Originally posted on the L.A. Times. To see the whole piece, click here.
Name of restaurant: Pisces Sushi.
Owner: Sarah and her husband and chef, Yoshi. They’re a soft-spoken Japanese couple and run the entire operation by themselves. Sarah manages the restaurant while Yoshi stays behind the counter to do all the cooking.
What dish represents the restaurant and why? The chirashi bowl. Like the restaurant itself, it sounds remarkably simple. You won’t discover the nuances until you try it. Chirashi is raw fish over rice, but Yoshi seasons the rice so well with vinegar that there’s a hint of sweetness to each grain. He takes great care to arrange the lean pieces of tuna, salmon and yellowtail in a fan-like assortment. It’s topped with shrimp and a liberal scattering of shrimp roe. A handful of scallops are placed in a foil cup, drizzled with roe and a creamy orange sauce. Bean sprouts are piled up high for a refreshing garnish.
Concept: Pisces gets the bulk of its business from take-out orders. And it’s no wonder why — there’s only enough space for five guests at a time. There’s a table outside and counter space inside. Yoshi is cooking to the left and Sarah is the manager and waitress. If the tables are full, just wait a while. It’s worth it. They serve some of the freshest and most wonderfully arranged cuts in the area.
Who’s at the next table? Manhattan Beach locals who have uncovered this hidden gem but refuse to tell anyone else about it.
Appropriate for … an intimate lunch with one friend or better yet, a solo meal out. If you have a party larger than two, consider taking the spoils home and offering your seat to smaller groups.
Uh-oh: There’s just not enough space to accommodate everyone and when the orders stack up (and they will), Sarah and Yoshi tend to get overwhelmed.
Service: But the food is so fresh and Sarah is so accommodating and polite that once you get your order, you’ll forgive the wait.
What are you drinking? Freshly steeped green tea in a nice warm mug.
Info: 3216 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-3980.
Originally posted on KCET. Full article here..
Burma, a country located in Southeast Asia, has a distinctive cuisine that has been decidedly influenced by local minorities and its neighbors Thailand, India, and China.
There’s a myriad of curries and rice noodles. Spices are abundant and seafood products like fish sauce and fermented fish are reoccurring. It is, after all, a coastal country. Burma also has quite a salad selection; they often use tea leaves as a primary ingredient. The leaves, loved nationally for their pungent and bittersweet taste, are picked in the spring, steamed and then fermented. They’re served cold, usually with tomatoes, lentils and peanuts. The dish, known as lahpet in Burmese, has become so integral into the culture that it’s a must for special occasions.
While lahpet isn’t as common in Los Angeles, it is frequently found in Burmese restaurants. We’ve rounded up four great ones in the area:
Yoma, which is named after a mountain range in Burma, is owned by Joan Lam and serves up northern Burmese food. Lam has been there for seven years, whipping up Burmese specialties and remarkably flaky samosas. Go straight for her Shan noodles. Shan, one of the states in Burma bordering China, is renowned throughout the country for their al dente rice noodles. At Yoma Myanmar, they come decorated with a heap of braised chicken, chilies, crushed peanuts, and cilantro. You can get them with or without soup. We recommend the former. 713 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91755.
Daw Yee Myanmar
Daw Yee is the area’s most popular Burmese joint and there’s no question why. The cafe is polished and pleasantly furnished — a rarity in this particular part of town. The mains are conveniently divided into three sections — noodles, salads and curries. Noodles come with catfish, chicken, or pork. Salads incorporate chickpeas, fish paste, and pennyworth. Curries are often slow-cooked. Go for the goat and chicken thigh curries; the meat falls straight off the bones.They also whip up a fantastic tea leaf salad — a rainbow assortment of fermented tea leaves, chopped tomatoes, fried lentils, garlic, sesame, and shredded cabbage. It’s an ideal appetizer and a worthy addition to any Instagram feed. 111 N Rural Dr., Monterey Park, CA 91755.
This Culver City establishment is a great place to stop in for a quick bite to eat. It’s really a market with a small built-in kitchen consistent with the atmosphere — plastic utensils and paper plates are the serveware of choice. The samosas, stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes, are solid. Try them with lamb. The crowd favorite, however, seems to be the Jasmine Market noodle salad, embellished with cilantro, onions, cabbage, lemons, and fish sauce. 4135 1/2 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230.
Fuji West is a Japanese-Burmese fusion joint in San Gabriel with something of an identity crisis. The establishment used to be Tokyo Lobby, a once-popular boat sushi spot. In an attempt to keep the regulars, the new management kept the Japanese component but has slowly been introducing Burmese dishes. Japanese food aside, we recommend the coconut noodles with chicken and for an appetizer — the Burmese tofu salad. The tofu is dressed up with onion, kaffir, lime leaves, ground dried chilies, bean powder, and oil. 927 E Las Tunas Dr., Ste J & K, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
See the full piece and more photos here on KCET.
Q in downtown Los Angeles is the city’s newest sushi bar. It’s an omakase-only joint– which means you pay the fee and for the rest of the dinner, you trust the chef that he’ll be serving you only the best.
The food starts at $165 per person, so it won’t become a regular part of anyone’s restaurant rotation. But, while there are plenty of other high-end, exorbitantly priced sushi bars, (Urasawa in Beverly Hills, for example, cinches the title for the second most expensive restaurant in the United States) Q distinguishes itself for being one of the few places out there serving Edomae-style sushi. It’s a style that originates from the Edo period, where simplicity was paramount.
A history lesson:
What we commonly know as raw fish over rice is actually fairly recent even to the Japanese culture. Sushi, which means sour in Japanese, was initially a way to preserve and ferment fish. No raw fish was involved. The protein would be stuffed with salt, stored, weighed down by a stone and left to dry for six months. It started out in Southeast Asia along the Mekong River, spread up China to Yunnan, and then made its way up to Japan.
Rice was then added in the process, but the makers would discard it after the fermentation period was over. Soon vinegar was introduced into the mix, and it wasn’t until the Edo period in the 18th century that what we now know as sushi — raw fish over rice — was invented.
It was initially a fast food item, meant to be eaten quickly, as refrigeration wasn’t readily available back then. According to Yoko Isassi, a Japanese food historian and cooking class teacher in Los Angeles, it was primarily because of the constant building fires in the Edo period. “Because of the fires, there was always construction,” she said. “To feed those construction workers, there were many food stalls on the street. Soba, tempura, and sushi, or what we call Edomae-sushi, were the popular selections on the street.”
As time progressed and as refrigeration became more prolific, so did the sushi. Today, colorful rolls dotted with various hues of mayonnaise and hot sauces grace our sushi counters.
There are few traditionalists, even in Japan. Chef Hiroyuki Naruke, who owned a six-seat Tokyo restaurant, was one of few — known for his Edomae-style preparation methods. “Although Edomae nowadays can mean just a slice of raw fish with rice, Edomae-style sushi chefs have more pride to serve the best of the best,” Isassi said.
Naruke was discovered by sushi enthusiasts from the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. They fished him (pun intended) out of Tokyo to Los Angeles following the 2011 tsunami and fears of contaminated fish. As of December, he’s now here in downtown Los Angeles at an intimate 26-seat space restaurant. Q, named after Quinn, is all about preserving the purity of Edomae-style sushi.
For example, Naruke is adamant on using red vinegar for his rice. “Red vinegar was the more common vinegar back then,” Isassi explained, “It’s tinted just a little bit so it won’t color the rice much.
He adds a pinch of salt and unlike other joints, forgoes the use of sugar, “Edomae-style doesn’t use much sugar at all,” Isassi said. “It’s all about balance of rice, vinegar and salt. Some chefs claim that rice was naturally sweeter in old days and therefore there was no need to use sugar.”
There are also certain fish preparation techniques unique to Edomae sushi chefs.
“They used seasonal fish that was caught in the Tokyo Bay area,” she said. “Eel is cut from the back as opposed to belly side which was common in Kansai, Kyoto, and Osaka area. Tokyo, or Edo, was a samurai society and cutting the belly was a taboo. There are popular clams in Edomae, but those are prohibited from being exported to the States. Some curing or cooking was actually done to most of the fishes as there were no refrigerator back then.”
Q imports its fish from around the world, though their uni comes from San Diego, and abalone is sourced from Santa Barbara. During one sitting, we had three dishes from Spain, red snapper from New Zealand, and geoduck and aoyagi (a yellow round clam) from Boston. A typically meal runs 20 courses long. Wasabi isn’t just handed to you; it’s carefully glazed on top. Some bites come brushed with a hint of miso and others, a delicate soy sauce. You’re expected to eat the pieces in one bite. The entire process is remarkably simplistic and if you pay close attention — invaluably educational.
521 W 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90014.
Originally posted on LA Weekly. Read more here.
Caffe Concerto, as it stands, seems completely out of place. The restaurant is all white with black accents; a stone pavement leads into the main lobby, there’s a chic balcony on the second floor and curly, wrought iron fences line the outdoor seating area. It looks as if it belongs in a ritzier part of town — a secluded corner in Beverly Hills, or perhaps somewhere with a beach view.
But its locale is in stark contrast to its furnishings. Concerto is smack in the heart of Koreatown, perched on an industrial street over by Wilshire and Western.
During the day, the restaurant is an airy brunch place with lots of open space and wide windows, and at night, a romantic dinner destination with a piano-themed staircase leading up to the second floor. There you’ll find a dim dining room with hush waiters, couples on first dates and Korean ladies, dolled up, sharing a bottle of wine.
The Korean-owned restaurant markets itself as a fine-dining destination but really, the food is only secondary to its charming atmosphere and marvelous desserts.
Keith Lee, a former pastry chef at Bottega Louie, is at the head of the confectionaries. Walk into the main lobby and a rainbow of macarons will greet you to your left. The selections are quite diverse. Among them, olive vanilla, walnut praline, mint, and strawberry cheesecake; they’re similar to Bottega Louie’s selections but a buck and some cents cheaper. Plus, unlike Bottega, there’s not much of a crowd, and for some people, that makes all the difference.
Fruit tarts are a plenty, as are cupcakes and cheesecakes. They all come in miniature forms and are a perfectly portioned addendum to any meal. Every dessert is topped with a flourished “C” for Concerto. No, the logo is not edible.
Lion Kim and Erin Jeong are the owners, a husband-and-wife team who also own Yen Sushi. They brought their head chef, Chang Heong Kim, over to Concerto and he’s been there since their opening in June of 2012. Heong Kim is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and his menu is primarily New American food with a heavy Asian influence.
Pizza and pasta grace the lunch and dinner menu and there’s an entire section dedicated to Latin-meets-Korean tapas. Original cocktails are available and, of course, an abundance of soju and sake selection. There’s a full bar and Intelligentsia coffee (as the restaurant makes sure to emphasize on all their signs) is readily on tap.
The clientele is mainly Korean-Americans and though it has only been open for a year, the restaurant has attracted quite a following among locals. Korean pop singer PSY paid the eatery a visit in September and it’s no wonder why: Concerto is a hidden gem in Koreatown and, if we may, the embodiment of Gangnam-style.
Originally posted on the L.A. Times. See the full piece here.
Name of restaurant: Bugis Street Brasserie, a Singaporean-Chinese-influenced concept named after a major tourist junction in Singapore. It originates from the UK; this particular location is the only one in the U.S.
Owner: Bugis Street is managed and attached to Millennium & Copthorne hotels.
Chef: Horace He is behind the toque with 15 years of L.A-based culinary experience under his belt.
Concept: A 150-seater, spilt-level eatery meant as a lunch option for downtown Los Angeles frequenters or hotel guests at the attached Millennium hotel. Adorned with artwork of the actual Bugis Street in Singapore, it’s sleek. While the restaurant is Singporean-Chinese-themed, the menu has Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Malaysian dishes.
What dish represents the restaurant, and why? The laksa ($13), an appropriate choice simply because of the Singaporean nature of the restaurant. Laksa is a spicy coconut-based soup with roots in Malaysia and Singapore, with a handful of shrimp, chicken and tofu. Thai basil is thrown on for garnish and the noodle of choice is rice vermicelli.
Runner-up: The nasi goreng ($13): mildly spicy vegetable fried rice mixed with chicken, prawns and red chili. It’s topped with a fried egg. (Everything is better with an egg on top.)
Who’s at the next table? Suited-up business types having a lunch meeting with their clients, the occasional hotel guest and people looking to grab a quick drink at the bar after work.
Appropriate for … : A business lunch. It’s casual enough so that you won’t break your expense budget but fancy enough to impress your client. Plus, tables are located a comfortable distance apart, which is always a positive thing for these types of meals.
Uh-oh … : Parking spots can be impossible to find.
Service: Servers are tremendously polite but can be difficult to flag down.
What are you drinking? Coppola Su Yuen Riesling from Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. The drink menu is stocked with Asian-themed selections from Tsingtao beer to Thai iced tea boba.
Info: 501 S. Olive St., Los Angeles, 90071. Open Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. For reservations, call 213.624.1100. http://www.millenniumhotels.com
The word “chirashi” in Japanese means scattered. Order a chirashi bowl at your local Japanese restaurant and you’ll be handed a bowl of seasoned rice topped with scattered slices of raw fish, fish roe, and/or the occasional tamagoyaki, a spongy egg garnish. It’s the ideal option for sushi fiends who don’t want to order a la carte or dish out the big bucks for a sashimi platter.
The mark of a good chirashi bowl is balance. Each grain should be evenly seasoned with the tangy, alkaline sweetness of rice vinegar. Sesame seeds are often sprinkled on top for good measure. Different types of fresh fish are layered on top – bonus points for textural diversity. Garnishes are optional additions and always provide welcome respite.
Read on for ten of our favorite chirashi bowls in Los Angeles.
Located in a strip mall off Ventura Blvd., Dai Chan is a champion of Japanese soul food. Gone are the bland, monochrome walls typical of sushi joints. Dai Chan screams eclectic – a characteristic that shines through in both their wall decor and food. There’s not a spot on the wall that’s bare and dishes are drenched in color. The daimyou chirashi ($19) is a party on a plate. There’s a mound of sesame sushi rice, covered by a fan of tuna, salmon, snapper, yellowtail, squid, scallop, albacore, mackerel, unagi, and salmon roe. Shredded egg, green onion and seaweed are sprinkled on top.
Maruhide Uni Club
If there was a prize for most unique sushi bowl in Los Angeles, first place would go to Maruhide Uni Club, an uni specialist in an industrial-looking strip mall in Torrance. Sea urchins are caught off the coast of California, and their gonads are hand-plucked and served fresh. It sounds gross but the dish is creamy and a delicacy for a reason. The Nigiyaka Bowl is a beautiful bouquet of raw fish and sea urchin done four ways. There’s fresh uni, marinated uni, boiled uni and uni embedded in an egg omelet roll. Accompanying fish include squid, tuna, salmon and roe, but if you haven’t figured it out already – the sea urchin is the main attraction. Even the complimentary soup comes with uni.
Pisces Sushi is a true gem in Manhattan Beach, owned by Yoshi and Sarah, a soft-spoken, sweet Japanese couple. Admittedly, the store is not much of a looker. There’s only one table and some counter space inside – the bulk of their orders are take-out. But if you’re one of the lucky ones to snag a seat, you’ll be treated to one of the most delicate chirashis ($13.95) in the Southland. One of the few versions where the rice isn’t just an after-thought, it’s expertly seasoned, slightly tangy and perfectly portioned. The cuts are thin, arranged in a fan-like assortment and topped with roe and scallop drizzled with aioli.
Name of restaurant: Paper Pot Shabu.
Owner: Jerry Kim, a first time restaurateur. Paper Pot Shabu was inspired by Kim’s travels to Japan and Korea.
Concept: While this Diamond Bar restaurant is based on the kami-nabe (paper pot) joints invented in Japan, the particular materials are imported from Korea. Assorted vegetables and meats are cooked in flavored broth. The pots are made out of a type of paper called “washi” that have been chemically coated to become durable against water and heat. The results are almost magical. Piping hot liquid is poured over paper, ingredients are piled up on top and the material stays intact throughout the entire meal. Feel free to poke and prod. The pot won’t break.
What dish represents the restaurant, and why? The house spicy broth with prime rib-eye is a popular choice. All pots are for individual use and come with a broth and ingredients of choice. Assortments of vegetables and noodles are complimentary with each order. Rice is also available in both brown or white varieties and yes, completely vegetarian options can be ordered. The house spicy broth has a deep red hue but can be diluted if it’s too intimidating. While the exact ingredients are secret, according to Kim, the basics are red pepper and garlic.
Who’s at the next table? Young Chinese Americans and Taiwanese Americans who make their way from surrounding San Gabriel Valley towns. Pomona College students are regulars.
Originally posted on the LA Times. Read more here