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Friday, November 17, 2017

Baroo - Los Angeles

It's rare that food can be such a masterpiece. Rarer still is food like this that comes from an unmarked strip-mall stall. Of all the chefs I've tried, I can count the ones that rival Baroo on a single hand. But those chefs, there is not a single one that hasn't achieved international fame and acclaim; not a single one of them hides out in this humble, single-room, twenty-seater where Kwang Uh soldiers on. 

Everything is different at Baroo. With all the variations on a theme I've seen, all the unusual, the bizarre, the good, the bad, the original, the inexplicable; I've seen nothing like Baroo. Heralded as a "fermentation lab" by LA Weekly and the LA Times, Baroo does deliver mason jars of curiosities but also so much more.

A trip to Baroo cannot be completed without a dish of pickles, however, and the feisty Red Onion with a dash of rose smooths out the vinegar sting, and the Cabbage with pineapple jus crunches in a matter so satisfying, borne on a wave of tropical tang.

Fermentation is preserver of food, but it is also an incubator of thirst. I swore I'd never give into the Kombucha cult, but water will never quench my curiosity. How to describe kombucha? The fermentation resembles harsh carbonation, initially a hint of sweet, ending acidic and almost metallic. An acquired taste, for sure, but one acquired readily, with surprisingly little resistance. The Elderflower is a fragrant melody, staccato and sophisticated. The Lemon Verbena is cold and refreshing, the pickle juice from a jar of lemon peel.

Ordering isn't easy at Baroo. The chalkboard menu is thoroughly descriptive, but I have no way to anticipate what anything will taste like, no inkling of what each order holds. 

The Asian Fever is chosen for its name. Long grains of Amira basmati rice form a textured base for this dish, spiced up with a "southeast asian inspired house mix" that coats each pan-seared grain equally, individually. The bite bites back as a lighter lemongrass sinks into sake lees while coconut foam floats on air. There's a hint of citrus lime, and a crispy shrimp chip adds an unexpected element of ocean.

Handmade pasta gets a fist-pumping "yes", and Baroo's Ragu Style is not a choice - it's a must. The spicy oxtail "faux ragu" is dense and so rich you can feel it sink down clear into your toes. Tendon puff is a lighter, equally savory twist on a traditional pork rind. the tomato and gremolata is the Mediterranean essence while gochujang throws in with parmigiano reggiano for an epic east-meets-west.

We choose the Noorook for its name, a red wonder is what came. A heaven of grains formed by Jobs tears, farro, and kamut ferry a sweet beet creme. Kombu dashi adds a dash of attitude, and toasted seeds are plucked up by onion pickles and fingerlime for a dish so grounded you could imagine eating it straight from the earth.

The Karma Circulation. A rice-on-rice bowl sounds almost boring under a blackboard like Baroo's, but the rice bowl that rules all rice bowls is anything but. The KFChicken is the tenderest chicken this lifetime will see, breaded so flawlessly and seasoned so effortlessly I could have sworn it was born that way. Gochujang aioli seeps into the crevices created by rice and corn, and a soft-boiled egg in a bath of chili soy is an add-on option that transforms chicken-rice to a golden goose.

The Celeriac started as an afterthought. My dislike for the crude, all-encompassing, all-suppressing crudite was never a secret, but curiosity is an unrelenting master. The handmade pasta is absolutely perfect to no one's surprise, but the celery root in cloudy cream is absolutely captivating. The root vegetable version is earthier and more grounded than the fleeting after-school snack, and it pulls me deep into the dish, a celery-reverie that breaks only when the last bite is gone.

I don't know how to describe Baroo. It is so different, so unlike anything I've seen. The menu is diary into the brilliant mind of a chef like none other, a playground into a genius soul. Each dish hits deeply, and every bite hits hard. Yet the flavors have an air of whimsy, an element of rarely-forgotten fun. Each individual ingredient is placed with intention, and every flavor serves a certain purpose, a piece of a far more complex puzzle. I don't know if I'll ever piece it all together, but I sure will enjoy every minute I try.

Baroo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Riviera Mexican Grill - Redondo Beach

I had literally no expectations going in, probably because I never wanted to go in. Two years living on top of the Riviera, and I never gave it a second thought. It looked as pretentious as it did generic, and worst of all, it looked boring. Because I am an insufferable snob.

Well Riviera Mexican Grill isn't totally boring. It's not The Abbey on a Saturday night, but it's vibrant and colorful with a generically-friendly, beachy theme. 

I beach a lot about the lack of good food in the riviera, but I'll never say no to lobster. And far as lobster goes, I could do a lot worse then the Three Cheese Lobster Quesadilla. It's one of the better brunches of the bunch; generous chunks of mostly claw meat with plenty of cheese at a price that doesn't claw at your wallet.

The Grilled Chicken Burrito is a giant. Proportionate combination of rice, black beans, chicken, and cheese, drizzled with three very different salsas. The mole-style finishes sweet, the orange is playful, and the dark red tastes deeply roasted. It'd be a boring burrito, but the salsas really spice it up.

I just can't. I really like Riviera Mexican Grill, but I can't make it exciting. I can't get all fired up about those steadfast salsas, and even my love for lobster doesn't get me hot and bothered about that quesadilla. It's not sexy, it's not novel, but it is as reliable as it is endearing. Quality and quantity are not to be underrated or overlooked, and though I'm not clamoring for a return trip, nothing would keep me from coming back again.

Riviera Mexican Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sushi Day - Gardena

I have a problem. I just reviewed one sushi restaurant, and I have three others on deck, not including Kantaro because I don't need to review it again for the 6th time. I've been on a super sushi binge for weeks, and my addiction is a craving that cannot be contained.

They say that acknowledging the problem is the first step, but I'm way past that now. I've advanced to the stage of addressing the issue. To quit cold turkey would be impossible, and I can't physically stop myself from the indulgence. But if I'm going to stuff my face, at least I can do it with half-price nigiri. 

I know, sushi on sale is sketchy at best, and they usually skim more than half the quality off the top. But this Tuna is hardly second rate. Not exactly a sophisticated bluefin, but still a fresh, lovely cut. The Scallop with yuzu pepper is just as fresh with a slightly sweet finish. The Octopus is quite tender, and the Eel is a step up from grocery-store unagi. It doesn't taste pre-frozen, and I'm more than fine with this.

The rolls are as authentic as any restaurant is not, but the fusion-y rice-rockets are always good fun. The Dynamite Roll is a guilty pleasure, sushi purists and snobs be damned. The glorified California roll is packed with ripe avocado, a decadent topping of baked shrimp, scallop, and imitation crab smothered in mayo, dripping in egg-whip sin. Cloying and sickening, but in a good way.

The Spider Roll is a classic; any excuse for a soft shell crab. Needs less rice, more crab.

The Caterpillar Roll, another classic. Fresh water eel and imitation crab inside, gooey avocado on top. Doesn't need the crab, wish there was more eel, but it all tastes pretty good together so no real complaints at all.

If I'm going to chow down, at least there are places where I can chow down for cheap. But to call Sushi Day cheap is a bit unfair to them. Cheap implicates quality as well as quantity, which doesn't accurately describe the sushi here. The quality is actually better than expected for the price, and their nigiri is legitimately middle-of-the-road and would probably fetch a higher price in not-Gardena. It's hard not to enjoy this cute, clean little joint especially after their dollar-sake deals, and if you happen to be in the neighborhood, I could casually recommend Sushi Day. 
Sushi Day Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Honeymee - Gardena

Milky soft serve, true milk, 100% California. Not exactly a hard sell. The ice cream is so creamy and sweet, but add a chunk of waxy honeycomb with saccharine, syrupy drip, and it's a golden ticket to the best kind of diabetes...or should I say diaBEEtes?

Dad jokes aside, Honeymee is a semi-chain you really have to try. Honey, you need to go get some Honeymee. 
Honeymee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Uzumaki - Culver City

Trendy, cozy, intimately city-chic. Minimalist menu, Omakase Uzu, Uzumaki Plus is quite a deal. 

The Ceviche is cool and cold. Freshly refreshing chunks of slick salmon and meaty tuna.

I may have reached a new foodie low. I even photographed the Edamame. It was good edamame, cooked to just the right level of firm, but that doesn't excuse the fact that I just photographed edamame.

Round 1: An ambitious Albacore is airy and hearty at the same time. The Salmon is smooth and dense with a side of citrus, and the Yellowtail is tender with a tinge of pink.

Round 2 is a gorgeous, gooey Sea Bream and a buttery Amberjack, both spiked with a dot of yuzu pepper.

Round 3: A tender Scallop, pure ponzu Halibut, and an effusive extravagance, the Bluefin Tuna.

The Crunchy Shrimp Roll is so much more than I ever could have expected. It's just shrimp tempura, but it's an undeniable hit of fresh seafoam shrimp, and the tempura flakes are the lightest, freshest beige.

The Spicy Tuna Roll is equally exciting, a classy touch of spice to highlight, rather than disguise the tuna.

The omakase is enough, but the baked donuts are a must. Delicate little ringlets, ice cream sandwiched in the middle. The Honey donut is best with a scoop of rich dark chocolate. 

The Green Tea taste is less detectable, but the pistachio ice cream is worth a try.

I see that Uzumaki has been criticized as a wannabe-Sugarfish. I couldn't disagree more. IMHO, Sugarfish tries too hard to be sexy, and their over-seasoned, overpowering rice-bombs overwhelm the fish. Uzumaki isn't Sugarfish at all; it's just Uzumaki. Their seasonings are complementary and subtle, and the nigiri is flavored with intention rather than flash. Far as fish-bars go, I prefer the quieter appropach, and Uzumaki is on my list of "preferred".
uzumaki Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato