluefin tuna (from Boston), marinated for 4 hours in soy sauce, is one such dish.  The incredibly deep, concentrated flavor of the fish, along with its unfortunate ecological baggage, is the definition of “guilty pleasure”.  Even if you’re accustomed to dropping a few Benjamins per meal on sushi, it may be the best tuna you shouldn’t be eating.

Kuromaguro Akami Zuke (Marinated Lean Atlantic Bluefin Tuna) at Sushi Tsujita

Kuromaguro Akami Zuke (Marinated Lean Atlantic Bluefin Tuna) at Sushi Tsujita

A momotaro tomato dish will likely trigger comparisons to Shunji Nakao’s signature Agedashi Tomato Tofu dish, but they could not be more different for having the same main ingredient.  Nakao’s “tofu”—as molecular-gastronomic as he gets with his creative, non-sushi dishes—is an exercise in contrasts:  soft yet crisp, sweet yet savory.

Sushi Tsujita, however, takes the natural sweetness of the vegetable (fruit!) and amplifies it.  The result is a glistening orb, sitting in its own juices, bereft of its skin and tender enough to be eaten just with a spoon, topped with a wine-soaked blueberry in place of the proverbial cherry on top.

Momotaro Tomato 'au jus' at Sushi Tsujita

Momotaro Tomato 'au jus' at Sushi Tsujita

The momotaro tomato may turn out to be the most decadent course in your meal, perhaps moreso than the melon compote dessert.  But, it also serves as a palate cleanser, before sashimi is delicately placed on the dark, wide “stage” of a platform that sits at eye-level in front of you instead of the traditional wooden geta.

Two pieces each of chutoro, medium-fatty tuna, and hata, grouper, take the stage, the latter sandwiching a translucent, perfectly circular slice of sudachi, a Japanese citrus similar to yuzu.  The fresh wasabi is ground so fine, it looks like lime paint on the stage-cum-paint palette.  The server presents a dish of “sashimi soy sauce” for the fish, which is as marvelous as you’d expect, the sudachi seasoning the hata just so, but equally marvelous is how well each course is composed, and how effortlessly itamae and servers move you along from course to course.

Chutoro (Medium-Fatty Tuna) and Hata (Grouper) Sashimi at Sushi Tsujita

Chutoro (Medium-Fatty Tuna) and Hata (Grouper) Sashimi at Sushi Tsujita

Service is essentially impeccable, no prior soft-open period or friends & family nights required.  It’s funny to see some of the same t-shirted waitstaff from Tsujita’s two ramen-ya dressed smartly in black button-down shirts with sharp platinum ties, but if they have any issues switching gears between the disparate dining environments, they do not show it.  Early reports did indicate that free tap water was not offered or served, only expensive bottled water.  However, that initial misstep had already corrected itself by the second week.

Bottled-Watergate aside, Sushi Tsujita is not without its misses.  The shari, or sushi rice, can be a little inconsistent, in temperature and texture.  It starts warmer than room temperature earlier in the nigiri service, but is noticeably, though not significantly, cooler with the later pieces.  The hangiri, wooden bucket that holds the shari, I saw behind the bar seemed rather small, and I did not notice it being replenished during meal, which might have contributed to the temperature issue.  Also, while most of the fish were superb, I had a piece of kohada, gizzard shad, that was quite a bit saltier than it should have been.

Kohada (Gizzard Shad) Nigiri at Sushi Tsujita

Kohada (Gizzard Shad) Nigiri at Sushi Tsujita

Is Tsujita three-for-three on Sawtelle?  I’m going to say, “Yes.”  I was cautiously optimistic leading up to my visit.  I have to say I am pleasantly surprised, both by the quality of the food was and also by how well run the restaurant was for being in operation less than two weeks.  A part of it, I think, was going with proven waitstaff from their other restaurants, but a bigger part is likely the decision to hire seasoned itamae from the L.A. area.  If you’ve frequented Shunji Japanese Cuisine, or Katsuya (or is it Katsu-Ya?), you might just recognize one or two of the faces behind the bar.

So, you may be wondering, what is chef Shigeru Kato‘s role in the restaurant?  Since his English is not as strong as the other itamae, he seems to mostly interact with Japanese-speaking clientele.  However, his role appears more to be as executive chef, directing the meals the other itamae are preparing.  He is also wholly responsible for selecting and procuring the fish that the restaurant uses.

Last, but not least, Kato-san makes the traditional closing dish for a sushi meal, the tamagoyaki, or egg omelet.  As made famous in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, tamagoyaki is said to be the showcase of a sushi’s chef’s skill.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that tamagoyaki preparations can vary greatly, from Kiriko’s spongy soufflé, to Q’s pound cake, to of course the ubiquitous layered omelets served everywhere.  Kato-san’s is unlike any tamagoyaki I’ve had.  It is dense, not as moist, and has an almost bread-like consistency.  It is hardy enough to be hand-torn when served.  It is also pretty darn good.

Tamagoyaki (Egg Omelet) at Sushi Tsujita

Tamagoyaki (Egg Omelet) at Sushi Tsujita

Additional photos below.

Dinner:  Omakase only, currently, available in three levels: $120, $150, $180.  A variety of dishes, from an opener of steamed awabi (abalone), a trio of amuse-bouche, and an anago shinjo (fish cake made with sea eels) soup, are served before moving onto sashimi, nigiri, and dessert.  Expect dishes to change regularly based on available ingredients.

Lunch:  Service starts on Tuesday, August 26.  A variety of price points are available, including a $15 chirashi bowl that’s limited to only 15 servings per day.

Steamed Awabi (Abalone) at Sushi Tsujita

Steamed Awabi (Abalone) at Sushi Tsujita

Nanbanzuke (Fried, Marinated Fish), Ayu (Sweetfish) in Yuzu w/Kombu, Hamoko (Pike Conger Eel Roe) w/Tamagoyaki & Caviar, at Sushi Tsujita

Nanbanzuke (Fried, Marinated Fish), Ayu (Sweetfish) in Yuzu w/Kombu, Hamoko (Pike Conger Eel Roe) w/Tamagoyaki & Caviar, at Sushi Tsujita

Hata (Grouper) Sashimi, Asatsuki (Chives) & Momiji Oroshi (Grated Daikon & Red Chili Pepper) at Sushi Tsujita

Hata (Grouper) Sashimi, Asatsuki (Chives) & Momiji Oroshi (Grated Daikon & Red Chili Pepper) at Sushi Tsujita

Kurodai (Black Sea Bream), Kuromutsu (Bluefish), Shimaaji (Striped Jack), Masunosuke (Alaskan King Salmon), at Sushi Tsujita

Kurodai (Black Sea Bream), Kuromutsu (Bluefish), Shimaaji (Striped Jack), Masunosuke (Alaskan King Salmon), at Sushi Tsujita

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp), Uni (Santa Barbara Sea Urchin), Seared Miyazaki Wagyu Beef, Ikura (Salmon Roe), at Sushi Tsujita

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp), Uni (Santa Barbara Sea Urchin), Seared Miyazaki Wagyu Beef, Ikura (Salmon Roe), at Sushi Tsujita

Ootoro (Fatty Tuna), Okoze (Sculpin), Saba (Mackerel), at Sushi Tsujita

Ootoro (Fatty Tuna), Okoze (Sculpin), Saba (Mackerel), at Sushi Tsujita

Anago (Salt Water Eel) at Sushi Tsujita

Anago (Salt Water Eel) at Sushi Tsujita

Melon Compote at Sushi Tsujita

Melon Compote at Sushi Tsujita

Disclosure:  My meal was gratis, drinks and gratuity not included.

25 August 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Japanese, Sushi | 2 comments

Sushi Tsujita: A Conversation with Kenta Ikehata

Appetizer at Sushi Tsujita

Update:  My dinner omakase at Sushi Tsujita review is up!

As I drive into Little Osaka, I spy the long lines outside both Tsujita L.A. Artisan Noodle and Tsujita Annex, across from each other on Sawtelle Boulevard. Mid-afternoon. In the summer heat. Those hoping that the crowds will be thinned, or at least redistributed, by the introduction of a third noodle shop from the Tokyo-based ramen-ya, may be surprised to hear that plans have changed.

The new restaurant is no longer named “Tsujita Villa” (as was previously announced). It will not be serving ramen.

Breathe.

Instead, Sushi Tsujita, scheduled to open August 12, will serve traditional edomae-style sushi in an omakase-only format.

It is three days before doors open to the public, and the restaurant is buzzing with pre-opening activity. I am inside the swank new space, having a conversation with Kenta Ikehata, General Manager of Tsujita’s U.S. operations, about how Sushi Tsujita came to be. Continue Reading →

11 August 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Interview, Japanese, Ramen, Sushi | Leave a comment

Project by Project’s Plate by Plate 2014

Superba Food + Bread's Tiramisu & Arctic Char

Thanks to Eater LA, I was able to attend Plate by Plate 2014, the annual Project by Project fundraising benefit, on a media pass.  The event article I wrote for Eater LA is up:  Please check it out!  (Incidentally, the progression of the photographs in the article is, for the most part, in reverse chronological order, for some reason.)

My photos for the article focused on capturing the event’s ambiance and its participants, but I still had plenty of “food porn” fodder for my Instagram feed.  Below are a just few of my favorite shots from the evening. Continue Reading →

04 August 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Events and Festivals | 4 comments

Shunji Salmon Birthdays

Salmon Sashimi Salad with Caviar

When my wife and I were trying to decide where to celebrate our birthdays last month, it wasn’t really a matter of choosing a spot.  We both pretty much had the same place in mind:  Shunji!  We wanted a special meal, befitting a birthday celebration (or two), but money’s been tight lately.  We couldn’t splurge on anything too decadent, like the infamous truffle gohan that even Shunji himself is reluctant to serve because of its cost.

Instead, I worked with Yuko to arranged a meal centered around my wife’s favorite fish:  salmon.  To keep costs manageable, we went mid-day to take advantage of their lunch deals, but I also asked if Shunji would prepare one or two non-sushi courses showcasing the theme ingredient.  What we ended up with was a very reasonable, yet quite special, birthday lunch. Continue Reading →

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31 July 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Japanese, Sushi | Leave a comment

The Early Bird Special at Flores and The Ladies’ Gunboat Society

Early Bird Fried Chicken Special

Flores on Sawtelle, in West Los Angeles’s Little Osaka neighborhood, opened just over a year ago, with the dishes introduced by its opening chefs, husband-wife team Rob Lawson and Angela Hernandez, both alums of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in NYC, well received.  In April of this year, however, the two chefs and owner Amal Flores parted ways, and the restaurant closed for a few weeks while incoming chef Brian Dunsmoor and pastry chef Sarah “Bearclaw” Lange, both of The Hart and the Hunter, developed a menu that focuses on Southern fare.

(Chef Dunsmoor continues to operate THatH with chef Kris Tominaga, while chef Lange has recently departed THatH to work with Field Trip at the Farmers Kitchen, but both are still involved with Flores.)

To go with the culinary shift, Flores also underwent a name change of sorts, to The Ladies’ Gunboat Society (19th century women’s organizations that raised funds and supported Confederate efforts during the Civil War), though technically it is a name “appendment”.  The restaurant’s menus, website, and Facebook page all render its name as “Flores & The Ladies’ Gunboat Society”.  Apparently, the plan is for the restaurant to shake up its chefs, concepts, and name every once in a while, sort of like Fifty Seven in DTLA.

Continue Reading →

15 July 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: American, Fried Chicken, Southern | 2 comments

Tacolandia 2014

George's El Pescado Taco: Achiote Cured Snapper, Avocado, Pineapple, Jalapeño Salsa, Cilantro, Cabbage, Crispy Fish Skin

LA Weekly‘s and Bill “Street Gourmet LA” Esparza’s sophomore Tacolandia food festival took place on Saturday, June 28, 2014, in the Plaza Park at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, adjacent to historic Olvera Street, a change from the parking lot of the Hollywood Palladium last year.  Anticipation had been building recently, with the inaugural event having received near-universal acclaim from those attending; Bill linked to many of the positive reports in his own debrief last year, including mine.

I started looking forward to this year’s event shortly after the last one ended.  When tickets went on sale a few months ago, I was not going to let Tacolandia get sold out again without getting tickets and then have to beg, cajole, or steal (or, in my case last year, win) them to attend.  So, I grabbed a Premium Admission for $45, a $20 “premium” over general admission.  which included a “VIP” gift bag and 5 drink tickets.  As expected, the event sold out, and finally the date had arrived.  Would it live up to expectations?  Would there be a sophomore slump?  Well, I have some good news and some bad news. Continue Reading →

30 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Mexican, Tacos | 1 comment

Guerrilla Tacos

Fried Oyster & Beef Tendon Taco, Raw Tomatillo Chile, Herbs, Shallots

“That guy could turn me vegetarian!”  I uttered, or rather, typed, these unlikely-if-you-knew-me words on Chowhound last night.  The “guy” in question is chef Wesley Avila of Guerrilla Tacos, who will apparently be serving a vegetarian taco with mushrooms and hazelnut “dirt” at Tacolandia 2014 (happening mañana at the time of writing). Continue Reading →

27 June 2014 by The Offalo
Categories: Mexican, Tacos | Leave a comment

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