The first rule of Bite Club, you do talk about Bite Club!
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that obligatory bad joke (dad joke?) out of the way–I promise, only one more joke/pun in this piece–let’s talk about Tastemade‘s #BiteClub Mardi Gras event last week. Tastemade had been on my radar for a while, but not being the most telegenic person in the world, I’ve never felt the desire to create a Tastemade video. Fortunately, attending Tastemade’s free Mardi Gras “Bite Club” event did not require appearing on camera.
Taking place at Tastemade Studios in Santa Monica, the event was hopping, packed with people but never feeling too crowded. Music, provided by Mudbug Brass Band, was festive and appropriately loud. Food and drink were easily accessible, even at the most popular stations. Nearly all the expected dishes were present for a N’awlins-inspired event: gumbo, muffuletta, étouffée, beignets (a few notable absences for a Mardi Gras menu: red beans and rice, king cake).
The undisputed crowd favorite was Bar and Kitchen‘s Shrimp and Grits, which were freshly prepared in the Tastemade Studio kitchen throughout the evening. Probably the most inventive was a series of NoLa “Tanks” (savory brioche donuts, blowtorch-crisped, piped with savory filling, and topped with various ingredients) by Fill R Up that were nearly as popular as the shrimp and grits. My personal favorite were the Frog Legs by Preux & Proper; like tiny little chicken wings!
Other personal highlights included Little Jewel‘s spicy Jambalaya and Del Rey Deli‘s thick-stacked Muffulettas. Strangely, when I took shots of these dishes, my camera decided to get all moody on me, but they look kinda festive!
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mardi Gras party without drinks. A number of craft breweries were on hand. I particularly liked Three Weaver‘s Seafarer Kölsch. And Stillhouse certainly rocked me with their Moonshine Hurricanes.
I’m not sure how many of these Bite Clubs Tastemade has done, but they nailed this event! As I walked around and mingled (bumped into several people from Reserve‘s Los Angeles office), I kept remarking to myself that this was one of the better run food events I’ve attended! It’s almost making me consider making a few video posts for Tastemade. We’ll see…
3019 Olympic Boulevard Stage B
Santa Monica, CA 90404
It has been nearly a half-year since my dinner omakase at Sushi Tsujita. I haven’t been back for dinner since, but I have returned several times for lunch, where they have an assortment of chirashi/sashimi/donburi, raw fish and other ingredients, served on top of sushi rice.
Special for lunch, they have $15 Chirashi Bowl that includes a miso soup. It is limited to 15 servings a day, a not uncommon practice for certain specialty dishes at Japanese restaurants. The variety of fish changes daily but is always fresh and varied. The sushi rice, which I found a little inconsistent with the nigiri at my dinner omakase, works as a great base in these bowls.
If the $15 chirashi is sold out, the lowest priced regular lunch item was a Sashimi Bowl at $25 that included miso soup and chawanmushi, a savory steamed egg custard. Again, the fish vary daily and include more premium ingredients than the chirashi, e.g. slices of chutoro instead of akami.
However, within a few months, they revamped their lunch menu with some items between the $15 and $25 price points. If you have more specific tastes, for $18, you can now get a Tuna Bowl or a Salmon & Ikura Bowl, with generous portions of fresh fish.
While my wife loves raw salmon, she’s not as enamored with its roe. Fortunately for her, Sushi Tsujita offers a Salmon & Uni Bowl for $25. While the sliced salmon dominates the toppings, they don’t skimp on the sea urchin!
All of these new lunch options also come with miso soup and chawanmushi! These really help make a full meal out of these dishes.
Unlike most sushi restaurants, Sushi Tsujita is open 7 days a week. Even more rare is that they have lunch service every day, including on weekends! While I haven’t explored anything beyond the rice bowls at lunch, they do offer nigiri and temaki sets, and even a lunchtime omakase at $80. It is a great way to try the place out before committing to the minimum $120 dinner omakase.
2006 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
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 iOS App Store or Google Play (newly released). 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.
[Disclosure Update: Reserve has modified its referral program recently. I will start receiving a $5 credit after someone who used my promo code completes his or her first booking using the app.]
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! Continue Reading →