Venice’s Superba Food + Bread has had an interesting year so far, shuffling nearly all key back-of-house staff in the last couple of months–check Eater LA for the blow-by-blow details. Having an unexpected Saturday evening free a few weeks ago, I decided to see whether the food was worth all the backroom drama.
Pain d’Epi: Complimentary bread is available upon request at Superba Food + Bread. I assume the type varies daily. I was served a pain d’epi, a classic French bread in the shape of a wheat stalk, which was nice and crusty on the outside, while being soft and moist on the inside. The butter was pretty good too; I think had a little cracked pepper in it.
Jidori Chopped Liver Toast, pink lady apple butter, pickled shallots, truffleberts: Of course, I’m not going to pass up an offal dish if I can help it. My first impression, when the toast was set in front of me, was that it seemed pretty skimpy on the liver. However, I actually found the the dish to be well balanced. The apple butter was sweet, but not cloying and contrasted well with the mild bitterness of the liver. Anyone know what “truffleberts” are?
Octopus Salad, frisée, arugula, celery, fingerlings, whole grain mustard, lemon: I wasn’t sure what I was going to get for my second dish; the online menu had not been updated to match the menu I was given on my visit, and did not have this item on it. However, when I saw it on the print menu, I knew I had to try it. The octopus was slightly warm, and relatively tender, and didn’t overshadow the super-fresh veggies, including some wonderful asparagus not listed in the dish’s description.
Verve Coffee Caffe Latte: Since I wasn’t in much of a hurry, when offered a coffee at the end of my meal, I gladly accepted. Since sunlight was quickly fading, as evidenced by the image below, I would have preferred a decaf, but alas they did not have any decaf roasts that night. I opted for a straight latte, which was competent and comforting.
Coconut Panna Cotta:, strawberry gelée, candied pistachios: Panna cotta is one of my favorite desserts, and I’ve had some interesting and wonderful ones, including one made with yogurt and passion fruit at Gjelina, also in Venice. I do like the sweet, creamy dessert to be paired with a more tart fruit, but the strawberry gelée was great with it, as was the pistachios for some textural contrast. Apologies for the quality of the image–the sun had set by this point and I snuck a flash shot in, which I almost never do.
While armchair commentators have been predicting the demise of the restaurant for months now, any time I drove by that stretch of Lincoln Boulevard, the parking lot was full, and the place seemed hopping, so I guess business has not been affected much, if at all. Things seemed to have quieted down–as far as staffing news goes–in the past month, so hopefully the restaurant can settle into a nice groove. I hear that, with the new executive chef, and the transition from spring to summer, the menu will be changing, and I enjoyed this meal enough to go back again!
Superba Food + Bread
1900 S Lincoln Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
Last month, I was invited to try Umami Burger‘s 9-Course Tasting Menu challenge! I gathered up three poker buddies and descended on Umami’s Hollywood location on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. Two and a half hours later, we had worked our way through 3 appetizers, 8 burgers, 3 full-sized cocktails, and 2 small pours each of real sugar soda, beer, and wine!
For me, the highlights of the tasting menu were the Manly Burger, the Hatch Burger, and, of course, the Cheesy Tots. The Truffle Burger, Ahi Tuna Burger, and Umami Burger were also good, but the Greenbird and Cali Burger kinda got lost in the mix. The Throwback Burger was disappointing, only because the twin patties were too well done–they’re supposed to be medium-well but were way past that. Also disappointing was the usually-great onion rings, which were very unevenly fried.
On the drink side, the small pours didn’t really allow us to get a good idea of the wines, and the sodas seemed a bit flat. I did enjoy the samples of Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout and Victory Golden Monkey, surprisingly the only two beers in the tasting. The winners, though, were the three full-sized cocktails: the Maple Bacon Old Fashioned, the Spicy Mezcalrita, and, my favorite, the Blackberry Swizzle.
I’ve eaten at Umami Burger many times before, and nothing on the food end really took me by surprise, except maybe their consistency at cooking all of their burgers perfectly medium-rare (except the Throwback). On the drink end, the cocktail program did surprised me, and I’ll definitely have to keep that in mind next time I go to my local Umami Burger.
Below are a few more burgers from the tasting menu. Check out my Instagram feed for the rest of the food and beverages!
Thanks again to Umami Burger for the invite!
1520 N Cahuenga Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
I’ve never been to Ramen Jinya in Studio City, the first U.S. location of Jinya ramen bars that was lauded in 2010 by both Rickmond Wong, the Rameniac, and by Jonathan Gold, then of L.A. Weekly. I hadn’t gotten to try the short-lived Sawtelle Boulevard outpost, even though it was much closer to me than the Valley. If I want ramen on the Westside, I almost always head to Tsujita or its Annex across Sawtelle. The latest outpost of Jinya Ramen Bar, however, is making me change my mind, just a little.
I’m all about the food here, which is why I don’t have a shot of the interior (or, more importantly, the exterior), but the new Jinya in Santa Monica is probably the nicest looking ramen-ya I’ve been to, with a fantastic patio anchored by large tables with fire pit centerpieces. I have yet to go at night, but I imagine it would be pretty great to enjoy a hot bowl of noodle soup on that patio on a “chilly” night. But let’s get to the food.
Premium Tonkotsu White Ramen: On my first visit, I didn’t want to get anything too heavy, so I opted for the ostensibly lighter “White” ramen. Despite the menu stating the broth was made with pork and chicken, it was still true to its tonkotsu name, with a very milky, porcine base. The pork chashu was sliced not too thin, and held together well while remaining tender. Always great to find kikurage, wood ear mushrooms, in a bowl of ramen. The ajitsuke tamago, seasoned egg, was properly hanjuku, medium-boiled, with a nice semi-runny yolk, but alas it was only half and not a whole egg. The noodles were thin and al dente, just how I like them. [$9.80]
Crispy Chicken & Salad: I had to try something additional on that first visit, and fortunately the menu obliged me with a list of five Combinations that can be added on to an order of ramen for either $4.50 (Pork Gyoza, Crispy Chicken, or Chicken Chashu Bowl) or $5.50 (Pork Chashu Bowl, or Tokyo Curry Rice), all with a simple side salad. I opted for the karaage, crispy chicken. The add-on included three decent-sized pieces of fried boneless chicken, thigh pieces I believe. They were very good, with a relatively light batter, hot and crisp on the outside while still moist on the inside. [$4.50]
Jinya Tonkotsu Black Ramen: On my second visit, I ordered one of two ramen on the menu with the “Jinya” in the name (the other being the Jinya Chicken Ramen). The Jinya Tonkotsu Black is definitely a headier bowl than the White ramen I had on my first visit, with garlic chips and black garlic oil slicks floating on the pork broth. It was served with thin noodles as well, which was slightly softer than I had on my first visit, but fortunately not too mushy. The chashu, though, was a bit mushy, and thinner slices too.
The kitchen had forgotten my ajitama, and when I asked about it, the waiter brought one out for me. It was a whole egg, rather than a half an egg like in the Tonkotsu White–not sure if that’s how it comes normally in the Tonkotsu Black, or if it was just because it came out separately. (I’m assuming an a la carte order of the seasoned egg for $1.00 is a whole egg.) Again, properly hanjuku! (Pardon my cutting job in the picture below–I didn’t have a knife!)
Takoyaki: Again, I had to try something else too while I was there, and I opted for some octopus balls, which, despite the fact that I would probably still eat it, are not actually octopus testicles. Do octopus have testicles? Anyway, these are essentially fritters made with chopped octopus meat. Jinya’s takoyaki was quite good, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with a decent amount of octopus in each. The sauce wasn’t too sweet, but they were a little skimpy with the bonito flakes. They didn’t skimp on the mayo, if you like that sort of thing. I liked that they used it almost as a base to set the takoyaki in, rather than slather it on top. That way, you can better control how much mayo you wanted. [$5.80]
Jinya has been expanding in the past few years, and much of the company’s website is devoted to franchising information, so I’m not sure which of their outposts in California, or in other states like Nevada, Texas, and Washington, or even their locations in Vancouver, Canada, are owned by the parent company or franchises. I’m not even sure it matters much, if they can maintain their quality. Incidentally, folks living in the Windy City will soon be able to grab a bowl of Tonkotsu Black, as Chicago will be getting their own Jinya Ramen Bar this summer.
Has Jinya supplanted Tsujita and Tsujita Annex in my heart? Hardly. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. And unlike on Sawtelle, there is actually a decent amount of parking for Jinya, with a large public lot right behind the strip mall that houses the ramen-ya. For those beach bums who don’t even want to drive as far as Santouka at Mitsuwa, much less Sawtelle, Jinya is rather the solid option. As I only semi-joked to some friends, it is the best ramen in Santa Monica!
Jinya Ramen Bar
2400 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Poke is “having a moment” in Los Angeles, with no less than five restaurants specializing in the popular Hawaiian dish opening recently. Of this new wave, the closest to me is Sweetfin Poké in Santa Monica, which opened just two weeks ago. Anticipation has been high for this bright, modern space, fittingly next to the ostensibly Hawaiian-inspired gourmet burger joint Pono Burger on Broadway. News that chef Dakota Weiss, a Top Chef season 9 competitor, would be the culinary brains behind the operation, just stoked the fires. On opening day, I arrived at 11:35 AM, a mere 5 minutes after their doors opened, and I was already the 8th or 9th person in line!
At Sweetfin Poké, you have the option to Build Your Own Bowl, but chef Weiss has developed a series of Signature Bowls with specific combinations of ingredients that are very well composed. The selection on the menu is quite extensive, and most people can probably find something they like, unless they don’t like fish, or Japanese influenced flavors, in which case they’re in the wrong establishment!
One can make 90 combinations with just the six “Top It” selections (tuna, salmon, snapper, albacore, tofu, seafood), five “Sauce It” choices (Classic, Creamy Togarashi, Yuzu Koshu[sic], Ponzu-Lime, Sriracha Ponzu), and three “Base It” platforms (Bamboo Rice, Kelp Noodle-Cucumber Slaw, Citrus-Kale Salad)! That doesn’t even count the two-dozen-plus “Add Ons” that can be used to further customize your poke. It can be daunting, so I highly recommend starting with a Signature Bowl and then adding on–that’s what I did on my first visit!
Spicy Yuzu Salmon on Kelp Noodle-Cucumber Slaw: I was very happy with my first taste of Sweetfin. I added on seaweed salad and fresh ginger to this Signature Bowl, which also comes with edamame, soy beans. The yuzukosho, a sauce made with yuzu and pickled chiles, lent a spicy-tart note to the bright, fresh fish. The snappy “crunchiness” of the kelp noodles, as well as the soy beans and seaweed salad, were great textural contrasts to the salmon. [$12.95 for a large]
BYOB – Albacore, Ponzu-Lime, Bamboo Rice: On my second visit, I tried my hands at the Build Your Own Bowl (BYOB), and my results were somewhat mixed. Normally I would have gone with the yuzukosho for this fish, but since I already had that with the salmon I wanted to try something different, and as a result, the albacore seemed a little bland. The tobiko (flying fish roe) add-on didn’t seem to pack the usual salty punch either.
The part I had the most trouble with, though, was the Bamboo Rice, which is short grain rice cooked with bamboo roots. It has a greenish tint to it, normally, though what I had in this bowl looked as white as rice to me and didn’t taste much different either. The main issue was that it was quite al dente, with an almost undercooked texture. When I asked one of the owners about it, he said they were going for a rice that was not as moist and sticky, but I felt what I had on that visit wasn’t exactly what they were going for. [$13.95 for a large]
While I went twice of my own volition, my third visit about a week after they opened was an invite from Krupa Consulting, the PR company that was helping promote Sweetfin. Instead of having a pre-made selection to sample from, I was able to order two of the Signature Bowls to try.
Kale Snapper on Citrus-Kale Salad: I haven’t seen snapper before on a poke menu–granted I’ve only been to a handful of poke establishments–and was curious to see how it would. Being a milder fish, the shoyu-sesame oil sauce helped give the snapper some flavor, with the chile marinated oranges providing a fairly mellow kick. The kale salad is a great healthy option, but of the three bases I definitely prefer the kelp noodles. [$12.95 for a large, hosted]
Classic Tuna on Bamboo Rice: I have to say the Bamboo Rice in this Signature Bowl grew on me a bit. The rice did have the greenish tint it was lacking in the previous bowl and a little more flavor. It still has a very firm texture, so keep that in mind if you go with this base. It worked best when the fish was well mixed into the rice. The tuna itself was very fresh and flavorful, as it should be. The crispy onions were a fun addition–I saw lots of people getting this add-on! [$12.95 for a large, hosted]
BYOB – Salmon, Classic Sauce, Kelp Noodle-Cucumber Slaw: On my most recent visit, I brought my wife, and this was her creation. She really piled on the textures with crispy garlic and onions, cucumbers, and macadamia nuts. On that visit, Sweetfin was particularly swamped, and chile oil was added to my wife’s bowl even though she hadn’t asked for it. Also the sauce did not taste like the classic shoyu-sesame oil that she selected. Fortunately, she loved what she got, and, ironically, she said she’d order it again except she’s not quite sure what exact combination of choices made it taste the way it did. [$13.95 for a large]
Shiitake Chili Tofu on Kelp Noodle-Cucumber Slaw: I figured I’d try one of the vegetarian options, and went with this Signature Bowl. It was pretty darn good, though it was missing the chile oil that perhaps ended up in my wife’s bowl instead. I boosted the protein with edamame and loaded up on umami (the supposed “fifth” taste that the Japanese use to describe foods that are more “flavorful”) with seaweed salad and the pickled shiitake mushrooms that is part of this bowl. I’d probably still opt for fish over tofu though, but it’s great that vegetarians and even vegans have options here. [$12.95 for a large]
All of the bowls pictured above are Large, which cost $12.95. A Small is $8.95. Regardless of size, the bowls are $1.00 less with tofu or veggies instead of fish. The add-ons are mostly free and you can add as many as you want, though four of them are considered “premium” (avocado, flying fish roe, macadamia nuts, pickled shiitake mushrooms) and are $1.00 additional each.
From what I’ve seen these past two weeks, Sweetfin Poké is doing quite alright! Lunch lines are long but move quickly. They’re doing a brisk takeout business as well. The housemade iced teas are excellent–I’ve tried the guava and the mango curry ginger tea–as are their fruit-infused coconut waters. They also sell something called Matcha Pop, which are not green tea paletas like I had assumed, but popcorn tossed with matcha, white chocolate, toasted coconut–the closest thing they have to dessert (so far), and quite addicting!
Their perhaps not-fully anticipated success means they’ve had some inventory issues. On more than one occasion one or more of the fish were not available. On my most recent visit, they were out of Bamboo Rice. But they are learning and stocking more and more appropriately and have recently changed their hours from being closed for a few hours in the afternoon–like a sushi restaurant–to opening straight through from 11:30 AM to 9 PM.
My biggest issue with Sweetfin is that I’m not quite full after even a Large bowl. Also, their prices are a bit higher than, say, the Venice Beach poke mainstay Poke-Poke, which are $7/$11 for Small and Large sizes, respectively, but presumably Sweetfin has higher overhead. Also, despite the variety of options at Sweetfin, you cannot get your poke “Hawaiian Style” (without rice) like at most of the old school poke spots–at least the menu doesn’t mention it. None of this is going to stop me from going back, though!
Santa Monica, CA 90401
L.A. Taco‘s “Taco Madness 2015″ took place on Sunday. Unlike the previous two years’ events, which took place at Grand Park and had free admission, this year’s was held at Villains Tavern in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles and you were required to buy a ticket to attend. Tickets cost $10 and included a drink at the bar, so if you factored in the value of the drink, admission itself was nominal. The benefit was that it granted attendees exclusive access to a short but well-curated list of taco trucks from which to purchase tacos, tacos, and more tacos!
The participating trucks included this year’s winner of the Taco Madness 2015 bracket (and my personal favorite) Guerrilla Tacos, as well as runner-up (and former winner) Mariscos Jalisco, and semi-finalist Carnitas El Momo. Rounding out the trucks were bracket participants Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla and Tacos Cuernavaca, as well as Oaxaca on Wheels, which was not part of the Taco Madness 2015 bracket.
The event was pleasantly low key, with plenty of space, seating, and shade for the attendees, quick lines at each truck, and light crowds overall (purposefully so, as the event was sold out), an apparent contrast to last year’s event, which, I heard from friends and acquaintances, was a bit of a mob scene. Some amazing street artists were doing their work, while Azul “213” Amaral hosted, and guest DJs provided some lively music, but since none of that’s in my wheelhouse, I’ll leave it to someone else to cover. I was just there to eat some great tacos, to paraphrase Bill Esparza, who I ran into there.
[Disclosure: Since I had recently written a primer to offal tacos for L.A. Taco, I attended Taco Madness for free as an invited guest, but I paid for the food like everyone else. I even gave away my drink ticket. Opinions, as always, are entirely mine.]
Carnitas El Momo‘s Taco de Lengua: This trailer, considered by many (myself included) to have the best carnitas in the city, served up pork tongue especially for Taco Madness. The texture of it is different than the more commonly found beef lengua, a little firmer and chewier, but still amazingly tender and delicious! [$3/taco]
Carnitas El Momo‘s APorkAlypse Taco: The surtido taco, a mix of the maciza (shoulder), buche (maw or stomach), and cuerito (skin), was rebranded “APorkAlypse” for the event. Fantastic as always, under any name! [$3/taco]
Mariscos Jalisco‘s Tacos de Camaron: The dish this truck is best known for, these dorados (fried) shrimp tacos are crunchy, spicy, and delicious! I need to go to the truck during regular operating hours to try the other items on the menu, as they were only serving this item today. [$2.25/taco]
Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla‘s Taco Arabe: This was the first time I had taco arabe, the spit-roasted and shaved meat that’s a cross between Middle Eastern shawarma and Mexican al pastor. The meat did remind me of shawarma and it was very good, but my favorite part was the queso Oaxaca, the shredded string cheese that topped the meat! [$3 for the flour tortilla taco, $1 for the cheese]
Tacos Cuernavaca’s Tacos de Cecina & Chorizo: Bill Esparza’s been talking up this place since 2010, but it’s also gotten some recent press on Eater LA. They weren’t serving any lobster tails there (see previous link), but I really enjoyed the cecina (flat, marinated beef) and chorizo (spicy sausage). They also had some killer salt-crusted roasted whole peppers on the condiments table! [$2.50/taco, if I remember correctly.]
Guerrilla Tacos‘ Sweet Potato, Oxtail & Foie Gras, and Farmer’s Market Tacos: I’ve already expounded on why I love this truck so much (twice), so I won’t rehash, but I basically had to try all their tacos, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you click on the image below, you’ll go to my Instagram post, which lists all the ingredients in each taco. Chef Wes Avila is just so good with vegetables that the foie gras taco wasn’t even my favorite of the bunch, which ended up being the Farmer’s Market Taco! [$4 for Sweet Potato, $8 for Oxtail & Foie Gras, $5 for Farmer’s Market]
Guerrilla Tacos‘ Albacore Tuna Poke Tostada: Poke is “having a moment” right now in L.A., with shops opening left and right, but I first tried Guerrilla Tacos’ take on poke a year ago, and it was actually very similar to what they served here, with white miso rather than the more traditional soy sauce marinade. The orange stuff on top is habanero chile, and boy was it spicy, but it was so very good! [$8]
I really enjoyed my first Taco Madness! Like I said, this was a very relaxed, low-key affair. I think it could have benefited from one or two more taco trucks, and there was enough space for another hundred or so people easy, but I appreciate that the event was not overcrowded. The way the layout worked, they could have made it all-ages, since alcohol could only be consumed inside Villains Tavern or in its enclosed patio, with security checking ID at the door, while all the food was out in the parking lot. Though they would have needed to bring porta-potties, since the only bathrooms were inside the bar, so maybe not.
Thanks again to L.A. Taco for the invite, and I’ll definitely check out next year’s Taco Madness!
If you’re sorry you missed it, or you did attend and just couldn’t get enough tacos, check out the Bill Esparza-curated, L.A. Weekly-hosted, Tacolandia 2015, coming up at the beginning of June. It is dangerously close to being sold out, according to Bill! Check out my write-ups of the 2013 and 2014 events! I had tapped out at Taco Madness before I could try Oaxaca on Wheels–a very poor showing for me–so I need to train up to prepare to sample from ten times the number of vendors at Tacolandia!
Taco Madness 2015
1356 Palmetto St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla (Twitter)
Mariscos Jalisco (Facebook)
Tacos Cuernavaca (Yelp)