Monday, July 03, 2017

Fat Dragon Review: Upping Silver Lake’s Chinese Restaurant Game

A communal table sparks conversation at Fat Dragon

Residents of the Silver Lake and Los Feliz area have spent decades waiting for good Chinese food to hit the area. Tired of hearing “Just go to Chinatown,” or “Monterey Park is only 15 minutes away,” we were thrilled when Pine & Crane opened a few years ago and significantly upped the Chinese food game.

Now along the same stretch of Sunset Blvd., Fat Dragon has joined the party, adding those guilty pleasure dishes like orange chicken that so many people crave, but with a light and modern approach.
Located in the same mini-mall that houses boho brunch spot Trois Familia, Fat Dragon has no lettered sign, just a neon dragon glowing above the storefront. As at Pine & Crane, you step up to the counter to order and the food is then delivered to the table. Some people are confused by the prominence of the tea menu on the board behind the counter, thinking it’s just a teahouse, and Fat Dragon does have a wide selection of teas. But don’t be fooled. There’s a full menu of crowd-pleasing Chinese dishes carefully prepared using high-quality ingredients like Mary’s chicken and Angus beef.

This isn’t San Gabriel Valley-style Chinese -- spice levels are on the subdued side, and there is no toothpick lamb or braised eel to be found (five-spiced quail is probably the most adventurous dish). Most dishes are clean-tasting with lots of fresh vegetables, though there are still plenty of indulgent and/or deep-fried choices. Honey walnut shrimp is almost dessert-like and too rich for just two people, but a few bites of the beloved banquet dish are just right. Orange chicken is deep-fried like the familiar mall version, but fresh orange slices and a light touch with the sauce keep it from being cloying.

Ma-po tofu at Fat Dragon

Some less common dishes well worth trying include Dragon fried rice, with Chinese sausage and bacon combined with the unusual addition of kohlrabi; and pork jowl stir-fry with dried tofu. Mapo tofu and Szechuan eggplant are both exceedingly solid versions. Mild-flavored moo goo gai pan and pan-fried noodles include plenty of vegetables, while dry-fried string beans, cauliflower and orange tofu are among vegetarian choices. The menu isn’t large -- hot and sour soup and more dumplings would probably be popular additions. And the Szechuan spicy wontons are perfectly good, but won’t make anyone forget the ones at Chengu Taste.

Crucially, Fat Dragon, which is part of the Sticky Rice group of restaurants, works with a number of delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar and Postmates, so that Holy Grail of good Chinese delivery is now accessible to the Silver Lake-Los Feliz area. But the food, especially fried items, is even better when eaten in the restaurant, which has a large communal table in the center as well as tables along the wall. There’s no beer and wine, but cold brew wild berry hibiscus, lychee lime green tea, and Hong Kong milk tea keep the drinks interesting. And not to be ignored: the housemade fortune cookies with irreverent sayings blow any mass-manufactured ones out of the water.

Upscale ingredients and a central location mean a meal for two will run at least $50, but the quality and flavor makes it well worthwhile.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Wolfdown Review: Secluded Spot Flies Under the Radar in Silver Lake

Citrus radicchio salad at Wolfdown
Here's EatingLA's review of Wolfdown from the Los Feliz Ledger. Click through to see how many forks it received.

In the four years since Nicky D’s stopped serving pizza on Rowena Ave., Silver Lake has changed a good bit. Restaurants in the area have upped their game; real estate prices have climbed. Maybe because of its understated Rowena location, the seven-month old Wolfdown, which replaced Nicky D’s, has flown somewhat under the radar.

Wolfdown, which focuses on Asian-influenced dishes, comes from Jason and Chrissy Kim, the owners of Forage, the Sunset Junction cafe that incorporates produce fresh from neighbor’s gardens. The Kims freshened up the funky bungalow, and the woodsy patio now sparkles with twinkly lights, while several seats at the bar look out over the open kitchen inside the cozy house. Like at Forage, the menu highlights bright bits of acidity and crunch that put the spotlight on startingly fresh produce. But unlike Forage’s counter, this is a full-service restaurant with wine, beer, and sake.

The top of the menu offers shareable plates like tangy citrus and radicchio salad textured with crispy wontons, or grilled calamari with lemon and mayo. Coconut black rice ($13) melds several intriguing flavors: deeply flavored oil-roasted vegetables, nutty rice, and fresh pea tendrils.

black rice with root vegetables at Wolfdown

The fact that chicken and shrimp dumpling is listed as a singular item might tip you off that it’s not a plate of potstickers: It’s more of a large pancake with a delicious dumpling filling on the inside, though the presentation is unexpected. Brussels sprouts are slicked with chili oil and contrasted with crispy chicken skins, while other vegetables like beets and broccoli also get their flavor amped up with olives or black bean sauce. The kitchen knows how to make vegetables complex and fascinating in a way that completely escapes some of the vegan restaurants in the area.

Main courses include proteins like Korean fried chicken with spicy chili or soy honey butter and slaw ($25); noodles with beef cheeks; or a $45 Prime New York steak with herring butter. Braised black cod ($25) arrives in a ceramic bowl in which pieces of buttery fish alternate with chunks of purple daikon, swimming in a lightly sweet and spicy sauce with a side of fragrant Mori’s rice.

Pan-Asian restaurants often get a bad rep for covering everything in sickly sweet soy-based sauces. Luckily, Wolfdown’s much more nuanced dishes include plenty of tart notes to balance the sweetness, while sauces are differentiated with varying flavors like miso, sesame, and regional sauces like Korean kochujang.

Desserts also incorporate creative uses of fruits and vegetables, like sugar snap pea gelato with strawberry shortcake or black and blueberry compote with dense, creamy peanut butter semifreddo --a sophisticated take on peanut butter and jelly.
Black- and blueberry compote with peanut butter semifreddo at Wolfdown
Is there anything not to like? Both the menu and the servers can seem a bit quiet and serious -- a few more snacky hors d’oeuvres or welcoming bites might give the menu a little more sense of fun and generosity. Or how about a ramen night once a week? Dinner for two will run around $100 -- fairly standard for the neighborhood, though still a splurge for many. But overall, Wolfdown’s setting is relaxed and the cooking is perfectly calibrated.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Luau, the Brown Derby, and Hamburger Hamlet: Eating Around L.A. in the 1960s and '70s

The Beverly Hills location of the Brown Derby

I once sent a long letter to the L.A. Times about where I remember eating growing up, long before blogs and Vintage Los Angeles and Old L.A. Restaurants. Here's an expanded version of my L.A. eating memories of the 1960s and '70s.

My parents loved nice restaurants. They both grew up eating boring Illinois food -- in my father's case, his mother was a terrible cook who mostly mangled Jewish staples, and he felt liberated and excited to try pizza and spaghetti for the first time in the Army during WWII, though he never lost his taste for Hebrew National salami fried up with eggs and sardines with Gulden's spicy brown mustard on crackers. My mother grew up in a small town famous for corn and pork tenderloin sandwiches. The corn-on-the-cob was uber-fresh, but it was plain cooking, and she was dazzled by encountering artichokes and shrimp DeJongh when she moved to Venice Beach after high school, and later Manhattan and Chicago.

So when they came to Los Angeles, around the time I was born, they began taking me to restaurants right away -- or at least as soon as I could amble around visiting tables at the Brown Derby informing diners that "my daddy is a producer," as a vintage Hedda Hopper column noted. Of the Brown Derby, I remember the pumpernickel toast best, buttery, warm and slightly crispy, nesting in a cloth napkin-covered basket. There were also tiny hamburgers that I thought had been invented just for me, each with a separate sauce -- ketchup, sour cream, Russian dressing. When sliders appeared decades later, I wasn't too impressed after having moved directly from baby food to adorable mini-burgers at the Brown Derby.

The Luau in Beverly Hills

We went most often to the Hamburger Hamlet, usually the one on Rodeo Drive. We were friends with the owners, the Lewises, and I remember a gala event at their Beverly Hills house with the swimming pool covered by a temporary dance floor. Like everyone else, we adored Those Potatoes and were impressed with the variety of toppings on the burgers, a new idea at the time. There was another Beverly Hills burger place -- Hamburger Habit? -- that advertised even more toppings but we were loyal to the Hamlet, which is the only place I ever remember my father ordering a beer.

Ice cream was one of our family's principal food groups, and our usual spot was the Baskin-Robbins on Canon Drive where black and white murals of placid grazing cows lined the walls. My mother and I were mad about chocolate Mandarin orange sherbet, a flavor that doesn't ever seem to get revived but is fondly remembered by many. My parents took me there in my footie pajamas and we went after my cat Fido was run over, as ice cream was thought to salve all wounds. But just Baskin-Robbins wasn't enough.

Wil Wright's Beverly Hills location where Marilyn Monroe was photographed.

There were also Wil Wrights and Blum's. Blum's was on Wilshire, and was famous for crunch cake with pieces of sponge candy deliciously suspended in a whipped cream frosting. Wil Wright's was on South Beverly Drive (also in Sunset Plaza) and had refreshing frappes in exotic flavors like pear. My mother grew up eating at drugstore lunch counters, and liked the cherry phosphates and lemon cokes at the fountain at the big Owl Rexall at La Cienega and Beverly (still a drugstore, but no more fountain, alas.) This was of course across from Beverly Park, or Kiddyland as we knew it, where my divorced dad took me to kill a Sunday afternoon, but I also remember my mom taking me to a big discount Standard Shoes next to a pumping oil derrick where the Beverly Center now stands. Later, when we moved to Westwood, we went often to Swenson's Ice Cream, where the best flavor was a coffee-caramel-mint combo. 



My father found Mexican food fascinating, but it was way too early for most Westside white folks to try to find the real thing. We had to content ourselves with the blandly corporate Senor Pico in Century City (strangely, they still exist in places like Dubai) and a place on Santa Monica Blvd. near San Vicente. By the early 1970s, interest in Mexican food had started to pick up, so every Saturday we had lunch at the Sundance Cafe on Robertson, where modern Cal-Mex like fried tostada bowls was just getting off the ground.

It was my mother who somehow got the bug for ethnic foods, maybe because she had lived in Manhattan or because when she worked as a librarian for Playboy in the 1950s, her friends would take her to eat in Chicago's Greek and Polish neighborhoods. She never met a church food festival she wouldn't check out, so we traveled up Pico for a Greek fair, way out to the valley and wherever baklava or other ethnic forms of buttery dough could be found. I doubt I ever set foot in Silver Lake as a child, but if she had known about St. Casimir's annual Lithuanian festival, I surely would have.

She hated driving and gave up her car before I was old enough to drive, so we took the bus all the way down Wilshire from the beach to Chinatown. We spent weekends scarfing pork bao and shrimp har gow decades before most people got around to it, usually at the Golden Dragon. We also took the bus to Little Tokyo (I can't really wrap my mind around people calling it J-town). I remember the red bean pancakes from Mitsuru Cafe being made in the same metal molds that are still in the window, though it was in a different location. I remember a tempura bar on First St. where we sat at a counter with our backs to the street, watching a man fry up course after course of battered shrimp and vegetables. It's no wonder I remain obsessed with fried seafood to this day.

When we still had a car, we drove in from Malibu to Santa Monica every Friday night, alternating between chicken pot pie at House of Pies and fish 'n chips at the Mucky Duck. (Again with the fried seafood!) Afterwards we walked the Santa Monica mall, where a very groovy tiki-themed coffeeshop called Horace Heidt's Java Time was one of the better places to eat, a step up from hot dogs at Orange Julius and the Newbery's dimestore lunch counter.

After Sunday school at the Methodist church in Beverly Hills, we would go to Nate 'n Al's for eggs 'n onions or cheese blintzes, although when I was almost too young to remember, the deli of choice was Linny's, a vast and bustling restaurant on Beverly Drive. All the smoked fish at the counter kind of intimidated me, with the scaly, gelatinous skin and sturgeon's eyeballs staring at me, but I loved going home with bags of brunch materials and constructing onion bagels piled high with cream cheese, chopped liver and coleslaw, even if I hadn't yet acquired the taste for lox or tongue. If you were lucky, you could pick out a Jewish candy at the cashier on the way out. I tried halvah and appreciated the chocolate-coated orange gels, but my favorite was the large orange and red fruit gel bar with a white stripe down the middle. Imagine my delight when I discovered pates de fruits in France a few years later that were much the same as the Joya candies, but with deep, true fruit flavors.

After deli food and and ice cream, Polynesian food was perhaps the next most important food group, and the Luau was my favorite. We also went to Trader Vic's and the Palm Springs Trader Vic's, but only the Luau had a gift shop and a lagoon with a bridge over it. My dad always ordered a pupu platter of sticky sweet spareribs, eggrolls and fried shrimp, then declared we were all full and didn't need to order more. But we always did -- I have no idea what the adults ordered but my mom had instructed me that "silver noodles with pork" were the best dish on the menu, and indeed this Americanized version of Filipino pancit was starchy and satisfying. I also got a virgin pineapple drink -- a whole pineapple filled with a juice "cocktail" and though the restaurant had an amazing array of zombies and other grog drinks, my family weren't big drinkers. Variety editor Peter Bart once told me the Luau bar was full of expensive call girls, but I had no idea about any of that -- I dimly remember a bar near the entrance, but much clearer is the strong licorice bite of the Sen-Sen candies they handed out at the cash register.

Kettle Black Review: The Right Formula for Silver Lake


Kettle Black's housemade pappardelle with maitake mushrooms


A few months ago, we took a look at Sawyer, one of the newer additions to Sunset Junction. Now we visit its sister restaurant, Kettle Black.

The side-by-side restaurants share the same kitchen, though the menu and decor are completely different. At Kettle Black, the chef is Sydney Hunter III, formerly of French standouts like Petit Trois.

The pair has in common a similar grasp on what the area’s diners seem to want right now: eye-catching interior design, solid cooking and a casual, buzzy atmosphere.

Kettle Black is perhaps an unlikely name for a rustic Italian restaurant.

The small front patio is enclosed on three sides with a heater, so even in cool weather it’s a fine place to watch the passing fashion parade on Sunset Boulevard.

In the center of the room, a long tall table with backless stools might not be the best place for a lengthy dinner, but it’s fine for catching up with friends over drinks.

As at Sawyer, there’s a full bar available, so start with a refreshing gin, cucumber and Thai basil cocktail, or bourbon revved up with tea and amaretto. Happily, happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week, with $4 Italian beers, $6 wine and several $8 cocktails along with a few snacks.

The dinner-only menu focuses on vegetables, pasta, pizza and a few mains like branzino, a flat iron steak with a pleasant char along the edges, or roast chicken.
Arugula salad at Kettle Black

Pizzas with toppings like potato and egg or prosciutto and arugula are fine, but we like to concentrate on the jazzed-up vegetables, and the very competent pastas.

Vegetables are some of the stars of the menu, with vinegar, salt and chiles giving a flavorful oomph.

Eggplant is charred to amp up its soft lusciousness, then slicked with tart-sweet saba vinegar and doused in garlic and chili flakes. A simple arugula salad is the perfect lemony foil to rich pasta dishes, topped with a flurry of almonds, pecorino cheese and pickled chilis.

Cauliflower goes far beyond the familiar roasted or fried preparations that have redeemed the once-boring vegetable’s reputation. Fried capers, pine nuts, pickled raisins and savory bagna cauda (anchovy sauce) turn the vegetable into an umami bomb.

Another star of the menu is pappardelle, with housemade noodles that have just the right bite and a dusky sauce of maitake mushrooms swimming in nasturtium butter.

limoncello cake at Kettle Black

For dessert, Italian-accented sweets like limoncello cake strewn with fresh berries or panna cotta with stone fruit keep things light and refreshing.

Kettle Black’s menu isn’t large, and the food isn’t incredibly ambitious, but the restaurant does exactly what it sets out to: create a lively spot that works for both drinks and snacks or a full dinner, with food that won’t leave you feeling weighed down.

Kettle Black
3705 W. Sunset Blvd.
Silver Lake

Monday, February 20, 2017

Winsome Review: Subtle Style in Echo Park

Winsome, on the ground floor of the William Pereira-designed former Metropolitan Water Building that now houses apartments, is a terrific-looking restaurant. Imagine that your favorite Googie-style coffee shop grew up and sprouted a spacious patio and sleek pale wood details, with artisanal jams in place of the mint patties at the counter. Designed by Wendy Haworth, the interior gets a pop of color from wallpaper based on a charming 1930s Phil Dike watercolor of Echo Park.

The all-day restaurant that works just as well for breakfast and coffee as for a business lunch or cocktails and dinner with friends on the patio.

At breakfast, there’s La Colombe coffee starting as early as 7:30 a.m., with excellent pastries like a green tea concha, buckwheat ginger oat cookie or a caramel rye brownie from former Republique pastry chef Leslie Mialma. Rustic grains and exotic flourishes help keep things interesting on the contemporary California menu.

Some diners might need a dictionary to decode the ingredients that chef Jeremy Strubel, formerly of Rustic Canyon, likes to weave into the menu for a global feel. Potato chips leave a Thai impression dusted with chili and kaffir lime, while duck egg toast at brunch is topped with nduja -- the spreadable salami that’s seen all over town these days.

It’s fun to start with the giant crunchy rye pretzel, even though the accompanying fontina mousse doesn’t have much cheese flavor.

Entrees include rockfish with a bouillabaisse broth, which gets a slighty odd bitter taste from its mix of spices, and perfectly tender beef cheeks with a deeply flavored red wine sauce. Vegetarians can put together a dinner from a few sides or starters, like a winning mixture of maitake mushrooms and sauteed greens topped with buttery breadcrumbs. Shaved cauliflower salad is decorated with mustard frills along with lola rossa – a curly red lettuce – and trendy nutritional yeast.


The rich and savory dishes come in fairly small portions, so there’s likely to be room for dessert: a tres leches cake amped up with a bruleed banana, or Baked Japan, which melds umami-packed miso butterscotch sauce with housemade coffee semifreddo and a chocolate cake base.

If you must have a flaming cocktail, Winsome’s Tiki Novela, made with the Peruvian corn drink chicha morada, is probably a much better choice than the flaming margarita down the street at El Compadre. Organic wines, some unusual beers and housemade aguas frescas round out the drink selections.

L.A. can always use more patios, and the area between Chinatown and Echo Park is fast filling in with trendy spots. An evening at Winsome can be a fairly pricey outing, but brunch and lunch also offer chances to experience the restaurant’s vibrant flavors and stylish surroundings.

1115 Sunset Blvd., 213-415-1818

Monday, December 05, 2016

It's Truffle Season at All'Acqua!

There are ravioli hiding under the truffle shower

One thing to remember about being someone who writes about restaurants is Always Say Yes to Truffles. Also, always say yes to caviar, but that's a different post.

So when chef Don Dickman at All'Acqua invited me to try some of his funky-smelling, nubby white morsels, of course I said yes. Dickman got his truffle delivery last Thursday and is cooking up specials on Sundays at the cozy Atwater Italian spot.

Pork chop, truffles, celery root puree, chanterelles, Brussels sprouts
Of course, the fragrance and texture of rare and costly truffles would get lost if it were cooked too much, so truffles are usually grated over the top of a warm dish that warms the fragile fungus and releases its delicate earthiness into the other ingredients.

Whether mixing with nutty brown butter atop housemade spinach ricotta ravioli, topping a duck egg paired with duck prosciutto and toasted bread, or blanketing sliced pork loin over pureed celery root, these dishes are a holiday season indulgence that won't last for long.

A photo posted by Don Dickman (@swanpizza) on


Monday, October 10, 2016

Trois Familia Review: Does French Technique Work With Mexican Flavors?


This review originally appeared in the Los Feliz Ledger.

When French chef Ludo Lefebvre first started doing innovative pop-ups around town and then opened the tasting menu-focused Trois Mec and its little sister Petit Trois, he probably wasn’t thinking Mexican-French fusion.

But the perpetually forward-thinking Frenchman and longtime Los Angeles resident doesn’t slow down for long, and so when the former Alegria location in a Silver Lake mini-mall came up for lease, he decided to honor the space’s roots in his own European way, with help from partners Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal.

Trois Familia serves only breakfast/brunch/lunch in a much more casual atmosphere than their other restaurants, with colorfully painted walls, picnic table seating and no reservations.

Silver Lake residents probably never knew they wanted French burritos or chorizo crepes, but now that they’ve got it, they’re plenty happy to put their name on a list and wait for a spot on the communal benches on the mini-mall sidewalk. Boho decor touches include succulent pots lining the walls and a turntable and records on a corner shelf. When a baby starts bouncing to a vintage punk song by the Slits, it’s hard not to be caught up in the festive ambiance.

These are Mexican dishes filtered through Lefebvre’s lens of French technique, and they’re unlikely to be like any you’ve seen before. A beet “tartare” tostada is only nominally Mexican, though it rests on a perfectly crunchy and tender tortilla round and is topped with a delicate avocado creama that could be the snooty cousin to guacamole. It’s more akin to a Russian salad, with a light creamy dressing…and then, a hint of heat creeps up on you towards the end, gently nudging you to remember that you are in some kind of imaginary Mexican territory.

That breakfast crepe filled with salty chorizo custom-blended by their meat supplier is topped with a perfectly-cooked egg and striped with more of the luscious avocado crema; the flavors somehow simultaneously evoke a creperie in Brittany and a quesadilla from the streets of Mexico City.

If there’s a signature dish, it’s the hash brown chilaquiles. Crispy potatoes stand in for the traditional tortilla chips, while “salsa macho” gives the dish an acid jolt. There’s very little resemblance to the dish it’s named for, but it has its own terrific flavor. The only issue is that at $9.95, you’ll really want two, and then you’ve spent $20 for two eggs -- before even ordering the $5 cup of Heart coffee.

I’ve never made it as far as the churro French toast, because as much as I love Salt & Straw ice cream, who needs it for breakfast? The menu changes frequently, so if anything made with the creamy, cheesy Anson Mills grits makes an appearance, snap it up. The only dish that slightly underwhelmed was the burrito, which didn’t quite add up to enough flavor as rustic beans overshadowed the delicate garlic brown butter. For something more filling, try the double decker potato tacos or chicken Milanesa.

Fans of homey desserts will go wild for the tres leches birthday cake.There’s no alcohol, but there are a few decadent drinks like the house-made horchata, Nutella malted “iced hot chocolate” and an Abita root beer float.

It’s pure Silver Lake of the moment -- so how much you will like Trois Familia will depend on how much you’re willing pay for breakfast, whether you miss Alegria and how happy you are to be eating in one of Ludo’s restaurants right in Silver Lake.

Three and a half forks

Trois Familia, 3510 Sunset Blvd., 323-725-7800


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Salazar: First Impressions of the Eastside's Stellar Summer Spot


Belly up to the covered bar if it ever rains...as if!

Many of us have been imagining a restaurant like Salazar practically forever. A place where kids are welcome, that takes advantages of L.A.'s temperate climate, where you can sip a good margarita while eating some equally good Mexican food. A place kind of like Birba in Palm Springs. We didn't imagine it would spring up in the shell of a former car repair shop hard by the freeway where Atwater peters out and Frogtown industrially begins, but that's L.A. for you, always full of surprises.
Plenty of heat lamps just in case. Love the old school chairs.
And Salazar, conceived by Billy Silverman and Mexicali Tacos' founder Esdras Ochoa, turned out practically identical to that vision many of us had...so many, in fact, that's it's been packed since day one, and the bike-parking area in front has become a de facto playground for waiting families.


So many people already biking to dinner
Who knows what it will be like when the heaters have to come out -- the restaurant is almost completely outdoors, except for a small bar area, but for now, the long, shaded tables are one of the best places in the city to enjoy a summer evening.


Checking out the tortilla-making station
The spot-on Sonoran-style wood-grilled meats and much-more-than-margaritas cocktail menu from Aaron Melendrez makes it the rare spot that's more than just a pleasant patio. The menu promises "full menu coming soon," so it will be interesting to see what gets added to the simple list of tacos, grilled meats and fishes, and a few sides. I would recommend heating the plates so the tacos stay warmer when cooled by evening breezes, and adding chips for the guacamole. The tostada-style crisps are nice, but people do like their chips.


This crazy cocktail has mescal, brown-butter washed corn whiskey, ancho chile, huitlacoche and Mexican fernet

Lots of pretty elixirs behind the bar

Esquites - charred corn with crema 

Terrific housemade tortillas complement the grilled meats


One Yelp commenter said that Salazar can't really be part of Frogtown because the prices are too high for the locals. It's certainly true that dinner here will set two people back $60 or more. But that's the price you pay these days to build out an entire restaurant, pay the large staff, get a liquor license  and generally offer full service. Of course the tacos are more than at Tacos Leos truck -- if it's too expensive, you can get the same style of tacos at Mexicali, but without the patio and cocktails.
But if you can afford it, Salazar was definitely worth the wait. And don't miss the ridiculously retro website.

Salazar 
2490 Fletcher Blvd.
Los Angeles

Monday, May 23, 2016

Silver Lake's 365 by Whole Foods: Here's What You Will and Won't Find

The old Ralph's parking lot has been slightly reconfigured and cleaned up

Will you shop at a Whole Foods without a butcher or fish counter? Will you miss the giant wheels of cheese and the organic yoga clothes? That's what you'll need to weigh when deciding how much you'll embrace the first-ever 365 by Whole Foods, which opens on Glendale Blvd. Wednesday at 9 a.m. The focus is on grab and go items or prepared to order items like pizzas and hot dogs (including a roast carrot dog!), with a healthy dose of technology to speed things up.

The store has an open feel with many of the items in low glass cases

What you won't find:
Beauty products (there are some supplements however)
Butchers and fishmongers
A cheese counter
A bakery counter
Any vestiges of old-school crunchy health-food store aesthetics
A juice bar? I don't think there's a juice bar

This is a teabot. It's a bot, that makes tea.
What you will find: 
A coffee bar that also serves beer.
A teabot
Most of the familiar packaged foods from Whole Foods
A decent selection of spirits and wine and a solid beer selection
A stripped-down industrial look that's more reminiscent of Fresh 'n Easy
A lot of touchscreens, including one in the wine area that offers tasting notes
Lots of food you won't have to actually cook

I got a sneak peek tonight, and though many of the items are stocked, most of the prepared foods won't be out until Wednesday. The LCD price displays weren't activated yet, so I couldn't get an idea of the pricing. Here are some early pics.


Stable produce is stacked in boxes out in the main store, while more delicate items and salads will be behind the glassed-in, air-conditioned area at the rear

The bulk selection is more modest than at Whole Foods

The Allegro coffee bar also serves beer and wine

Order pizzas, bahn mi dogs and sandwiches at this kiosk, and they'll deliver to one of the tables in the eating area

As in some European markets, you weigh your produce before checking out

There are several self-serve checkout kiosks to speed your exit

Vegan cafe By Chloe opens next week next to 365


Do you think you'll be able to do much of your shopping at 365? Or would you have preferred a real Whole Foods or a regular supermarket?

Friday, May 06, 2016

Ozu East is Stylish and Cute, But How's the Ramen?

crispy rice cakes
Almost overnight, Atwater has become the kind of neighborhood where restaurant patrons have a pretty good chance of recognizing the name of the great Japanese director Ozu. But you don't have to be a foreign film connoisseur to appreciate the minimalist style and modernized fusion menu at Ozu.

Owner Paul Yi has worked as a film producer and executive, and shows his appreciation with a variety of visuals playing on one wall, from Ozu classic Tokyo Story to E.T. to basketball games.

The fusion dishes lean towards Japanese, but with a healthy influence from Yi's Korean heritage. Crispy Rice cakes combine the chewy Korean noodles slicked with chili viniagrette and topped with an egg, is one of Ozu's best dishes. Spicy tuna omisubi is a tasty square version of spicy tuna roll. Everyone wants to try the avocado toast, which uses crispy rice where the bread usually sits, and it's a clever variation. The fusion version of a Cobb salad includes Kurobata ham, egg and edamame, but has neither the substance or flavor of the real thing.

Chicken-fried tofu is decadent and fun, but like many of the other dishes the mayo, soy and jalapeno create a rich, spicy and salt flavor profile that easily ends up overwhelming, especially in the creamy mayo area. Fried rice topped with a fried egg is another greasy but satisfying dish.

chicken ramen with black garlic oil

The trouble is with the ramen – but since the ramen is the centerpiece of the fairly brief menu, it's kind of a major problem. The addition of black garlic oil in the chicken ramen gives the broth an unpalatable bitterness that left us unable to finish it. Pork ramen also proved unfinishable, due to way-too-salty broth, and the noodles themselves are average. We also tried kimchi udon noodles with shrimp, but the kimchi cream sauce was cloying and way too rich.

 It's early days yet, so for now order a glass of Acorn Saison and some chicken-fried tofu and avocado toast to snack on. Perhaps Yi can bring in a ramen consultant, because the neighborhood is rooting for Ozu to become a great casual neighborhood spot. An ice cream annex is slated to open soon.

Ozu East Kitchen, 3224 Glendale Blvd., Atwater