Tag Archives: los angeles

Sunny Spot’s Caribbean State of Mind


SALT COD BRANDADE BENEDICT

In that fleeting moment when the ocean air still hangs thick over Venice before dissolving into a golden haze, the city slows to still life. Cars shudder to a stop, gulls flap fruitlessly against the wind and waves fall silently upon the shore. At Sunny Spot, the six-month-old restaurant from Kogi mastermind Roy Choi and Westside impresario David Reiss, that moment is meant to last forever, a picture both of California cool and Caribbean fantasy. This is where you come to imagine those wasted days on a white-sand beach, a slug of rum and a plate of jerk chicken your only itinerary.

Sunny Spot is Choi’s first restaurant that doesn’t directly deal with his cosmopolitan vision of the Angeleno appetite. Back in 2008 when Kogi’s bulgogi tacos and kimchi quesadillas sent legions groaning hungrily into the night, Choi created a cuisine that perhaps more accurately reflected Los Angeles than a census ever could. Choi didn’t simply capture the city’s zeitgeist; he became it.

It wouldn’t be wrong to attribute that success to a providential sense of good timing. But there’s also something to Choi’s fanciful cooking. His dishes at Kogi as well as Chego and A-Frame often feel as if they’re composed with a kind of surrealist automatism, flavors extracted from the culinary subconscious and assembled on the plate without any measure of restraint. What results is sometimes sloppy and not always successful, but it often is exactly what Angelenos want to eat.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Leftovers: Chimú

Top-tier Peruvian for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by RICARDO DEARATANHA / L.A. TIMES

This is Los Angeles’ Peruvian moment, an embrace of Andean flavors prophesied long ago by food futurists who proclaimed the cuisine to be the next big thing. There have always been pockets of our sprawling geography where ceviche is scattered with giant kernels of corn and jugs of chicha morada stain teeth a pleasant purple. But this is a citywide shift in culinary consciousness.

It coalesced at Mo-Chica. Ricardo Zarate’s restaurant reshaped the notions of Peruvian food with sushi-grade fish mounded in a tart puddle of citrus, and quinoa cut with crème fraîche and stirred just until it resembled risotto. Now that mantle of invention is being carried forth by Chimú, a downtown walk-up where beef hearts share a salad with shaved apples and lamb belly bastes in a cilantro-black beer reduction.

Chimú operates from a takeout window in Grand Central Market’s outer courtyard, a lunchtime amphitheater where all the city’s social strata converge. It’s that centrality that landed Mario Alberto (formerly of Lazy Ox Canteen and Mo-Chica) and Jason Michaud (owner of Silver Lake’s Local) here in the shadow of the funicular Angels Flight.

Read the rest here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Leftovers: Shawarma Palace

A step-up for L.A. shawarma in the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MICHAEL CHAVEZ ROBINSON / L.A. TIMES

Among food-obsessed Angelenos, shawarma isn’t as much a point of contention as, say, ramen orcarne asada. At too many of the city’s Levantine restaurants, flaccid, flavorless strands of meat pass as properly shaved shawarma almost without protest.

But there are few pleasures as hypnotic as flame-licked shawarma. Behold the spit stacked with lamb or beef or chicken spinning in slow, mesmerizing circles, flecks of caramelized fat basting the meat below. In deft hands, even the bluntest knife will shear the meat as if carving clay.

Shawarma Palace delivers an Israeli interpretation.

Read the rest here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Leftovers: Guisados

The wonderful stews and braises of Guisados for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by ANNE CUSACK / L.A. TIMES

Ricardo Diaz is on his way to building a culinary empire with Mexican restaurants that innately reflect the attitudes and fluctuations of the Angeleno appetite.

Three years ago, Diaz and his in-laws opened Cook’s Tortas in Monterey Park. There, sturdy, rustic rolls are baked on-site, everyone sips pineapple-celery and watermelon-mint aguas frescas and dessert brings soft corn cakes and biscuits smeared with loquat marmalade. For every diner who longs for thetorta of grilled chicken, salsa, avocado and fried sage, another loves grilled skirt steak, dry-aged chorizo, nopales and guacamole. The restaurant is the all-inclusive ideal of what a modern Mexican cafe should be in Los Angeles.

Guisados, Diaz and business partner Armando De La Torre’s new Boyle Heights taquería, shares a similar universality. Here, guisados achieve ascendancy; these are humble stews and braises that you’d otherwise most likely find simmering atop a home stove.

Read the rest here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Mark Stambler’s Backyard Bread


PHOTO by KEVIN FERGUSON / KPCC

Mark Stambler didn’t like the bread he found in local stores and restaurants, so he built his own brick oven in the backyard of Los Feliz home. I talk to Mark over a loaf of fresh pain levain for KPCC’s Off-Ramp. Listen here.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

In L.A., the world is flat


PHOTO by CHRISTINA HOUSE / L.A. TIMES

After months and many, many pizzas, I tackle L.A.’s booming multicultural pizza scene for the Times:

Just as certain city blocks contain the cuisines of a half-dozen different countries, pizza in Los Angeles doesn’t conform to one nationality — it practically circumnavigates the globe.

There are South American pizzas shaped by decades of Italian immigration and Croatian pizzas forged along the shores of the Mediterranean. Korean and Japanese corporations have taken to testing their unique interpretations of pizza on L.A.’s international appetite. And some foreign pies defy classification altogether, labeled as pizzas by restaurants and diners searching for a simple descriptor. It’s all part of the naturalization process.

Read the rest here.

And for the complete multimedia experience, tune into KPCC’s Off-Ramp this weekend to hear me chat with host John Rabe about these peculiar pies. Or listen online here.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Leftovers: Antojitos Carmen

Huaraches, quesadillas and weekend-only migas: Antojitos Carmen finds a permanent home in Boyle Heights. For the  L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GARY FRIEDMAN / L.A. TIMES

The way it used to be, on almost any given evening an irrepressible assemblage of Mexican food vendors would flood a Boyle Heights parking lot in what seemed like seconds. Empty tables suddenly were covered with tubs of masa and astringent salsas, and griddles glowed with immediate heat. Before you knew it, diners would be perched on plastic chairs and crumbling curbs, their fingers stained an inky, huitlacoche-rich black. Couples quickly huddled around cups of goat consommé as kids eyed the cinnamon-dusted ridges of freshly fried churros. It was a mesmerizing sight, one that transformed a patch of otherwise-empty asphalt.

When authorities shut down the not-quite-nightly Breed Street food fair some months ago, vendors were forced to accept a more itinerant existence. Where there was once an unrivaled concentration of street-food specialists is now a diaspora of barbacoa masters and pozole purveyors dispersed across several Eastside blocks. Veteran vendor Antojitos Carmen, meanwhile, found a permanent place for its movable feast.

It’s still sparse — not much more than a half-dozen brick-red booths staring out onto César Chávez Avenue — but Antojitos Carmen the restaurant is home nevertheless. After two decades spent hunched over sidewalk fryers, the Ortega family was recently able to move its operation indoors. The month-old restaurant already feels lived-in: Photos of Carmen Ortega’s hometown of Yurécuaro, Michoacán, adorn the walls; regulars pick up orders with mere nods of the head.

Read the rest here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews