Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pollo a la Brasa (belated)

This article is based on a visit I made to the restaurant at the end of last October. Due to life's vicissitudes, I did not get around to editing account until the past winter vacation. Enjoy!

In the traffic island at the corner of 8th Street and Western Avenue in Koreatown, one encounters a ramshackle hut . The Logs stacked along the hut's walls befit a country farm house or alpine ski resort, but the din of gridlock on the surrounding streets easily breaks this illusion. The waft of spices and clanging of kitchen utensils, that emanate from the larger edifice behind, offer more telling clues.

When you enter the larger structure, a massive oven containing numerous spits (lined with whole chickens) appears behind a counter, confirming the latter suspicions. Once finished, the birds--which are roasted over charred wood-- yield the most tender and flavorful meat to be had anywhere in the city. If you don't believe me just ask Red Rooster's Marcus Samuelsson or Mozza's Nancy Silverton. Order either a quarter or half chicken (depending on whether you dine alone or with a partner) with sides of smoke-tinged steak fries and salad (with delectable sweet red dressing).


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Naab Cafe

I meant to have this up shortly before Halloween but both school and life got in the way.

Happy (and delicious) New Year everyone! Feast wisely.

Midnight in Westwood.

You're headed down to Wilshire to catch the 720 bus but want to grab a something on the way to satisfy those pangs within your stomach (maybe it's the end of a prolonged study session maybe you drank a bit too much at a party). 

You traverse the scramble crosswalk at Le Conte and Westwood and survey the deserted modernist landscape.

To your right you may faintly hear sounds coming from the hookah bars on Broxton (whose food is mediocre) or from the In-n-out beyond that (you don't want to eat typical fast food, or wait in a line...). To your right, there is just Ralph's. 

Ahead of you, on both the right and left sides of the street, every door is shuttered.So you whip out yelp and search with the "open now" filter. 

Situated near the top of the list (by ranking), Naab cafe stands out for its high ratings and novelty (it's not a Westwood "institution" by any means). So you begin the .5 mile trek.

Shortly after you've crossed Wilshire Corridor, while treading an upward increment, a red-hued sign beckons. 

As you get closer, you amble your way past the groups of stylishly-dressed men and women waiting for the valet. Upon entering, the bright lighting, which illuminates the wood-paneled floor, reinvigorates you for the feast. The menu, listing sandwiches, entrees and small plates whets the taste buds.

I must confess that I have only been here once (one Friday night back in October to be precise). But the chicken cutlet sandwich I ordered was so amazing, that it inspired me to write this.

To describe:

Two halves of a bauguette bulge with a generous portion of tender, spiced breaded chicken, salad and (slightly-sweet) pickles. The sandwich, filling as it is, comes with either salad or fries on the side. Indulge yourself by choosing the former: the salad's yogurt-based cucumber-tinged dressing is heavenly...

But it's not just the food that makes this place stand out...

Vibrant Farsi pop tunes play over the speakers, accompanied by energetic music videos in the TV screen. From the patio behind the kitchen, loud conversation and the wafts of hookah give .

At this hour, Naab cafe not only satiates your stomach but embellishes your night.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cafe Brasil (belated post)

I've gotten behind in the last two months because I have been bogged down by homework and readings (now that I'm back in school). I meant to publish the following article on August 19th.

With the Olympics happening in Rio, I had to eat some Brazilian food. My visit to Cafe Brasil Tuesday evening did not disappoint.

Approaching on Venice by foot, I was immediately charmed by the lush green color of the shack in which the restaurant was located.

Entering (through the door) off of Westwood Blvd, I stepped into a bustling dining area;. Patrons crowded around the wooden tables and filled the air with chatter. The verdant green and orange interior wall decor and tent-like plastic windows lend the ambience of a Rio de Janeiro beachside Barraca (or concession stand) if one ignores the hum of traffic emanating from Venice.

To place my order, I moved to the the cashier at the back, situated immediately in front of (and opening directly into) the kitchen. The sizzling sound of steaks and vegetables on the grill and the tantalizing wafts emanating from them helped me decide on a "Havana" sandwich, described as containing "top sirloin steak with low-fat cheese, lettuce and salsa".

After five minutes of knifework and cooktop artistry, a benefit of the open kitchen, I received my platter, consisting of two half-sandwiches and a side salad. (Yes, you have to order at the counter and bus your own plates. The advantage of course, is that you aren't obligated to add a tip.)

I wasn't too crazy about the salad, which consisted of field greens with a balsamic dressing.

The sandwich was a different story. Layers of peppered steak and smoky mozarella cheese, enlived by a zesty and piquant salsa, melted into my mouth with ease .

For only $7.25, I left satiated and satisfied. The other sandwiches, which smelled just as delicious, are priced similarly, though you should be prepared to splurge if you intend to purchase an entree-sized steak or pasta,

Monday, August 8, 2016

Canoga Park Travels: Baba Sweets

I was out in West Hills (more than 15 miles from my home) and getting hungry so I browsed for restaurants on Google Map's "Explore nearby" function.

One of the first eateries to appear on the list was "Baba Sweets". Although the name made me skeptical at first as to whether the joint would serve solid food, I opened up the "reviews" section and chanced upon comments that raved about $4.99 savory entrees and $6.99 "combo meals", featuring Naan and Dessert.   

The prices sounded like a kill and I hadn't eaten Indian food in an awfully long time. So after I finished up my shopping, I drove on over.

Baba Sweets' Exterior

I entered the restaurant and made my way toward the counter. Posted on the wall above an aromatic display of entrees, a spartan menu listed three "Combination" options. The menu priced "one dish" at $4.99. "Two dishes" at $5.99 and "three dishes and dessert" at $6.99, noting that each Combination came with naan and rice. 

Awestruck, I asked the employee working behind the counter whether it was true, that you could get three entree items, rice, naan, and dessert, for just about the price of an In-n-Out Double-Double meal. He answered with a resounding "Yes."

With my menu choice now confirmed (by none other than my rumbling stomach), I let the employee guide me in selecting my three entrees. He recommended the Kadi Pakora (a yogurt-based, yellowish curry with onion patties), the Aloo Bengan   (potato and eggplant) and the Mattar Paneer (Paneer cheese cooked with peas in a tomato sauce). 

I first tried the Kadi Pakora. I should have been suspicious about the palatability of incorporating sour-ish yogurt into a spicy curry. Indeed, the pungent spiciness of the curry melded with the yogurt's lactic flavor to create an unpleasantly sharp and briney flavor. I cannot fault the restaurant for this though, as the sourness is supposedly a desired characteristic for the curry. By mixing raita (provided as an accompaniment) into the curry, I was able to temper the flavor somewhat.

As for the Aloo Bengan, the curried and roasted potato wedges were just as delicious as they are in an Aloo Gobi. The Eggplant was nicely seasoned, even though a little tough at times. The spice could frizzle my sensitive western palate at times, but this could be solved by adding a dallop of raita. 

Finally, the Matar Paneer transformed my expectations. On previous visits to Indian restaurants, my dislike of cheese caused me to avoid Paneer dishes. Upon biting into Baba Sweets' version, I found the Paneer to be less like cheese than soy meat in consistency with a flavor that was rich and creamy but not excessively dairy-tasting.      

In Baba Sweets' Matar Paneer, the Paneer's rich and creamy flavor complemented the zesty and piquant notes of the spiced tomato sauce quite well to make for an outstanding dish.

As for the sides, the rice was fluffy and the naan served warm (so that I could easily pull off pieces), obviously fresh from the oven. Though not listed on the menu, a side salad of cucumbers, lettuce and onions and a bowl of raita also accompanied the entrees.    

For dessert, I received a resplendent Galub Jamun in syrup: the fried pastry was slightly crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and brimming throughout with the (heavenly) flavors of saffron and rosewater.

Did I forget to mention that the restaurant offers all patrons complementary (self-serve) Masala Chai and marzipan-like candies to round out the feast? 

I know for next time that a "two dish" combo will offer me more than enough to satisfy my stomach.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The best (non-happy hour) drink special in Weho

Getting drinks on a Saturday night in Los Angeles can be expensive., especially if you're looking to get a decent amount of alcohol in your system. At the trendy joints in Hollywood or DTLA a dose of "mixology"" containing an array of different fruit juices, spices and only a measly bit of tequila can run well over 15 dollars.

If you are out on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood however and see a vintage yellow or green trolley bus, hail it down (as I always do). The free municipal shuttle service (which runs from La Brea to Doheny) offers a shiny promotional card that includes three bargain drink deals.

Those on a tight shoestring can nick a generous "shot" of well whiskey or vodka at Fubar for just a dollar: the juice can certainly get you buzzed but is hardly better than the store-brand handles you once chugged at Tau Delta Frat parties.

 You get a far better bargain, in my view, with the half-price drink deals at Harlowe and the Formosa Cafe.

At the former bar, this means you can choose from a list of properly garnished craft cocktails curated by New York bartender Dushan Zaric, for a price range of 6 to 8 dollars, sans happy hour (Harlowe does an especially good job at classic whiskey drinks, like the Old Fashioned and Sazerac).

At the latter, you can enjoy one from a selection of surprisingly stiff classic cocktails, and a few tiki style drinks (in keeping with the bar's kitschy East Asian theme), for only $5.50 (11$ regular price). Formosa's Singapore Sling contains enough of the good stuff to knock you out for the night, if you are really looking to save.

For a discount pub crawl, hit up both Harlowe and Formosa or even add Fubar to the mix. You can down three cocktails for the price of one if you want to go crazy (though beware of consuming anything with the Singapore Sling) or alternate between a shot (at Fubar), cocktail (at Harlowe) and beer (Formosa has a great craft beer selection)--with similar savings--if you just want to relax.

As you use up discounts, the question will dawn: "where next?"

If you're visiting from out of town want to party big with the "industry" crowd (as well as the random D-List celebrity), you're within a mile of the Hollywood club scene. Harlowe does get some of the Hollywood club type later in the night as well--if you don't want to travel.

If you've had your share of alcohol and want to go crazy without the bombast (as I prefer), the New Orleans dance hall set-up at Sassafras (with its following of laid-back twenty-somethings) and the alt-rock performances at Harvard and Stone are each less than a 5-dollar uber journey away.

Finally, if you just had one mule at Formosa Cafe and are simply looking to relax, have some deep thoughts or engage in intimate conversation (potentially with someone of the opposite sex), a twenty-minute ride on the eastbound 4 bus (which stops at the corner of Santa Monica and Formosa) will take you to Silver Lake's cozy 4100 Bar, once cited by LA Weekly as one of the best bars for "hooking up".

Regardless of what you do, you've saved a lot on booze. The night is young, and in your pocketbook (and not that of some celebrity bar-owner).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pupusas and more at Atlacatl

Tonight I fell in love...with a pupusa.

I could have hardly seen it coming. My previous encounter with pupusas, at a Salvadorean restaurant in Washington D.C.,  had been unnerving, with my palate disturbed by the pungency of the cheese and the soggy texture of the masa dough.

As a result I stayed away from Pupusas on subsequent visits to Salvadorean eateries (even ones with names like "Sarita's Pupuseria").

Tonight, however, with my stomach rumbling on my ride home from the office (I had a long day), I decided to make a pit stop at Atlacatl, a Goldster-approved  Salvadorean joint that lay a block from where I have to transfer (on my journey between work and home) from the Red Line to the 14 Bus. Before I entered, I perused the online reviews to find out exactly what I should order and lo and behold, almost everyone (Gold included) mentioned the Pupusa...

"When you're in Rome, do as the Romans do." With this adage in the back of my head as I read through the menu, I took the bold step of ordering one Pupusa de Frijol . I also ordered a platter of Plaintains con Crema (Plaintains with refried beans and sour cream) and a side of rice, as security for the stomach should the pupusa turn out for the worst.

First came the rice and Plaintains with Cream. The Plaintains were saccharine, starchy with a slight exterior crispness from the frying, just like good Plaintains should be. The refried beans (that come with the plaintains) were a bit dry on their own, but I remedied this by mixing them with the tangy crema.

I had expected the side of rice--which cost only $1.75-- to come plain or have just a dash of seasoning (like Spanish Rice). But instead the restaurant serves it mixed (and presumably fried) with veggies. The flavor, hinting of onion and butter, hit the spot.

Finally, the waiter slapped down a decently-sized pupusa.

I first felt the disk with my hands: it was warm and crisp, rather than soggy.

Encouraged, I took a bite.

The Masa layer--firm but not thick--melted in my mouth, but the filling of beans stole the show. Earthy, salty and slightly umami the beans satisfied my tastebuds and stomach and accentuated the hearty indulgence of the warm masa (especially when dipped in the bean-cream mixture).

Rice and Plaintain con Crema at Atlacatl. Unfortunately, the author fell so madly in love with the Pupusa that he devoured her before he got the chance to snap a photo. A photo of a pupusa may appear on this page in the near future. 

Other reviewers heap praise on Atlacatl's Revuelta or Queso y Frijol Pupusas but the beans need no cheese. I'm sure Atlacatl makes better Revuelta or con Queso varieties than I ate in my previous experiences anyway, but given that the Cotija-type cheese standard in Mexican and Central American cooking is a bit sharp for me, I suspect that incorporating cheese would temper the experience from my perspective.

 Either way, I now know that I enjoy Pupusas when they are done right, and that Atlacatl has some superb cooks.

I will return.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ta-em Grill (Thursday, July 14)

This homey Israeli restaurant greeted me with a whirlwind display of line cooks chopping cucumbers, slicing bread and ladeling sauces, when I entered the line to order. As usual, I took it as a good sign that the restaurant displayed its kitchen to the public, for it means that the joint has no shortcomings to hide. My tastebuds proved me correct in this regard. Since I was super-hungry and coming near the end of a long (and productive) workweek, I decided to splurge on the 12-dollar falafel plate, rather than getting a sandwich (I had heard from third-party sources that the falafel was amazing, so I didn't even consider shawarma). 

The first thing I noticed when my dish arrived at the table was not the plate but the basket of pita that accompanied it. I reached in, tore off a piece and took a bite: it was warm and fluffy, fresh from the oven (I've eaten fresh pita in Isrsel so I know home-made pita when I see it). 
I then set my eyes (and fork) on the plate. I scooped up some hummus and fell into a trance: it was savory and garlicky, heavier on the chickpeas than on the Tahini (meaning that it lacked the unpleasant pungency of the store-bought stuff). Next, I broke open a Falafel: crisp on the outside, soft (and warm) on the inside, brimming with the flavor of spices and garlic. Finally, I turned my attention to the creamy, light-colored salad on the plate of condiments the waiter brought to accompany my meal: my taste buds identified a tangy, spicy baba ghanoush (perfect for a summer's day). I even enjoyed the pickled beets and carrots (slightly sweet with a kick of spice) that accompany the baba than ghanoush. 

The best part was the generous size of the "plate". Devouring 2 pita, 8 nice-sized falafel balls and a massive dollop of the hummus (along with the baba ghanoush, pickles and salad), I left satiated and satisfied.