Restaurant Review #101: Phoreign, Sawtelle, West LA - CLOSED

Pho tai (rare beef)

Phoreign. My first thought was, "god, what a horrible name for a restaurant. There is no way this place is going to last with a name like that!" Then I realized that it might be a Vietnamese place--and it is--which makes the name slightly less painful.

So is this the reincarnation of Hanoi Cafe? I'm not positive, but I think so. When they closed, the sign said that they were moving down the street. I wasn't expecting the name change, though. I never ate at Hanoi Cafe--in fact, the first time I tried to eat there, I discovered that they'd closed--so I can't tell you if the menu or the flavors are the same. I went to Phoreign with low expectations though, due to 1) the cheesy name 2) the Westside Vietnamese curse 3) the possibility that it was a reincarnation of Hanoi Cafe, which no one seemed enthused about and 4) the gaudy, bright, oversized photos on a large sign outside the restaurant.

Bun with unfried tofu

My low expectations were pretty much fulfilled. The restaurant wasn't bad, but it was somewhere between average and mediocre (average for Westside Vietnamese, that is).

The first problem was that the water tasted funny. To be specific, it tasted like the way swimming pool water tastes when you're right next to a pool float (this spot-on observation brought to you by one of my fellow diners). It was so bad that I didn't drink it at all, in fact, and I'm no water snob. I ordered a cafe sua da instead. I ordered it hot, but it came lukewarm. There's no excuse for not being able to boil water before pouring it over my coffee.

The waiter nicely explained that I needed to wait for the water to drain through the coffee and stir it well so it would mix with the sweetened condensed milk. Yes, I am a white girl, but that doesn't mean that I have never seen a Vietnamese iced coffee before. Sigh. I have sort of noticed, though, that the Sawtelle scene really is almost entirely young 20-something Asians, so I guess I do stand out like a sore thumb. I'm so used to being surrounded by minorities, though, that I tend to think I am one. Actually, when you're surrounded by people who are different than you, that does make you a minority. The white minority. I prefer it that way, actually.

As pho is always a logical measuring stick for a Vietnamese place, that's what I ordered. It was interestingly presented, with the rare beef balled up in a rose shape, but it wasn't served hot enough, the noodles were difficult to tease away from their original clump, and the broth didn't have the complexity of flavor that one expects from a good bowl of pho.

Bun with charbroiled beef

The bun with charbroiled beef (and normally shrimp, but I ordered it sans shellfish) had flavors of lemongrass, and I could definitely taste the fishiness in the accompanying sauce. The imperial rolls had lots of ginger, which was an excellent decision. It wasn't as good as Thanh My, but it was the best dish on the table.

My other friend's dish was a tofu bun dish. She ordered the tofu not fried, which they happily accomodated, but I was a bit horrified to see that they had partially burned her imperial rolls and put them in the dish anyway. It had a different sauce than the other bun, probably because fish sauce isn't vegetarian, so I think it's safe to say that they do have a vegetarian dish on the menu, and that the pho with tofu might actually be made with vegetarian broth as well.

We ate at one of the two patio tables, adjacent to the none-too-scenic parking lot. Our orders were taken quickly and arrived promptly, but after that, we were long-forgotten. The staff was friendly, in that invisible sort of way. The interior looks nice, though narrow and small-there are only 4 or five tables, and the rest of the seats are at a long bar. The dominant color is dark wood, and they have bamboo shades in the windows. The lunch menu is abbreviated, but they do offer a couple of lunch specials that come with imperial rolls, rice, and salad for $10.95. Pho costs about $7.00, and other things are slightly cheaper. Coffee is $3.

Verdict? The only reason I will eat here again is because the location is convenient for me. Pho 99 is probably your best option for Westside Vietnamese.

2123 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Restaurant Review #100: Chameau, Fairfax

View from our table

Note: Chameau has changed since this review was written. It has been remodeled and is now a delibar open daily from 11am.

Chameau's decor is funky, yet gorgeous. Every aspect of the restaurant's design seems carefully considered. When you first walk in, you're immediately bathed in glowing blue light. You might wonder what happened to the elegant restaurant you thought you were walking into. The tiles on the wall look like industrial bathroom tiles. And everything is, well, blue. What?

Pomegranate champagne, water, and Morroccan sangria with an apple slice

Fortunately, the restaurant itself is more of a warm red, though one wall is multicolored with green undertones. With all this funky decor, how does Chameau avoid being painfully hip? I suppose it's the traditional white linen tablecloths and the friendly, helpful, unpretentious service.

To drink, we skipped the wine list altogether in favor of two of Chameau's signature drinks: pomegranate champagne and Morroccan sangria. The champagne itself didn't have the most amazing flavor, and really didn't taste like pomegranate, but what was so well-conceived about it was that pomegranate seeds pop between your teeth in much the same way (but on a larger scale) that champagne bubbles pop. The only problem is actually getting a pomegranate seed in your mouth along with the champagne. I know this sounds unheard of, but I wonder if serving it in wine glasses would help? For those of you who don't know, I recently learned that champagne glasses have that tall, thin design to help maintain bubbliness, which means that ordinary wine glasses would make your champagne go flat faster. I have a solution: drink up!

The sangria was good, but the tiniest bit watery in spite of a lack of ice, which seems to be a problem with all restaurant sangria in this country. Maybe it was the orange juice? The sangria contained about 15 ingredients, all of which our waiter could recite by heart. What made it Morroccan? The spices, and perhaps the apple slice.

Bread, olives, lemon dipping oil, and invisible eggplant dip

These marinated olives were incredible! They were some of the most richly flavored olives I've ever eaten, and really put the olive bar at Whole Foods to shame. Too bad I didn't know until a day later that they sell their olives, as well as their harissa, dipping oil, and eggplant dip. I guess they were out of eggplant dip, because we didn't get any. It didn't feel like anything was missing, though--the bread and olives were plenty, and so much tastier than the usual blah hunk of French bread that some restaurants serve.

None of the appetizers sounded that exciting to me, and we both have small appetites, so we opted for side dishes instead: I got a baby romaine salad with marinated eggplant and red pepper (which were mysteriously absent, once again, but the salad was very good), and my friend got the fingerling potatoes, which were also quite good, and this is coming from someone who doesn't care for potatoes much. Herbs and butter gave the skins a lot of flavor, and the assorted tiny potatoes were so small that they didn't taste dry and overly starchy.

One side of the dining room

Chameau seats 54, in four large booths along one wall, four tables for four down the center, and about seven smaller tables along the far wall. I'm not a fan of the common LA practice of cramming a bunch of tables together, but on a Wednesday night, it was empty enough that it wasn't affecting anyone. We didn't have reservations, and had no problems getting seated (we arrived around 8:00, and only four other tables were full) but our waiter said that it would be hard to get in without a reservation on a weekend.

Wild (not) rouget with charmoula sauce and leek fondue

They were out of rouget, but since I didn't know what that was anyway, I really didn't care. The menu is a bit indecipherable to those of use not too familiar with classical French cooking and all its associated vocabulary, but the staff wasn't stuck up about explaining things. One woman was so friendly about it, in fact, that I was worried she might fall into our table. Maybe she was bartending that night.

The fish was on the salty side, but based on my extensive fish-eating experience in other Mediterranean regions, I would say that salty fish is true to the cuisine. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the skin or not, but I did, as it had a rich, fishy flavor. I didn't think the leeks did much for the dish, and apparently fondue doesn't mean melted cheese sauce, because there was none of that, but what was really a standout was the charmoula sauce--an intensely garlicky tomato relish that actually used high-quality tomatoes. I can't believe how many restaurants use those mealy pink things that some places try to pass off as tomatoes, often to people who don't know better.

Our other entree was the lamb shank with figs, almonds, and scallions (and orange zest!). Unlike the lamb I've had at Indian restaurants, which is a bit grainy in texture, this lamb was silky smooth and tender enough to pull apart with your fingers or tease away from the bone with your fork. Not being much of a meat eater, I left this dish to my friend, but stole most of the figs, which were fresh and soaked in the same sweet, slightly tangy sauce that the lamb was bathed in. According to the same waitress I mentioned earlier, this is one of their most popular dishes.

The menu consists of mostly beef and lamb dishes, with a couple of chicken and fish dishes, and one vegetarian dish. Six of the entrees stand alone (including the two we ordered) and the other eight or so are somehow heavily involved with couscous. Why? I have never liked couscous. It's dry and flavorless. The lamb came with a small side of couscous, which I will admit is the best couscous I've ever had--it wasn't dry--but it still didn't convert me. Maybe if it had been flavored with something (say, charmoula sauce) I would have enjoyed it more.

I couldn't resist dessert at a place where everything else had been pretty spectacular. The apple almond tart tatin with apple cinnamon ice cream was amaaaaazing, and I don't even like apples! The marzipan-like flavor of the almonds took center stage. The ice cream failed to win me over, though.

Rose petal ice cream

The rose petal ice cream was really the only disappointing thing of the night. It tasted too much like cream, and not enough like sugar or rose, and I don't think it actually contained any rose petals. Guess I'll have to go back to Mexico for some real rose petal ice cream. Also, the berries, while quite good, seemed a very odd accompaniment to the ice cream.

Another side of the dining room

Overall, this was one of the best dining experiences I've had in a long time. Chameau has that extremely rare combination of all five things I'm looking for when I evaluate a restaurant: service, atmosphere, presentation, flavor, and value. Yes, it's a bit on the pricey side--all entrees cost $22-24, so by the time you add a glass of wine, dessert (only $5-6), and possibly another $10 for an appetizer, you can end up forking over about $60. But for an experience that's somewhat upscale, and for reliably good food (I liked some dishes better than others, but everything was good), it really is a lot cheaper than other restaurants that offer a similar experience. I spent about half of my meal eating, and the other half oohing and ahhing. I haven't felt so good since Melisse.

339 N. Fairfax
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dinner, 6-10pm, Tue-Sat (closed Sun. and Mon.)
Reservations recommended, especially on weekends

Restaurant Review #99: Krua Thai, North Hollywood

Pad Thai Krua Thai

I chose Krua Thai because it's one of Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential LA Restaurants, and because I'm trying to expand my foodie universe beyond the Westside orbit.

The restaurant's name means Thai Kitchen, which, though not very inventive, is a fitting name given that the dishes here are more authentic than they are at the plethora of Thai restaurants I am accustomed to eating at on the Westside.

The restaurant is known for its noodles, and in fact the front cover of the menu quotes Jonathan Gold as proclaiming that Krua Thai serves the best pad Thai in Los Angeles.

Finally, an excuse to order my favorite dish without being mocked for being unoriginal.

The menu offers both pad Thai and pad Thai Krua Thai, so I chose the latter, what with it being a signature dish and all. The difference between the two is that the pad Thai Krua Thai is spicy. I always thought pad Thai was supposed to be spicy, though I'm not sure what I based that assumption on, given that I'd never been served spicy pad Thai before.

Much to my relief, the restaurant was happy to accomodate my request to leave out the dried shrimp, and the dish already comes with tofu. You can add chicken, beef, or pork for no extra charge, or regular shrimp for another $1.50. The chicken was ground, so I assume the other meat would be, too. Since it's hard to impart chicken strips with the flavor of pad Thai, I think grinding the meat was a good choice.

Krua Thai's recipe is the (perhaps) more authentic version that uses tamarind paste, not ketchup, as a base for the sauce. Sadly, I've actually gotten really used to the bright reddish orange version of the dish (I like to think that it's not made with ketchup though, especially since I don't even like ketchup) and now I actually prefer this version. As far as authenticity goes, from what I understand, there is no one right way to make pad Thai, and what with globalization, for all I know there are street vendors making pad Thai with kethcup over in Thailand. Also, I think it's better without the heat. Although there's generally nothing wrong with mixing sweet and spicy, something about the sweetness of this sauce doesn't mix with chilies, according to my taste buds. I still prefer the pad Thai at Cholada Beach Thai.

The noodles were indeed nice and chewy, though I don't see how that sets Krua Thai apart from any other place that knows how to cook noodles. Rice noodles are easy to mess up, I can attest to that, but for a restaurant that knows it's stuff, this is a basic, basic thing that no one should get extra credit for.

Dining room

The dining room was decked out with Christmas lights and tinsel, and neon lights and brightly colored walls mean that it must look festive year-round. In spite of the decor, the place doesn't exactly have atmosphere--it isn't a place I wanted to linger after my meal was done, or a place I would take a date. A lot of the tables are very large, which leaves me wondering if, at busier times, you end up sharing these large tables with strangers, a la Palms Restaurant. Fortunately, at lunch time, we secured our own table. It was kind of greasy and didn't look like it had been wiped down very well, but alas, I suppose that is part of the authentic ethnic experience. Actually, no, I don't think "dirty table" is anywhere in the definition of "ethnic."

Our server was friendly and took our order promptly, though she disappeared for a while near the end when we were ready to pay and get our leftovers boxed up. Krua Thai gets points for being environmentally friendly because they use Chinese-style paperboard takeout containers. Why must so many restaurants use styrofoam?

To drink, we ordered palm juice, which came in a bottle accompanied by a large cup brimming with crushed ice. We also blindly ordered a whole young coconut (pictured above). The palm juice wasn't that exciting, which was disappointing because drinking whatever brand they serve at Palms Restaurant is simply a heavenly experience reminiscent of liquid sugar cookies, if such a thing existed.

The whole young coconut was, in fact, a whole young coconut, with a little door cut into the top so I could poke my straw in and suck out the clear, sweet liquid whose consistency was much like water. It also came with a spoon, which I assumed was for scraping bits of coconut from the insides.

I would recommend getting a sweet drink to go with your meal. As I sit here eating my leftovers accompanied by only a glass of water, I'm finding myself really craving something sweet. Yes, Thai food is sweet, but the flavor it leaves behind in your mouth is salty and spicy.

Pad Kee Mao

The other dish we ordered was also a noodle dish called pad kee mao which I have never tried before. The dish consisted of wide, flat noodles, ground beef, tomatoes, onions, and mint leaves. This dish was just okay. It's main selling point for me was the noodles, but the overall flavor was a bit lackluster, and the noodles were very greasy. Also, I really have no desire to eat entire strips of onion, large chunks of cooked tomato with the skin on, or mint leaves, so I had to pick around those things to get to the noodles and beef. Finally, while this was listed under noodle dishes, the noodle to meat ratio didn't seem right--there was much more meat than there were noodles.

Fish cakes

As usual, I couldn't resist ordering an appetizer of fish cakes. These were chock-full of tiny, fresh, sliced green chilies, but that didn't mean they were too spicy. The real heat was in the dipping sauce, though if you don't eat a bunch of sauce straight out of the spoon like I did, you shouldn't find your throat catching on fire. It isn't really a spicy sauce, more of a sweet sauce, it just happens to have a a few pepper bits in it. It's that red sauce with cucumbers and crushed peanuts that fish cakes always come with.

Here's something useful I figured out when I was getting my leftovers packaged up. You know how they never package the sauce in with your leftovers? Well, if you dump the remaining sauce all over your food while it's still on the plate, they have to package your sauce. This only works with foods that won't become soggy, of course, but I've eaten the leftover fish cakes and the sauce dumping trick worked nicely.

By the way, we had plenty of leftovers even though we came in famished. I'm also starting to think that Jonathan and I don't have similar tastes, and that his reviews really don't tell me everything I need to know about a restaurant.

In addition to noodles, Krua Thai serves 21 appetizers (fried tofu, fried taro, nam-thai sour sausage); 10 soups (wonton soup, tom yum koong, spicy beef tripe soup); 19 salads (papaya salad, larb, salted blue crab salad); 21 rice dishes (roasted duck over rice, catfish with chili sauce over rice, pineapple fried rice); 37 entrees (fried salted turnip with egg, clams with chili paste in oil, tilapia with Thai herbs); and several drinks and desserts. As you can see, there is something for everyone, and enough variety to keep you interested for many, many visits. They also have a special vegetarian menu!

Total cost of this meal for two, including tax and tip: about $30

Krua Thai
13130 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA
Open daily 11:30am-3:30am

Second location (not reviewed):
Hong Kong Market Plaza
935 S. Glendora Ave.
West Covina


Restaurant Review #98: Jinky's Cafe, Santa Monica

Table for two

At 7:15 in the morning, there aren't a lot of breakfast options around downtown Santa Monica, it seems. The crepe place on Arizona isn't open yet. Panera doesn't count, because I used to work there. Blueberry has closed and transformed into a place called Jack and Jill's, which doesn't open until 8:00. Coffee shops don't count, because I want a hot breakfast, not a mere muffin, to make up for the fact that the doctor appointment I woke up an hour and a half early for got cancelled at the last minute. I could have gone to Buon Giorno Caffe, but I wanted to try something new.

My custom omelette

Jinky's menu is quite extensive, consisting of quite a few omelettes, myriad ingredients from which to create your own omelette, cornflake battered french toast (yum!) and other standard breakfast fare. I ordered decaf coffee and a portabella and swiss cheese omelette. Happily, the waitress delivered an entire carafe of coffee to my table. Unhappily, it was watery, like most restaurant coffee. Damn Americans! When will the rest of you learn to drink real, strong coffee? Europe has spoiled me! And by strong, I don't mean heavily caffeinated (it makes me feel crazy and sick to my stomach) but boldly flavored. Dense. Not watery.

My omelette was also lacking something--salt. Just like Broadway Deli, the cooks at Jinky's seem to leave the salt out of the omelette. Why? Salt is a crucial ingredient in any cooked egg dish! Adding it on top isn't the same--that leaves me with salt crunchies (yuck). I like my salt cooked in. Guess I'll have to stick to homemade if I want a good omelette.

Most dishes come with a side of potatoes and bread of your choice--sourdough, white, or wheat toast, or an English muffin, or a bagel, or...gosh, why dont' you just pick for me? Honestly, I think this is much more food than almost anyone except a football player could consume in one sitting, especially breakfast. I realize that I'm suppposed to be breaking a 9-12 hour fast, but honestly, I'm not that hungry in the morning. I ate about 1/4 of a piece of toast, 2 squares of potato, and a third of an omelette.

Partial view of the dining room

The service was just okay--it took us a while to flag down someone who would bring us a bill, and that someone was not our waitress. Since I'm not a morning person, I don't really expect anyone else to be totally awake and on top of things at 8am either, but alas, some of us must go to work at that ungodly hour and need to pay for our food and leave.

Overall, Jinky's is a decent option for breakfast, given the limited options in the area and given my faith in the french toast I have yet to order. There is also something pleasantly not-LA about the decor and the vibe, though I can't pinpoint what that is. It's not southern, it's not midwestern, it's not LA, and yet it's not generic, either. I would go back, but hopefully I won't have the opportunity, because I'd rather be asleep!

Jinky's Cafe
1447 Second St.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Website (warning, plays music!)

Restaurant Review #97: The OtherRoom, Venice

A somewhat new place on hipper-by-the-minute Abbot Kinney, I was excited about the OtherRoom because there are very few wine bars in the area, and I love wine. They're also a microbrewery, and offer over 60 different kinds of beer. They don't have a liquor license though, so don't get your heart set on that martini.

I'm not excited anymore, though. The OtherRoom is exactly the kind of place I try to avoid, because it's too loud to hear the person you're talking to. If they cut the volume of the music in half, and played a type of music that could fade into the background (may I suggest deep house?), this venue could be exactly what I'm looking for. The interior is dimly but warmly lit, there are a decent number of comfy places to sit, and the wine list is very extensive. But the place is so dimly lit and the wine list so extensive and high up on the wall behind the crowded bar that it's impossible to read. I hope they have menu-style wine lists that I just didn't see.

Since I couldn't read the list, I asked for a sweet white, and was presented with a blah viogner. Hey bartender--just because I didn't make a specific request doesn't mean I can't appreciate decent wine that doesn't taste like the metal barrel it was produced in.

I went on a Wednesday night around 10:30, and it was quite busy. The floorspace was still walkable, but almost all of the seating was taken. I imagine it just gets more crowded as the week goes on. It was pretty easy to park on the street, but I suspect that isn't true on weekends.

I appreciate the idea of trying to create a hip venue for enjoying a glass of wine or some real beer, but with the overly loud music and large crowds, I'll still have to stay home or stick to a restaurant if I want to share wine and conversation with my friends. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who are happy with the hip and loud scene, so places like this will likely continue to flourish, and the rest of us will continue to stay home.

The OtherRoom
1201 Abbot Kinney
Venice, CA 90292


Restaurant Review #96: Blue Marlin, Sawtelle, West LA

Chicken and organic vegetables in sweet and spicy miso sauce

Update: Blue Marlin has permanently closed.

Blue Marlin has received a lot of bad press on Yelp, and I'm not sure why. It's one of my favorite restaurants, especially for the croquette curry, the risottos, and the tranquil atmosphere.

I wasn't thrilled with the organic dish because of the quality of the chicken. On the front page of the menu, Blue Marlin devotes a couple of paragraphs to how they use Jidori chickens and their eggs, saying that they are free range and organic and of far superior quality. But the chicken didn't taste special, and the cuts of meat they chose contained large chunks of fat--a big turn-off. My favorite things about this dish were the roasted acorn squash, the presentation, and the committment to organic ingredients.

Side salad with sweet and tangy miso dressing

I don't think my meal was supposed to come with a side salad and miso soup, but I got it anyway. In this case, the shredded carrot, purple cabbage, and slivers of red onion really made the flavor of the salad perfect. The dressing, though it's yellowy-orange color was a bit off-putting, was fantastic. I finished my salad and ate half of my friend's. I saw other tables getting bread baskets, but we didn't. I didn't care about this oversight though, since the salad and soup arrived within a few minutes of ordering, and I had plenty of food on the way. I'd award this dish "best non-albacore salad at a Japanese restaurant." Incidentally, albacore salad is also on the menu (I resisted the urge though, in favor of trying something new).

Scallop, wild mushroom and curry risotto

I normally don't like risotto, and I was skeptical of Japanese curry after being underwhelmed by Hurry Curry of Tokyo. However, by process of elimination and because I had a hankering for scallops, I ended up ordering this dish. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this curry was richly spiced and a bit hot. The scallops were tender, but the mushrooms seemed more of an afterthought, rather than a main component.

Croquette curry

The menu consists of risotto dishes, chicken dishes, hamburg steak dishes, curries, and a page and a half of spagetti. Maybe one day I'll try Japanese spaghetti, but it doesn't appeal to me for any reason beyond its bizarreness. There are quite a few desserts, including fried ice cream and a chocolate souffle.

Chocolate souffle

The dining room is casual, yet ambient

The dining room's decor seems carefully considered--the entire ceiling is skillfully painted with an aquatic theme, reflecting the restaurant's name while somehow avoiding kitch. Maybe that's because the wooden tables and bamboo blinds are so down-to-earth. There are about ten tables, and the restaurant is quiet and moderately popular, a good alternative to immensely crowded places like Hide Sushi and Asahi Ramen if you're not in the mood to wait at 6:30 pm on a Sunday. The service was friendly, prompt, and very smiley.

Cost of this meal for two including tax, tip, and a lemonade: About $30

Blue Marlin

2121 Sawtelle
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Restaurant Review #95: Merkato, Little Ethiopia, Fairfax

Merkato is the first Ethiopian place I tried in Los Angeles. They distinguish themselves from the many other restaurants in Little Ethiopia in that the prices are lower, they are attached to a an Ethiopian groceries and miscellany store, and you can eat your meal while sitting on a stool with a saddle on top.

I didn't try the saddles on this visit or the previous one--they looked mighty uncomfortable. Some patrons seemed quite happy on them, and others moved to a regular table after a few minutes. The best tables are the dimly lit ones in the back, away from the glare of the adjoining store and the glow of the neon lights in the window.

As always, you can try several dishes by ordering the vegetarian sampler, which consists of the five dishes in the outer ring of dishes in the photo above (the menu inaccurately lists four dishes, and only three of those four are included in the above). The sampler consists of the usual: lentils, more lentils, something that might also be lentils, collard greens, and cabbage with potatoes and carrots. The meat dishes in the middle were a lamb stew and a beef stew. Plenty of extra injera for grabbing up the food came folded and stacked on a separate plate.

I didn't care much for the meat dishes, as they had a very meaty flavor, and I'm not the biggest carnivore. The veggie dishes were all good, but they weren't served hot, only warm, and the red lentil dish didn't live up to my memory of what it ought to taste like. I think I would have liked it had it been more heavily spiced. On both visits, service was slightly slow and indifferent, though there was a marked improvement in speed on my second visit.

In spite of my faint praise, I wouldn't damn Merkato. I think Rosalind's is better, but it also has a higher price tag. If you are less picky than I, sit at one of the tables in the back, and aren't in a hurry, Merkato is one of the best values in town. And if you want to try your hand at home Ethiopian cooking, you can stock up on injera at the store on your way out.

Total cost for two, including tax and tip: $18.00

1036 Fairfax
Los Angeles, CA 90019


Restaurant Review #94: Sushi Masu, Westwood

Cold sake and miso soup

Zagat did not lead me astray (take that, Chowhound!) when it led me to Sushi Masu. On my first visit, my friend and I asked for the best fish of the day and a couple of rolls. We were treated to generous portions of the best toro I have ever eaten, as well as yellowtail, albacore, and salmon. My friend had a shrimp tempura avocado roll wrapped in eel, and I had a delightfully orange-colored roll with salmon, salmon roe, sauce, and cucumber wrapped in rice paper. Both were unique and excellent. Our sushi chef was very proud of his work, and rightfully so. I wouldn't ask for the salmon roll again, but that's mainly because I burned out on salmon about a year ago.

The chef took a liking to us for whatever reason, perhaps because none of the other diners had chosen to sit at his sushi bar, and he made our post-dinner orange extra special by putting it in a martini glass, draping curled orange peel down the rim, and serving it with a single strawberry, sliced in half and held together with a dollop of cream.

Our generic request for hot sake resulted in a sake that was surprisingly smooth, and I was also pleased by the creative use of a single leaf placed between the tips of the chopsticks to hold them off the table, rather than the usual flat stone.

The restaurant only has about 6 tables and maybe 8 more seats at the sushi bar. We had no trouble getting a table on a Tuesday night at 9:00, but that was to be expected. The service was very friendly and at this time of day, street parking abounded. I know that Westwood can be much harder to park on during the afternoon, though.

Hamachi, yellowtail scallion roll, shrimp tempura roll, and saltwater eel cucumber roll

My second visit to Sushi Masu came after a very failed attempt to have a lovely evening at Matsuhisa, the over-hyped (but does anyone hype it anymore?) Beverly Hills outpost of Nobu Matsuhisa's sushi empire.

We called Sushu Masu at 8:00 on a Sunday and they gave us a reservation for 8:30. When we arrived a bit early, we were greeted with a big smile and a promise that our table would be ready soon. While we were waiting, another server asked if we had been taken care of. Already things were looking good. The restaurant was small, quiet, and only about half full. The lighting was somewhat dim, but sleek, attractive lamps hanging above each table provided the perfect lighting for food photography. The tables have white tablecloths, fresh for each customer.

Seaweed salad

We ate everything you see pictured. The butterfish (a speical, below) and the scallop nigiri (also a special) lived up to their promotional placement. The scallops were delicate and unbelievably smooth, and the fish was so richly flavored that I actually couldn't eat the whole thing, even though it wasn't very big. The seaweed salad was reminiscent of the one I had at Nobu Malibu, with the addition of cucumbers and tomatoes. The soy/sesame dressing was tasty, but I didn't care for the chewy texture of the varieties of seaweed used in the salad, nor did I see any purpose in adding tasteless enoki mushrooms (which are best sauteed, I think) or overshadowing the seaweed with large pieces of other vegetables. The seaweed also got soggy under the dressing, so I couldn't revisit it after enjoying some of my other dishes. The kind of seaweed salad I like is the bright green with red flecks and sesame seeds kind, like they sell at Nijaya market. It's more crunchy than chewy, and has a rich, salty, and slightly spicy flavor.

Miso-marinated butterfish

The service continued to be friendly and attentive throughout our meal. The restaurant cleared out by about 9:30 (they closed at 10:00) but the sushi chef encouraged us (twice) to take our time, which I really appreciated. I ordered more food than I could finish, unfortunately. We ordered the $13.50 cold sake on the waitress's recommendation, and I was pleased by its smoothness. As for the other fish, the yellowtail was good, but not the best, due to some chewy spots; the yellowtail scallion roll was mysteriously skimpy on the fish; and the eel cucumber roll was my favorite. It was nice to see a roll made with saltwater eel, which I much prefer and much recommend over freshwater eel.

Overall, it was a great experience (and very reasonably priced, to boot). You should definitely pay this restaurant a visit.

Sushi Masu
1911 Westwood
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Restaurant Review #93: Matsuhisa, Restaurant Row, Beverly Hills

I am sad to report that I have a very negative review of this restaurant, and I didn't even get to eat there. My friend made reservations several days in advance and asked for a quiet table. The person who took the reservation promised him that we would get a quiet table against the wall (apparently these tables are called dining 5 and dining 6, if anyone else is interested, and may actually need to be reserved a month in advance).

When we arrived, staff first didn't bother to ask for a last name and had us confused with another party of the same first name. We were upset that they said we could only sit on the patio or at the sushi bar. Sitting on the patio, it seemed like we might end up sharing our table with strangers. Plus, if I wanted to eat dinner in a plastic tent, I would have gone camping, not to a nice restaurant. Sitting at the sushi bar is fine for a lot of people, but it's just not my cup of tea, especially when I want to have private conversation over dinner.

Once staff realized that we were not the party we thought they were (that there were two of us, not three, should have been a big hint), they said that they did indeed have a table indoors for us. However, it was not against the wall--it was in the middle of the room, and we were probably six inches from the tables on either side of us. Yes, I am sad to report that Matsuhisa is yet another restaurant that tries to cram too many tables into too little space, effectively creating cafeteria-style dining in what is supposed to be a fine restaurant. Also, there was a crying baby in the dining room, and the restaurant's decor was not interesting or impressive at all. Overall, the dining room was noisy, crowded, and chaotic. They also were selling Nobu's cookbook and bottled sauces at the hostess stand, which I thought was tacky (I started wondering if I was at Cracker Barrel).

On top of that, the service left a lot to be desired. They botched our reservation, weren't accomodating or helpful about fixing it, and threw a wrench into what was supposed to be a lovely, relaxing evening. Since I couldn't hear my friend from 18 inches away, and had no faith in the restaurant to not screw up our meal as well, we left without even taking a sip of water.

The moral of the story is, if you want to eat Nobu's food, go to Nobu Malibu.

So how did the night turn out? Sushi Masu, an old favorite, saved the day. The restaurant was peaceful, quiet, and not overcrowded; staff was very friendly and attentive, and the food was delicious--and much cheaper to boot.

129 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 659-9639


Restaurant Review #92: Chabuya, Sawtelle, West LA

The Classic with chashu (barbequed pork)

On Sunday, there was nothing but brown paper and a sign in the window saying that Hanoi Cafe was moving down the street. On Tuesday, the paper was off, and serious work on a new restaurant interior was underway. On Saturday, I looked inside and saw shiny, dark wood tables and fifteen or so new staff people in crisp white uniforms having a meeting.

I was going to stalk this place nightly until the doors opened, no doubt about it. I didn’t know when that would be, but I knew I would be there. I’d never been to the opening night of a restaurant before! Other people count the days until opening day at Dodger Stadium or the opening day of the next Batman movie. But not me!

Open kitchen

Opening night was not Saturday, like I’d hoped and anticipated, and it wasn’t exactly Sunday, either. On Sunday, the restaurant opened with a preview menu consisting of three items, as I remember it: pork gyoza, “the classic,” which was a basic bowl of broth and ramen noodles, and the classic with chashu (barbecued pork). My friend and I snagged seats at the eight seater bar since the twelve or so tables were all full. The service was lethargic--it took a long time just to get our menus! There were a few groups of insider well-wishers, and bouquets of flowers with good luck cards attached. I was willing to forgive the slowness since it was their very first night and the kitchen staff didn’t seem to have gotten soup ladling down to a perfectly timed rhythm yet.

Opening on a Sunday and with a very abbreviated menu may have less impact, but it is smart--it gives the staff a chance to get used to each other and their roles with a smaller menu on a slower night (though Sunday nights on Sawtelle are generally quite busy). And calling it a preview tends to make critical patrons like myself more forgiving of any mistakes.

I ordered--and I surprised even myself with this--the classic with chashu. Why? I guess I thought it would be a richer experience (I usually won't eat pork). Now here’s my disclaimer--I’ve never had real ramen before. I have no idea what I’m comparing this food to--my only measuring stick is my inherent (and rather well-developed, I hope) sense of what is and is not good. Future visits to Ramenya and Asahi are in the works to round out my experience a bit.

As for my dish, the three slices of pork on top were not what I expected barbequed pork to be like--I was expecting something more along the lines of the charbroiled meat you get at Vietnamese restaurants. I was also expecting leaner meat--this meat was lined with slivers of fat that I found really unappetizing (that inconsistent consistency was the original reason I quit eating meat regularly). The noodles were just slightly overcooked, which made them kind of mushy by the time I was halfway though my soup.

The broth was very flavorful, but also very salty--too salty for me. On the plus side, the salty broth lent a nice flavor to the noodles, which you pull out and eat with chopsticks--maybe the broth isn't meant to be sipped alone, though they did give me a spoon. Overall, I thought the soup tasted like pretzels. My friend ordered the classic, and liked her food, though she is admittedly less picky than I. She also agreed with the pretzel description. I thought my soup would have been better washed down with a beer, which I didn’t order--I would save that experiment for a fresh bowl on my next visit. Though I didn’t love my food, Chabuya seemed to have potential. I really liked the atmosphere and the prices, and was curious about what the full menu would offer.

I learned that the real opening night was Friday night, so I decided to go to see how smoothly things were running, how much fanfare there would be, what would be on the full menu, and if I'd like the ramen any better this time.

The interior is sleek, but the dress code is casual

The atmosphere is impressive by Los Angeles standards, where most restaurants are ridiculously noisy (“hip”) or nothing more than floor, tables, and chairs. Chabuya has a sleekness that you generally only find at larger restaurants, and it has a definite din, but the sounds of the other patrons talking somehow retreat far enough into the background that you can still hear the people at your own table quite easily. It’s perfect, really--the background clanking and murmurring is conducive to private conversation, even at the bar.

On my second visit, I got what is probably the most private table in the house, off to the side. The tables in the middle of the room are pushed so close together as to leave you dining with two strangers at your table if you come in a party of two. The booth seating along one wall is probably okay, though I haven't sat there yet. There is no outdoor seating, but there are plenty of chairs to sit in while you wait for a table, and a stack of LA Weeklys to read.

Chicken rice bowl

On this visit, I decided not to order ramen and just eat some of my friend's, and to instead try several other dishes. I got a mini chicken rice bowl, which I really liked--the rice was perfectly cooked. The chicken had a nice flavor, but like the pork on my previous visit, wasn't lean enough for my liking. There's really nothing to this dish--just chicken and rice, and a few toasted sesame seeds that added a lot of flavor. You can dress it up with soy sauce, chili sesame oil, and rice vinegar, all in bottles on the table.

Pork Shumai

Again, I went against my usual tendency to avoid pork like I avoid dirty homeless men and ordered the pork shumai. After all, I had no choice--the other shumai option was shrimp. Not ordering some type of dumpling was not an option, you see--I just love dumplings. These were so good that they actually changed my mind about pork. The filling was juicy and flavorful--I could have eaten these all night. $3 for 3 dumplings is a lot more than the frozen ones I usually eat, but I think these were fresh. The lettuce leaves used for presentation looked pretty, though I might have chosen something else, since the heat of the dumplings caused it to wilt after a little while (by then, you should have polished off your shumai, though!).

House salad--doesn’t taste as pretty as it looks

The house dressing looked like it contained something besides oil, but all it tasted like was oil. Maybe I should have stirred it more before pouring it on my salad. It was too late for that solution though, so I decided to add the rice vinegar that was on the table and dress my salad like a Spaniard, but with a Japanese twist--sesame oil and rice vinegar instead of olive oil and balsamic. The mixed greens, the two cherry tomatoes, and the cucumber were all fresh and wonderful, but the oily, flavorless dressing really killed the mood. How about a soy sesame ginger vinagrette? Maybe that's what they were going for. . . .

Tori soba

My friend, also a newbie to ramen, ordered the tori soba, which was ramen with chicken, garnished with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. According to him, "the chicken in the chicken soup also looked unappetizing, with bits of gristly fat on it, but it didn’t taste bad. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste especially amazing, either. The noodles were cooked perfectly, but the soup did nothing to wow me. Perhaps ramen just isn’t all that impressive of a dish. Still, the price is right and the portions are generous."

The service was noticably better this time in terms of speed, but still indifferent. Our water was refilled regularly, and the dishes all arrived separately and in no logical order. We still had to flag someone down to get the bill. That's sort of odd when there's a crowd outside waiting for a table, but on the other hand, at least the staff wasn't racing to turn tables.

The menu also has a few noodle dishes (both cold and hot) and some sandwiches. I'd like to try both of these on my next visit. From looking at other tables, the sandwiches look like they come in a do-it-yourself format with a fun presentation.

As we left, we walked through a crowd of about 25 people waiting for a table. I was glad we had gotten there just a little after 6:00, when our wait was only a few minutes. It will be interesting to see if Chabuya continues with the success it saw on opening night.

Soups, $6.95-$8.95; sides, $1.00-3.00, other entrees, $3.00-8.95
Total cost of a meal for two and a shared beer, including tax and tip: $17.54

Tokyo Noodle Bar
2002 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90025
Hours: 11:00am-2:30pm, 4:30pm-midnight, daily! I love these hours!

The History of Sawtelle

Restaurant’s own description:

“Straight from Tokyo, Chabuya is the urban ramen bar that revolutionized a favorite Japanese pastime. Its menu was conceived under the meticulous eye of Master Chef Yasujik Morizumi, renowned for his peak season ingredients and uncanny talent for arousing the senses.

Taste Chabuya ramen and two things strike you immediately. The first is an instant appreciation for the fresh, organic ingredients cooked to mouth-watering perfection. The second is an overwhelming urge to take another bite.

Already wildly successful in Japan, Chabuya has arrived to Los Angeles, ready to introduce Americans to a totally fresh ramen experience."


Restaurant Review #91: Fritto Misto, Santa Monica

Sweet potato ravioli with wild mushrooms in a sage cream sauce

across the street from the Big Blue Bus barn at the busy but unnoticeable corner of 6th and Colorado lies Fritto Misto, a highly rated but somewhat unknown Italian cafe that I discovered by accident one day while looking for a parking space. It looked quiet and peaceful, popular but not overcrowded. Though I rarely go out for Italian food, something told me I should make an exception.

I went with the expectation that I was about to be let in on a hidden secret.

The interior didn't look like I'd anticipated--it's very casual. There is a refrigerated display case to your left when you walk in (yet I had faith that it had no connection with what I was about to eat). The decor is scarce--three walls are taken up by large windows and the kitchen, leaving only one wall to be adorned with large, brightly painted plates. Two fans turn overhead, their rhythm making the track lighting flicker across the glossy wooden table tops. There are about fifteen tables in the main room, and I think there may have been another room in back, though I didn't investigate.

Dining room

Some of the tables are much too close together, but since I arrived for an early dinner on a weekday, I got to take the more secluded table for four in the back corner by the window. Several other tables filled around the time we arrived, and by the time we left an hour later, the restaurant was almost full. Even when it was full, it still wasn't too loud.

Fritto Misto

My friend and I ordered the fritto misto appetizer, jumbo ravioli, pasta puttanesca, and creme brulee. The fritto misto appetizer was described on the menu as "Shrimp, calamari, artichoke hearts and seasonal vegetables in a light spicy batter, quick fried in vegetable oil and served with pineapple cocktail sauce and roasted garlic mayonnaise." I was surprised to get a heaping plate of food that would have been enough for four meals for me (or two or three for someone with a larger appetite). I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a few whole baby calamari, although they didn't have as much flavor as the calamari rings. The flavor of the calamari took me back to Spain, where the food is fresh and flavorful. According to my friend, the shrimp were his favorite part of the dish, and the broccoli was quite good, considering that he doesn't like broccoli (I still wouldn't touch it).

The artichoke hearts didn't live up to my hopes of what a fried artichoke could taste like--I think they should use bigger chunks to lock in more moisture and artichoke flavor. The other vegetables were broccoli, carrots, eggplant, zuchinni, and button mushrooms. The calamari and the eggplant had the best flavor, so next time I'll get the calamari appetizer and maybe ask them to throw in some eggplant. If there was pineapple in the cocktail sauce, I couldn't tell, though it sounds like a good idea. What sounds like a better idea to me though is to forgo the red cocktail sauce altogether in favor of something more pinappley, but still tart. The flavor of the roasted garlic mayonnaise complemented the batter nicely. There are a few cajun items on this otherwise Italian menu: cajun seared chicken and pasta New Orleans. Hmm. Quirky.

Make your own pasta

In addition to its excellent food, large portions, and very reasonable prices, another of Fritto Misto's strengths is the large variety of menu options. Fritto Misto has plenty of ingredients to choose from if you want to make your own pasta, making it a great choice for kids and other picky eaters. You can choose your own pasta, sauce, and toppings in whatever combination you want. Even without this option, the menu has plenty of variety and accomodates vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions.

Jumbo ravioli

The jumbo ravioli was the clear winner of the night. It was my friend's dish, but it smelled so good that I beat him to the first bite (and snagged the leftovers). The jumbo ravioli are "stuffed with prosciutto, mortadella, and chicken, tossed with garlic cream, carmelized onions, pancetta (bacon) and sundried bacon." In case you were wondering what mortadella is, it's a very large smoked sausage--real Italian bologna, which is very different from the rubbery slices you see in the supermarket. Though I don't really care for meat, I didn't mind it in this dish, since it was all either in small bits or well-disguised, and lent the ravioli and cream sauce a very rich, smokey flavor. The dish was also very colorful, though I thought the actual arrangement on the plate was a bit sloppy.

Pasta puttanesca

This was my first experience with pasta puttanesca: "kalamata olives, capers, fresh roma tomatoes, anchovy, red pepper flakes on lemon pepper fettuccini in a cabernet butter sauce (spicy)." I was in the mood for something nice and salty. The dish tasted like Christmas trees, and though that may sound highly unappetizing, what I mean is that the flavors somehow captured the essensce of Christmas for me, maybe because that's usually the only time of year that I eat real Italian food. It paled in comparison to how good the ravioli was, but my addiction to the leftovers confirmed that it is indeed a very flavorful dish. I especially liked the cabernet butter sauce. In case you're scared of anchovies, don't worry--they're cut up into bits so tiny that you barely notice them.

Creme brulee

The creme brulee had a pleasantly thick carmelized crust and a slightly thicker consistency than usual. The dessert had a rich, eggy flavor, and overall I really liked it, though it was served just a tad cold, indicating that it had been stored in the fridge (or perhaps that display case) and not heated well enough before it was served.

Our friendly, unpretentious waitress stopped by frequently to check on us, our food came quickly, and our water glasses never got more than 1/3 empty. There is a small parking lot behind the restaurant which fills up quickly and may have a hard time accomodating large vehicles, but when we went, street parking was plentiful.

I think this is one of my new
favorite restaurants..

Fritto Misto Italian Cafe
601 Colorado Ave.
Santa Monica, CA
Fritto Misto Menu

Second location:
316 Pier Ave.
Hermosa Beach, CA


Restaurant Review #90: Volcano Tea, Sawtelle, West LA

Volcano Tea can be a bit hit or miss, but it's still my second favorite boba shop, after Upper House, and in fact, sometimes I prefer it to Upper House, either because it's actually open, because it's not as sweet, or because the drinks are a normal size. Volcano tea is pretty cheap, at about $3.00-3.50 per drink, after adding boba, and offers the usual wide variety of flavors and consistencies (smoothie, milk tea, etc). I almost always get a honeydew smoothie, though I occasionally gravitate towards plum or taro, and all are quite good, depending on what you're in the mood for.

It seems to be more popular than Upper House, perhaps because of its close proximity to many restaurants, which makes it an easy dessert stop, or perhaps because the valet makes it easier to park here than in the shopping center across the street, which might send you to the underground garage.

My only complaint about Volcano Tea is that sometimes the boba isn't fresh enough, meaning that it's a bit dried out and cakey in the middle. Upper House, by contrast, never fails in delivering warm, moist, and gooey pearls. What is their secret?

Like most similar places, with the notable exception of Tapioca Express, Volcano Tea has no atmosphere and is noisy, both because of the often boisterous clientele and because of the constant blender grumbling and whirring.

Volcano Tea

2111 Sawtelle
Los Angeles, CA 90064


Restaurant Review #89: Real Food Daily, Santa Monica

Club sandwich with Asian slaw

Real Food Daily is very popular and almost always full, though I don't think the food itself is exactly the cause for its popularity so much as the concept behind the food. The food can be a bit hit-or-miss, especially if soy milk and tempeh aren't for you, but the stuff that hits is awfully good, and healthy, too.

A lot of people in LA, and especially in the yuppie-friendly north side of Santa Monica where RFD is located, are very health conscious, and RFD really caters to these people with their menu full of fresh, balanced, organic offerings. And I get it, because I really do like seaweed, tofu, and tofu cheesecake. Really. And I definitely like not putting weird chemicals into my body, be they food chemicals or pretty much anything else except wine and the occasional martini. And I used to be plenty concerned about staying thin. If you're trying to eat healthy, RFD isn't a place where you'll have to ask for a million substitutions to keep the tablespoons of butter away.

RFD is also a completely animal-product-free restaurant, which I think is wonderful. At so many restaurants, vegetarians get stuck ordering whatever the one meatless dish is and vegans often have a hard time going out to eat at all. Here, the entire menu is available to these groups.

RFD's food is also grown locally and organically, which I have become a very staunch advocate of after reading a book called Eat Here. Have you ever noticed how many of the avocados in the grocery store come from Chile? Have you ever wondered why, when we produce plenty of avocados right here in southern California? This book will tell you. It reveals about produce what Fast Food Nation reveals about meat.

The atmosphere at RFD in Santa Monica (there is another location in West Hollywood, which I haven't been to) is cozy, particularly upstairs. Some of the tables are a bit close together, but I still feel like I could sit upstairs by a window and write or read for hours. The restaurant's popularity makes it noisy, but it's the kind of din that makes it easy to block everything out and work. The service has always been very friendly and. . . peaceful. How often do you come across a restaurant employee who is neither weary nor unnaturally perky? The management must be doing something right here.

Here's a rundown of the dishes I've tried:

Nori Maki
Sweet brown rice with tempeh, avocado, carrot, collard greens, scallions and umeboshi rolled in nori served w/ ginger tamari dipping sauce, daikon, wasabi & pickled ginger

Disappointingly dry and refrigerator-cold, a dead giveaway that it wasn't made fresh, which seems contrary to the restaurant's philosophy. Also, does anyone else think that calling it nori maki is really odd?

The Club
Lightly breaded seitan served club-style on toasted sourdough bread with tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato and vegenaise $10.25

This sandwich could convince anyone that being vegetarian or vegan doesn't mean you're missing out--it's incredibly flavorful. In fact, I fantasize about this sandwich (now you know).

I'd much rather eat breaded seitan than the usual slimy coldcuts and dry turkey breast. By the way, seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. It tastes better than it sounds--it has a richer, more complex flavor than than tofu and doesn't have the bitterness of tempeh. I think it's the most accessible and effective meat substitute (did you hear that, Boca?).

Create your own dish from a selection of vegetables, grains, and proteins. I've ordered the sea vegetable of the day with tofu and house dressing
(purée of tahini, tamari, lemon and watercress). The seaweed goes very well with the house dressing, but the tofu is lackluster. I think you'll get a better feel of what the restaurant has to offer if you order a real menu item, though I do like this option because it makes life easy for people with dietary restrictions or very limited budgets.

Asian Pear Ginger Kombucha Wonder Drink $4.00
A slightly tart, slightly sweet effervescent wellness drink.

This is a bottled drink that you used to be able to get at Wild Oats (I guess I didn't buy enough to keep it on the inventory list, sigh. Home Grocer carries it though). It's fizzy, but not explosively fizzy like ordinary soda (soda gives me the hiccups instantly!). I'm predisposed to like this drink because it has ginger, but damn, it's good, though $4.00 is pretty expensive for a small bottled drink (to be fair, it is $2 even at the grocery store).

Teeccino Latte
A caffeine-free coffee-like beverage blended from herbs, grains, fruits and nuts capped with steamed soy milk $3.95

Since caffeine makes me batty, I tried this drink. I really didn't like it, which probably is at least partly, if not completely, because I really don't like soy milk--I think it tastes like glue. By the way, don't ask for sugar with your coffee--RFD only has maple crystals. I would like to give this drink another shot without the soy milk.

I've had both the coconut cream pie and the tofu cheesecake. No instant toothache here--I really liked both of these, particularly because RFD only uses natural sweeteners. In fact, if you've never tried an RFD dessert, you might not even realize just how incredibly sweet most desserts are! I love sugar, and have no issues with my waistline, but for some reason I find a little less sugar in my dessert incredibly refreshing. And if you're skeptical of tofu in a dessert, let me just say that you really can't taste the tofu. The best cake I've ever had was actually a homemade tofu chocolate cake--wow, was it moist.

I really respect Real Food Daily's mission and the niche they've both filled and created. As long as you go with an open mind and a recommendation for a good dish, you'll really enjoy your meal, even if you aren't a vegetarian or a health nut.

Wednesday's Soup of the Day: Squash and Apple Bisque

Real Food Daily
514 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-7544


Restaurant Review #88: Jaipur Cuisine of India, Westwood/West LA

Garlic naan, tamarind and mint chutneys, mango chutney, and began bartha

A yellow pages ad for Jaipur's delivery service came to my rescue on a Friday night when I was determined to not leave the sanctuary of my new apartment again until Monday morning. Mao's didn't deliver to my new apartment, and the yellow pages didn't have a lot to offer, but I've only had maybe one Indian dish in my life that was truly bad, so I couldn't lose with Jaipur, right?

I ordered an eggplant dish that I've never tried before--began bharta, which was described on the menu as "tandoor roasted eggplant cooked with onions, tomatoes, yogurt, ginger, and spices." I also had garlic naan, sweet mango chutney, and rashmalai, which is a very mild, very soft and slightly crumbly homemade Indian cheese in milk sauce. The eggplant was pleasantly spicy, and good, though eating a plate of just eggplant gets old kind of fast no matter how good it is, in my opinion. The naan was just right, not too chewy, not too crispy. The mango chutney was very thick and sugary, with small chunks of mango and a hint of tang and spice. There was also a lot of it. It was too sweet for my taste, in the same way jams and jellies are too sweet for me. The dessert, on the other hand, wasn't quite as sweet or flavorful was I would have liked, though it was still good.

The best part of the meal was that my quest for the perfect tamarind chutney has ended, ten restaurants and a year and a half later. Jaipur Cuisine of India is the only Indian restaurant in the city that I know of whose red chutney isn't watery. Oh, I am happy. Best of all, the chutney comes with the naan. I always thought that was standard, but I've learned that some places actually want me to buy the chutney separately. To me, this is akin to charging extra for rice. Something that is a part of the dish you are consuming should not cost extra. "Would you like a bun with your burger? Yes? Okay, that will be an extra fifty cents."

All in all, it was a very good meal, and delivered promptly, perhaps even early. There was a small delivery charge of about $2 that I wasn't expecting, but I was too tired to care. I can't say anything about the atmosphere, since I've never been inside the restaurant, but I can definitely vouch for their delivery service. Though I rarely have food delivered, I would go with Jaipur again. I'm actually kind of surprised that I liked it so much, given that their website says that they have adjusted their flavors for California tastes. I was really disappointed by other restaurants that try to do this, like Ambala Dhaba, but Jaipur has pulled it off without my even noticing. Maybe I just got lucky?

Jaipur Cuisine of India
10916 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(just west of Westside Pavilion)
310 470-4994