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Friday, July 22, 2016

Hey 19 - Torrance

I never expected to find this place in random strip mall in the middle of Torrance. The d├ęcor is done by the hippest of the hipsters, influenced by the best kind of nerd. Transplant it to Venice or a side street in LA, and I would believe it a little more. 

The attention to detail is crazy. Each antique chandelier is differently funky and unique, and I could write a review about their lighting alone. So much care went into the decor, yet so little seeps into the service. We went for a weekend brunch and were given a folder, yes, a folder, stuffed with every menu the restaurant ever made. Only two were relevant, and it took a moment to figure out which ones those were. 

I'm already a little cranky after having to work for my order, and I'm no happier with my Moon Over Endor. All sugar, and that's all there is.

So I'm more cranky and looking for the kind of southern comfort that only comes bottled...or in a plate of biscuits and gravy like the Greg Stevens. The biscuits are a bit dry, but the salty sausage gravy softens it up some. The smooth gray river does have a nice hint of herbs.

It's not the south without a hearty helping of Breakfast Fried Chicken & Waffle, but this one was as boring as its name. The chicken is fried with a thick, crispy batter with a hint of maple and no other detectable flavors. The organic chicken is meaty and clean, but James Republic does it better. I could have done without the tired-tasting waffle and afterthought scramble.

Man, this place had potential, but it's like no one here ever went to the south. The food is like a low-quality Snapchat that someone tried to fix with a filter. The food isn't bad, but it lacks an element of genuineness (apparently that's a word) and authenticity. It's hard/impossible to find good southern food in SoCal, and this one isn't it. 

Hey 19 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Star Bakery - Los Angeles

Across the street from suave Sasaya, sits a sketchy-looking strip mall. A somewhat functioning laundromat and a tiny bodega-esque grocery store that looks suspiciously like a front for something that turns a much higher profit than dime-bags...of potato chips is enough to deter the bravest of souls.

Sandwiched between the two, Star Bakery sits. Persian and not the least bit prissy, their Baklava is less honey-loaded than I like but authentic by every standard. They make a decent Eclair as well, but the rule of thumb is to stick with what they do best.

Decent, okay, service without the smile, but it's also service without the scorn. Glad for the experience, without an overwhelming need to return.
Star Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sasaya - Los Angeles

This is my kind of neighborhood. Not only does it house my most fabulous friend, it is dotted with shops that represent the best of the borderlands. This is the gray area of the crossroads between loud-and-proud LA and cryptic Culver City, and the storefronts shift between ritzy, hippy, shabby-chic, and just plain shabby in the most delightful crisis of unknowing identity.

The strips of stores house discount nail salons next to something Peruvian and very pretty, and the run-down drive-thru makes eyes at the well-groomed Honey Boba across the street.

Sasaya rides that line with impeccable Japanese finesse, a clean cave with a casual vibe; LA prices with Culver City chic.

But not everything is pricey. We avoid the sushi and yakatori as the small plates seem much more affordable. The Pork Kakuni is fairly-priced, a deceptively dense bowl of soft, gristly belly fat with a strong sweet soy and a malleable soft boiled egg.

A sizzling skillet serves the classic Beef Teppanyaki, a soft, rare steak of medium quality,

and a solid staple with side of Garlic Enoki completes the combination of steak n' shroom.

There is always room for roe, and my favorite Cod Roe Udon comes through with thick, chewy, gooey-coated noodles.

The tried-and-true ring true, but there are some unique plates as well. The Mochi Cheese is one I have yet to see. My experience with savory mochi starts and ends with tempura, and this gooey, salty, chewy-cheese casserole has me begging for more.

Japanese restaurants serve beef tongue a-plenty, but the Smoked Beef Tongue has its own spin. Small, swallowable cubes make the softest jerky you'll ever try, and you really taste some soot without inhaling the ash.

Think of the best omelet you can imagine, and the Umaki might come to mind. Two favorites rolled into one; a fine, fluffy tamago blankets slices of sweet eel for a roll of unagi umami. A shockingly cogent combination - savory-sweet...and more savory-sweet.

I don't often go up to Culver, and I rarely cross the great LA divide. But this is one of few unintentionally-ethnic trips that didn't end in dissatisfaction and a massive bill. Good food isn't cheap up there, but Sasaya is a mezzo-moderate mix, and it tastes pretty damn good.
Sasaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Ragin' Cajun - Redondo Beach

I've had a long day. Too long a day to cook a compelling dinner for two. I love Cajun, and I was ragin' so Ragin' Cajun was an obvious choice.

The Bourbon Flight was the first bit of fun I've had all day. Each little glass had varying amounts of dark and fruit and wood. But it only works for so long on an empty stomach.

My hanger was horrible, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized 20 minutes into sipping bourbon that none of the food had arrived. "It's only been 5-10 minutes," our server insisted, as if my watch were lying.

The Crawfish 1/2 & 1/2 arrived, and I wolfed down batter-burdened crawfish tails and felt them soak up all the booze in my empty stomach. The breading is heavy on the thin little tails, but it's the better 1/2. The erroroneous etouffe had a spicy kick to it, but it was more like a watery soup. Shallow flavor with no detectable roux.

Our catfish po'boy came out as a Crawfish Po'boy, but we ate it in stony silence. We didn't dare send the sandwich back, lest we wait another hungry half-hour. The po'boy was fine and forgettable.

Don't be fooled by the reviews. They only get good yelp reviews because they give out free Beignets in exchange. Yelp says it's a check-in deal, but our server refused to honor it as such, telling me I had to write a review. He eventually relented and said he'd bring the beignets, but they must be invisible because mine never materialized... And the beignets-who-must-not-be-named were never mentioned again.

Check your bill. Chances are, it is incorrect. They charged us $19 for the flight, which is $18. We pointed out the error and were told, "There is nothing I can do to change that - that's just how it rings up on the register." Ummm... Excuse me? It's not about the amount, it's more about the fact that they've stolen money from countless customers. They gave us cards for $5 off our next meal. As if we would ever come back.

Ragin Cajun Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sanuki No Sato - Gardena

If Yelp is be believed, Sanuki No Sato has some serious superlatives. "Best soba in the South Bay!" "Best noodles!"

Indeed, the Sanuki Special is nothing to sneeze at. A filling lunchtime sampler of light-hearted hot Udon swims in dashi broth, and buckwheat Soba chills chewy on a bamboo mat, waiting to be dipped. There are slices of golden tempura to shake things up between the slurps as well, and I just can't decide which I like better.

The Beef Nanbanyaki Set is a rice-bowl option for those craving a hotter, heartier lunch. A protein-loaded sizzling skillet sautees the veggies and beef as it hits the table.

It's only lunch, but the Kinako-Mochi Ice with warm, savory, glutinous cakes offsetting a cold green tea ice cream is an irresistible finish.

Not quite the best noodle house in South Bay, but definitely worth a stop. Ichimi An and Oumi Sasaya are still untouchable, but Sanuki No Sato is kind of close.

Sanuki No Sato Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Halal Guys - Long Beach

I can't even pretend to be anything less than 100% miserable right now. There is nothing okay about being stuck in board prep, having the entire field of internal medicine hammered rapid-fire into my brain by a conceited, tangential man with an barely-intelligible accent. And if I can't get a decent meal during this intellectual assault, I would probably lose my will to live.

I guess I owe the Halal Guys for saving my life. A now-global franchise born from a humble street cart on 56th and 8th, they've landed in Long Beach, and they take my palate by storm every time. The Beef Gyro is juicily chopped, a waterfall of white sauce cascades over a riverbed of yellow rice. The hot sauce tap-dances on the tongue and settles in for a slow-kill burn so deep.

I'm usually too carnivorous to deviate, but when I do, the Falafel is incredible. I often find the fried chickpea concoction bland, but Halal Guys keeps it fragrant and moist.

When I left the northeast, I thought I'd lost them forever, but here they are. As I toil through six unbearable 12-hour days, Halal Guys gives me hope; food for the brain and fuel for the soul. The Halal Guys Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Good-Day Korean Restaurant - Torrance

I miss my mom. She's on the other coast, and I usually prefer it that way, but there's no one who can cook like her. No gourmet, but she has her style, and her food will turn any day into a good one.

My mom has been on an organic kick lately, but the dishes are still the same. Hearty and hefty; steamed, boiled, or pan-fried sizzling; the smell is unmistakable. Nothing comes close...wait, what is that? Stewed, pulpy cabbage clogs my nose in a robust Cabbage Short Rib soup. The ribs are chewy and sinewy as you rip them off the bone, sacrificing savor to flavor the broth, and the cabbage has an earthy sweetness. It tastes like something mom throws together on those winter days when we don't feel like shopping.

When I was a kid, I was really a picky eater, and my mom would coax down an entire bowl of rice, ssam bap style. She rolled a marble of rice into a leaf of lettuce and added a bite of vegetable hidden by a chunk of meat. Well the Ssam Bap with Bulgogi is irresistible, no tricks needed to scarf this one down. I don't know what leaves they use, but there is a bold and bitter aftertaste that cuts through the gooey purple rice and saucy slices of sweet beef.

Wholesome and fresh, organic and clean. It's easy to feel at home in Good Day, an unassuming strip-mall spot in random little Lomita. Korean comfort food that tastes homemade will make any day a Good Day.
Good-Day Korean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato