Restaurant Review #40: Unurban, Santa Monica

A true coffeeshop lover's coffee shop, Unurban, located on Pico slightly west of Centinela, offers the funky atmosphere and surly, quirky servers you've been missing on all those trips to the Coffee Bean.

From the outside, Unurban looks tiny and perhaps intimidating. Why was I intimidated by this place? Maybe it was the punk rocker types I saw hanging around--I know how painfully wholesome I look. Maybe it was the neon purple and neon green sign growing in the window. Maybe I suspected that my natural good nature would clash with the natural surliness of the baristas. I am really more of a Literati Cafe type.

Maybe all of these things were true, but it didn't prevent me from enjoying the 3 hours I spent there. Musicians frequently perform here, and last Saturday night was no exception, but the shop is large enough that you can sit in the back room, away from the music, and have a conversation in a normal tone of voice while enjoying some live guitar.

During my visit, I had a lemonade--it was pink, and no more exciting than MinuteMaid; water--tap, room temperature, served in a very unappetizing plastic glass that seemed to say, "screw you for ordering water"--I couldn't bear to drink out of it, and wasn't sure what the source of such hostile water was since my friend and I spent at least $20; two Italian sodas, both vanilla, both quite good--and they let you add the cream yourself (it was from TJ's, but if I were in charge, it would be Horizon, which tastes significantly better than any other brand); and an avocado melt, which was damn tasty. It took them forever to make that sandwich, but the wait was worth it. It was huge, perfectly toasted, and very warm. I had my choice between sourdough and honey wheat, and in between the bread was avocado, cheese, red onion, and quality tomatoes. My sandwich was served with round yellow corn chips, which I suspect were also from Trader Joe's (across the street), which I did not eat because I was too full and I need salsa with my corn chips.

The decor is fantastic. Their seating ranges from several rows of old movie theater seats, to kitchen tables salvaged from the seventies, to furry animal print things. I have never seen so many places to sit in a coffee shop. Of course, the movie theatre seats probably had a lot to do with that. I spent my time in the back room, where I could see into the kitchen/employee area from the back. The current art display was abstract flower photography, which a surprising number of patrons were actually making their way around the room to look at (I wasn't terribly impressed though, and I have a decent eye for art). Unurban also had a couple of tall bookcases full of books. In the ordering area, they sell incense and miscellaneous other stuff--something I'd never seen before at a coffee shop.

I did not actually have any coffee, so I can't comment on that. I can guess that the surly coffee boy might give me a look though, since I'm a decaf-only gal, and Unurban's slogan is "Death Before Decaf." For me, it's more like Death Without Decaf. Maybe next time I'll try the coffee. Yes--there will be a next time.


(310) 315-0056
3301 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Other Area Coffee Shop Reviews:
Literati Cafe
Anastasia's Asylum (coming eventually)
18th Street Coffeehouse (coming eventually)
The Talking Stick (coming eventually)

Restaurant Review #39: Thanh My, Westminster, Orange County

Bun with charbroiled beef

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a small automobile

One random Sunday afternoon I decided to go to Fullerton, just for the hell of it. What did I finally buy a car for, if not to enjoy it? Next question: Why would anyone go out of their way to go to Fullerton? Well, now I know. They wouldn't. Fortunately, Westminister, and Little Saigon, were not too far away, so I made a stop at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. This is another one of those gems that I found (several years ago, before I even lived here) simply by driving down the street and picking the most crowded restaurant to eat at. Funny how that doesn't work at all for American restaurants. Cheesecake Factory, anyone?

Imperial roll appetizer

Letting the day go by...

Thanh My is populated entirely by Vietnamese folk, most of whom will not utter a word of English during their meals, and white, white me. It's a super casual atmosphere-less place, like almost all Vietnamese restaurants. The menu is extensive. The food is cheap and good. Though I have been here several times before, this particular trip was inspired largely by a desire to see what the big deal is about pho. I've liked Vietnamese food for several years now, but tend to stick to bun and tofu dishes (when they exist). What's the big deal about a bowl of broth called pho (more or less pronounced "fauh")?

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

If you have never been to a Vietnamese restaurant before, particularly a real one, you may ask yourself, what is all of this stuff? Well, that's what I'm here for. Bun (first photo) is a bowl of vermicelli noodles and something else, such as charbroiled beef or pork (or perhaps tripe or something else I am unwilling to eat). There will often be an imperial roll or 2 (like a small eggroll) in your bowl as well. There are also veggies, like sliced carrot, and herbs, like mint, and then you'll get a bowl of delectable sweet and sour fish sauce to pour over the top. Note that the imperial rolls contain pork, though from reading the menu description, you'd think they were vegetarian. There are a few vegetarian dishes on the menu, but they aren't very exciting, and consist only of noodles and/or veggies (no tofu). I've found that when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, you're better off being a carnivore. In my semi-vegetarian opinion, charbroiled beef with lemongrass (pictured below) is one of the best reasons to eat meat (aside from hamburgers with blue cheese, of course).

Pho is the biggest bowl of soup you've ever seen, renowned for the rich, complex flavor of it's homemade broth. It contains vermicelli noodles, and whatever kind of meat you've ordered. The meat is cut into very thin slices which are actually cooked by the broth, so they may arrive at your table still pink. Pho is served with a plate of mint leaves, bean sprouts, and a lime wedge, all of which can be added to the soup at your discretion. You can also add hot sauce, though I wouldn't recommend it, because it really covers up the flavor of the broth.

There are also noodle dishes, and crushed rice dishes, which will be something meaty with a side of rice. I really like putting the aforementioned fish sauce on my crushed rice.

And you may ask yourself, How do I eat this?

I like to use the ceramic spoons (usually already on the table, in a container off to the side) to slurp the broth, and chopsticks to eat the noodles. I imagine this is how you're supposed to eat pho.

Pho pho pho pho pho pho pho pho far far better

I ordered the sliced beef pho, and indeed, the broth was quite flavorful, and better than what I've had on the Westside, of course, but I just don't think this is a dish I will ever be passionate about. And yes, I've been waiting to use that pho lyric for a long time.

On another visit, I had the charbroiled beef bun. It was amazing, and I don't even like meat very much. The beef was sweet and tender. Next visit, I'll probably order this again, or a noodle dish. Hell, this place is so cheap, I ought to order both. Many dishes are only $6. They also have lots of interesting drinks, and the ever-delectable Vietnamese coffee, of course. Do they have soursop shakes? They may. If so, I'd recommend one.

You start a conversation, you can't even finish it

I will admit, sometimes when something is good, I don't say much about it. I just want you to go eat it!

We are vain and we are blind

Where is my check? Can't they see that I'm done with my meal? What is up with this service? Ok, here's the deal: when you're done with your meal, just take that tiny slip of green paper with the number on it that has been sitting on your table the entire time up to the cash register by the door. This arrangement might mean that if you need a to-go box, you'll be waiting for a million years. We had a hard time getting any service once our food was on the table (I wondered if it was because most of the servers passing by perhaps weren't comfortable with English-alas, I speak no Vietnamese). And don't be alarmed by the security cameras. Last time I checked, Westminster was not a hub of thuggish activity. But then, I live on the Westside, so what do I know?

Charbroiled beef with lemongrass

Large meal for two, with drinks (get the lemonade, or the soursop shake!), tax, tip, and leftovers: $27.65

Thanh My Restaurant
9553 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683-5904

FYI: On my last visit, I stumbled across another Thanh My, in a different location, in a pinkish building, and with very few patrons. Is this an expansion of the original or a separate restaurant trying to soak up business based on the popularity of the place I've just reviewed? I don't know. Just make sure you eat at the right Thanh My. Or be adventurous and go to the other one, and let me know how it goes.

Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean!

Restaurant Review #38: All India Cafe, West LA

This is supposed to be one of the better Indian restaurants in the area--and this judgment refers strictly to the food, as there is no atmosphere, unless you count a stunning view of the Blockbuster Video across the street. So I faxed in my order, had my friend pick it up on the way home from work, and enjoyed my Indian feast in the atmosphere of my tiny apartment.

We ordered the Bombay chicken (listed as a cafe specialty), palak paneer, garlic naan, tamarind chutney, mint chutney, kheer (rice pudding), Nimbu Paani (lemonade), and ginger brew. Here's my quick analysis:

Bombay chicken: So flavorful that it made me understand why people choose to eat meat. Amazing. Tender meat, bursting with flavors of onion, ginger, green chilies and spices, dried mango powder, coriander, and cayenne. Comes on the bone (my warning to the meat-squeamish).

Palak Paneer: So bad that I threw it away. Yes, I, Amy, threw away Indian food. How do you ruin palak paneer? Even I can make a decent palak paneer, and there is not a drop of Indian blood in my body. It tasted like school cafeteria spinach. Blech.

Garlic Naan: Good. Standard.

Mint Chutney: Not watery and flavorful. Yum.

Tamarind Chutney: Very good flavor but very watery. Why is all the tamarind chutney in LA so watery?

Kheer: Pretty good, but nothing mind-blowing. Cardamom flavor should have been more pronounced. Taking the seeds out of their pods before cooking always helps. The rice was soggy, but I think that's common in rice pudding--after all, it's made with leftover rice. However, I'd really like it if someone made me rice pudding to order so that the rice wasn't soggy. Maybe. I'm not sure this would work, I'd just like to try it. Personally, I'm terrible at making anything that involves rice (that's right, I can make palak paneer, but I cannot cook rice), so someone will have to do this for me.

Nimbu Paani: Did not come in a cup. Came in a soup cup--maybe they were out? Somewhat watery, but probably my fault for waiting 30 minutes to drink it. Overall flavor was good--lemonade infused with fresh ginger and lime. Tasted a tad carbonated, too.

Ginger Brew: Cheaters! It was a bottle of Reed's Extra Strong Ginger Brew. For $3.75??? Christ. I thought this was going to be something homemade.

Overall: The Bombay chicken would be worth going back for, but I don't eat much meat, so I doubt I will go back. I don't know what all the fuss is about this place.

All India Cafe
12113 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 442-5250

Better Indian Food
More Better Indian Food
Even More Better Indian Food


Sushi Etiquette

Escaping the teriyaki chicken: how to get the most out of your sushi experience

Sushi is my favorite non-dessert food, but often I have a hard time finding someone to share a meal of raw fish with. My friends are usually either scared of it, turned off by it, or intimidated by not knowing what anything is or how to eat it. Or sometimes they’re very eager, but they embarrass me with their complete disregard for sushi etiquette. Others like sushi, but have yet to stray far from the safety of California rolls and yellowtail.

When I first forayed into the raw fish frontier, I could not find much information online about how to eat sushi properly. Now, I know a fair amount about sushi and sushi and sushi etiquette, so whether you're a newbie or an old fan, I'd like to share my tips for getting the most out of your sushi experience.

I’ll skip the bar versus table debate, since I’ve already explained that here. So let’s talk about deciphering the menu. Sashimi is just thin slices of fish (about ¼”) served alone, without rice. Nigiri is a thicker piece of fish, about 2 inches in length, served atop a small rectangle of rice. And maki is rolled sushi, which is probably what you think of when someone talks about sushi—seaweed wrapper on the outside, followed by rice, then fish and/or vegetables in the middle. When you order maki (which is usually described as a roll on the menu, so that’s easy), you can have it two ways: you can get a cut roll, which is what you are probably expecting, or you can get a hand roll, which is where the seaweed is rolled into the shape of a cone and not cut. In my opinion, hand rolls are difficult to bite (seaweed is quite tough) and awkward and messy to eat. Some rolls, like the softshell crab roll, look better presented this way, however. When you order a roll, you’ll get 6 or 8 pieces, and when you order nigiri, you’ll always get two pieces. An order of sashimi is generally 5 or 6 pieces.

As far as the actual names of the fish themselves, they are usually written in English, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But just because you can read “yellowtail” doesn’t mean you have any idea what it tastes like. I could try to explain all of the flavors to you, but wouldn’t it be more fun if you let yourself be surprised? Just make sure you know if it's shellfish or not, if you (or your date) are allergic.

If you’re new to sushi, I have a few suggestions for things that are less scary. Not all sushi contains raw fish. Some rolls, like cucumber rolls or avocado rolls, just contain vegetables. These rolls also tend to be smaller and easier to eat in the requisite one bite (more on that later). Then there are rolls that contain cooked fish, like California rolls, which have veggies and crab meat, if you’re lucky, or more commonly (depending on the caliber of restaurant you’re at) veggies and fake crab meat, which is often made from a bland, inexpensive white fish called pollock that is then flavored to taste like crab. Be warned—if you are allergic to shellfish, you should not eat imitation crab—it does usually contain trace amounts of real crab. To avoid raw fish, you could also try anything with shrimp in it, since the shrimp will be cooked, such as a shrimp tempura roll, which contains fried shrimp and vegetables.

If you want to try nigiri but are afraid of faw fish, try a piece of eel. Eel is not slimy at all, and is cooked. It is also often heavily glazed with a teriyaki-like sauce (eel sauce), so it doesn’t even taste like fish. There are two kinds of eel, saltwater and freshwater. Oddly enough, the saltwater eel will be the fresher of the two--freshwater eel is generally cooked and packaged in Japan and then flown to the U.S. As a beginner, you will probably appreciate either one, though having had my share of sushi, I'm a little sick of saucy freshwater eel, and think saltwater eel, served plain with just a hint of sea salt and citrus, is sublime. If you are ready to explore raw fish, try yellowtail (hamachi), which has a mellow flavor and smooth texture. Or, you can do what I did the first time I had sushi, and go straight for the octopus.

I’ve tried pretty much everything that isn’t shellfish (I’m allergic, so no shrimp, crab, lobster, or sea urchin for me). In case you were wondering about some of the more daring things on the menu, I’ll tell you about a few. Giant clam is smooth, slightly sweet,and very crunchy. Who knew fish, let alone raw fish, could be so crunchy? I have only had it once, and I didn’t think it tasted like much, but I’d recommend trying it just to experience the bizarre texture. I found octopus to be chewy and very salty. I think it is probably only good when prepared by the best of chefs, so don’t bother unless you’re dining somewhere spectacular. Another interesting experience is to get salmon roe or herring roe—large or small fish eggs. These are listed with the nigiri, and served in twos, but are shaped more like rolls. A seaweed wrapper on the outside and a layer of rice on the bottom are used to create a sort of bowl which is then filled with fish eggs and sometimes topped with wasabi. Salmon roe are larger, and pop and gush when you bite into them, while herring roe are crunchy and tiny enough to get stuck in your teeth. Both are very salty, partly because they are almost always packed in salt and shipped from Japan. If you are lucky, you may be able to get fresh eggs (read: not packed in salt) when they are in season. These taste much better, as their saltiness is much more subdued.

As if the experience of 50-200 raw fish eggs in your mouth wasn’t enough, you can also get either of these with a raw quail egg cracked on top. The quail egg is very runny and salty, yet somewhat sweet. The experience isn't as horrifying as you might think, but personally it is not something I feel compelled to repeat, though I'm glad I did it.

If you just want to get through the evening without embarrassing yourself, I have a few suggestions. Do not put ginger on top of your sushi. The flavors of sushi are delicate, while pickled ginger has a very strong flavor. The purpose of the ginger is actually to cleanse your palette between different kinds of fish—essentially, to get rid of the flavor you just tasted so it won’t interfere with the next, distinct flavor. So if you put it on your fish, you’re negating that $3-5 morsel you’re about to put in your mouth, and horrifying the chef and everyone around you.

Second, when you create your soy sauce dish, only put in a little bit of soy sauce—preferably reduced sodium, again to preserve the flavor of the fish and not detract from it. Technically, you are not supposed to put wasabi in the dish—yes, everyone does it, and yes, they’ve given you a huge glob of the stuff, which makes it seem like you’re supposed to use it. A good sushi chef actually applies wasabi to the fish for you, if he thinks there should be any at all. Personally, I hate this practice—I think there is always too much wasabi, and it’s all in the middle part of the fish. Eating too much wasabi will really make your brain burn, and if you’re me, will result in you shaking your head back and forth violently until it goes away. I prefer to mix my wasabi and soy sauce and dip my fish in it.

Contrary to what you might think, saturating your soy sauce with as much wasabi as possible does not make you hard core—it makes you look like a beginner, and it means that, again, you’re destroying the flavor of your sushi. You'll never use anywhere close to the whole glob of wasabi--it's just there for show. Or something.

When dipping a piece of nigiri into soy sauce, you turn it upside down and dip the fish side in. If you dip the rice side, the rice will soak up too much of the soy sauce. If you’re dipping a roll, get it in and out quickly, and definitely don’t plunk it into the bowl and leave it there to marinate. You’re trying to compliment the flavor, not drown it out

Then there is the chopstick question. When do you use them, and when don’t you? You use chopsticks to eat sashimi. You don’t use them to eat nigiri. And you usually use them to eat maki, but it is somewhat more acceptable to use your hands if you feel so inclined. It is also somewhat difficult to pick up a large roll with your chopsticks if you are a beginner. The best way to learn to use chopsticks, though, is to force yourself to use them through an entire meal. It will be frustrating, and will take a long time, but will also take you far in learning to use them.

Chopsticks have an eating end and a serving end. The narrower end is for taking food from your plate to your mouth. The wider end is for taking something from a communal plate to your plate, for example, if you’re nabbing a dab of wasabi or a few slices of ginger. Also, don’t rest your chopsticks on the table. Ideally, you'll have a chopstick rest, like a small stone or ceramic animal, but most places don't bother with these, it seems. I usually rest mine on the wasabi dish, though I don't know if this is kosher.

Another important thing about sushi is that it is meant to be eaten all in one bite. I question this often, since almost every piece of sushi that comes my way is way too big for my mouth. Rolls are extremely difficult to bite into though, because seaweed is so tough. Nigiri and sashimi are easier to get away with taking bites of—and you’ll look less uncouth doing this if you don’t put the fish back on your plate between bites. Though I can see the purpose of eating the sushi all in one bite, especially if it’s a roll with different ingredients, or a chewy fish that resists being neatly bitten in half, I don’t see how having a mouth so full of fish that I can barely chew is supposed to enhance my experience.

These guidelines are designed to enhance your eating experience—though some of them, like not leaving unappetizing half-bitten hunks of raw fish on your plate, and using the serving end of your chopsticks when appropriate, are also meant to please those that share your meal. Ultimately, eating sushi is about sheer pleasure, so eat whatever kind of sushi you want in whatever way is most pleasing to you—or if you really can’t handle the fish, just order the teriyaki chicken.

On Eating at the Sushi Bar


Restaurant Review #37: Warszawa, Santa Monica

Salad sampler

Since I have heard many a good thing about Warszawa and I have never had Polish food, I decided to give it a try. I went on a Wednesday night at 6pm, which is exactly when they opened. Only three tables were occupied the entire time I was there (but I was only there until 7 because I had to be somewhere). The restaurant was very quiet, so quiet I almost felt the need to whisper, which was great because my throat was sore. The wooden floor was very noisy whenever anyone walked across it.

We got complimentary bread, which was quite good--chewy, super-fresh sourdough. Too bad they served it with the same metallic-tasting minced black olive crap that
Osteria Latini gives you. I hope this olive spread is not becoming a trend!

I've had very little appetite for the last month, so though there were more things I would have liked to order, I simply ordered the salad plate. I got to try six different kinds of salads:

Warszawa - a melange of shredded carrots, apples, onions, sauerkraut,
and fresh herbs, flavored with lemon, caraway, and white pepper 6

Roma tomatoes, scallions, grilled mushrooms, and Polish goat cheese in light garlic vinaigrette 6

Lemon marinated red cabbage, yellow, green, and red bell peppers
with leaks and caramelized walnuts 6

Thinly sliced cucumbers in a lemon and dill yogurt sauce 5

Celery root with scallions, walnuts and lemon 6

The Warszawa salad was definitely the best and most interesting. The others were not so exciting. One, not listed above, was something like raw cauliflower in yogurt. Eew. The roma tomatoes and goat cheese were tasty, though nothing I hadn't tasted before and couldn't very easily make at home. Same with the cucumbers in a lemon and dill yogurt sauce. The candied walnuts were astonishingly crunchy and good--I am really not fond of walnuts at all, but these were interesting. They didn't taste too much like walnuts, nor did they mush between your teeth the way plain walnuts do.

My friend had
the potato, cheese, and onion pierogi. They were delightfully light and fluffy, while at the same time being filling (potatoes and cheese can do that to you). They were nothing like the pierogi sold in the freezer section of Trader Joe's. Those were also good, though quite dense and differently shaped. Warszawa's pierogi are more like ravioli; Trader Joe's version is more like dumplings. Maybe they make them both ways in Poland. Or maybe the TJ's version was a Russian variation?

Potato, cheese, and onion pierogi

The service definitely left something to be desired. It was incredibly slow, although the restaurant was almost empty and nothing major appeared to be going on. Our waitress didn't know the specials very well, and described everything as "fabulous." Our water was not refilled quickly enough. I realize that we were not exactly big spenders, but I don't care--a good restaurant should treat all of its clients well. You never know when one of them might be an aspiring restaurant critic, after all!

Dining room

The atmosphere was very nice, without being oppressive or pretentious, as you can see. I rarely eat at restaurants with tablecloths and candles, and the place kind of looks like the inside of a house, though it doesn't feel too homey--you'll still feel like you're out for a nice meal.

Overall, I'd say that I had a good enough experience that I'd consider returning, but I definitely was not impressed the way I was expecting to be from the reviews I'd read. I was happy with the number of vegetarian items on the menu, though perhaps the restaurant does better on meat dishes. There are more things I'd like to try, like the Polish dessert wine, something off the dessert menu, and some other main dishes. Though I only tried two plates last night, I think I got a good taste of what Warszawa has to offer.

1414 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica
Dinner Only
Closed Mondays
Here is a link to their menu:

10% discount with KCRW card!


Restaurant Review #36: Malibu Kitchen, Malibu

"The Rachel"

Malibu Kitchen is kind of a mini gourmet grocery store, sandwich shop, and bakery all rolled into one. It's located in Malibu Country Mart, because, well, everything in Malibu is located in Malibu Country Mart. There are several tables outside with vinyl coated fabric table cloths. Apparently there were also birds outside, because my mom refused to stay and eat at a table. She is deathly afraid of being attacked by birds, and it's really amusing when she grabs you and ducks behind you because she sees--a bird. I am pretty sure this will prevent my mom from ever seeing the great cities of Europe. Anyway, the inside is all creaky, rustic wood. Wood floors, wood ceilings. It's a popular, and rather pricey place (but you're in Malibu, what did you expect?). The sandwiches run around $9 and come on your choice of any of 8 or so breads. The menu is extensive, offering something for everyone, including vegetarians (though most of the sandwiches were meat-based). It seemed like a place where you could create your own sandwich if you wanted, even though that wasn't stated on the menu.

I took my mom and brother here to pick up some sandwiches to eat on the beach. This turned out to not be such a simple plan. We had to wait in line for at least 15 minutes, maybe longer. The guy who took our sandwich order was rude to my mom when she said she wanted her sandwich on "white bread or something" (I get frustrated with her indecisiveness too, but strangers are not allowed to be rude to mommy). Then we couldn't find any beach to sit on (it was the 4th of July weekend, and Zuma Beach was a nightmare). On the plus side, the woman running the cash register was very friendly, the food was good, and they sell many interesting cheeses and soft drinks. They also sell pasta, ice cream, insanely expensive cakes ($80???), cookies, bars, and more.

I had The Rachel, which was turkey, imported swiss, saurkraut, and some kind of orange special sauce on toasted rye. I got mine on wheat though, since I don't like rye. The sandwich was quite tasty, though I fault them for putting the saurkraut next to the bread instead of between the sandwich and the meat, so that the bread wouldn't get soggy, which it did, of course. It didn't ruin things for me though. I enjoyed my sandwich while sitting on a piece of concrete overlooking the overcast Pacific and spending some quality time with my not-so-little brother. Mom ate hers in the car, where there were no birds.

Malibu Kitchen
3900 Cross Creek Rd Ste 3
Malibu, CA 90265-4962
(310) 456-7845

Restaurant Review #35: Zankou Chicken, West LA and Van Nuys

Chicken Tarna Wrap

After a girl in my public speaking group gave a mini-speech on Zankou chicken--well, I was skeptical. Roasted chicken? Ehh. Not my thing. Roasted chicken has an odd texture, kind of like someone already chewed the chicken and then put it back together for me to eat. But somehow I convinced myself that I needed to taste what she'd spent several uninterrupted minutes raving about.

I went to the Van Nuys location last Saturday night. Wow, a parking lot! Just one of many reasons why I love the Valley. I was glad I hadn't taken my visiting family there as soon as I walked in--I was expecting casual, but didn't realize that it was absolutely a fast food restaurant. No decor, ugly tables, big backlit menu photos behind the cash registers. Fortunately, I was getting my food to go.

I ordered the chicken tarna wrap, and then tried to order a container of garlic sauce and a container of pickles (I could eat pickled turnips all day long until my tongue started bleeding from the acidity). Fortuantely, the cashier told me that both came with my sandwich. Sweet!


I can't say much about the presentation--this is fast food, after all. Fortunately, that also means it's cheap. My sandwich was $3. Don't let the price, decor, or presentation fool you though--this food is very tasty! The pickles were more pickly than any I had ever munched before. I wonder what gives them that hot pink glow? The chicken was moist and tasty, and didn't have that pre-chewed texture I'd been dreading. There also weren't any stray fat globs that you sometimes find in fast-food meat (and, well, all meat--that's a large part of why I first stopped eating it). When I was finished, I really wanted another sandwich. I also wished I'd ordered some falafel. Next time, baby, next time. Like dinner tonight, perhaps?

Zankou Chicken
5658 Sepulveda Blvd., #103
Van Nuys, CA 91411
(818) 781.0615
(Corner of Sepulveda and Burbank)

Zankou's shiny new West LA location, also on Sepulveda just south of Santa Monica Blvd.


Restaurant Review #34Literati Cafe, Santa Monica

Large decaf cappucino-my favorite

Located in that hazy is-it-Santa-Monica-is-it-Brentwood-is-it-West-LA strip of Wilshire, Literati Cafe serves coffee, beer, wine, and standard cafe fare, including breakfast, to quite a few patrons. The coffee is quite good, though it would never stand up to any random coffee shop in Seattle or Portland.

At first I avoided the place because it seemed, from the outside, potentially sterile (I think I based this on the nice sign and valet parking). Once inside, it really didn't strike me that way at all, especially because of the attractive wooden tables.

On my first visit, I went on Sunday night around 8, and it was quite busy, though not noisy. I had a difficult time finding a table where I could carry on a private conversation and not disturb someone who was studying--essentially everyone there was studying, reading, and alone, and the tables are excessively close together. I found what I thought was the one table that fit my bill, but learned that the bench where people sit to wait for their to-go orders backed right up to my table, such that everyone who sat there got to hear me talking about. . . well, I tended to change my conversation to a false topic every time someone sat down. Something like, so, I am thinking of moving to New Zealand, what do you think? One person actually turned around to chime in! Had he been less agreeable-seeming, I probably would have had to give him a swift kick in the pants. I will give him credit though--the excessively honest part of me appreciates someone who won't bother to deny that they are eavesdropping on me (not that he had much choice).

On my second visit, a Saturday night around 10, the place was less crowded, almost everyone was there to socialize, and many tables were pushed together, which took away the claustrophobic feeling. I also realized that they have a fireplace, which I happy parked myself next to.

On other visits, the place has been packed with talkative folks. I guess that explains the "we may ask you to share your table if it's busy" and "please limit your stay to 45 minutes" signs on the table. But that's silly! I'm not leaving! Basically, Literati varies from jam-packed to rather peaceful. It's never less than a third full.

Turkey melt

I've had their turkey brie avocado melt, which comes on focaccia with a side of your choice of salad and is pretty filling and a good deal at $8. The sandwich was quite tasty and was also good the next day, but it could have used a slice of tomato. I was very impressed with the menu selection, and even more impressed by the inclusion of beer and wine on the menu, which is rare at a coffee shop. I suppose it helps that a full restaurant, Literati II, is next door.

I also really enjoyed the chocolate cake I had. It did not taste like display case, in spite of being stored in one. Wow! They have a wide selection of interesting desserts. It is always hard to pick just one (or to pass them up altogether). It would be hard to pick just three!

Grilled veggie sandwich

I've also had the grilled veggie sandwich, which comes with grilled peppers, tangy grilled eggplant, tomato, and peso sauce. It was tasty, and the roll it was served on was flavorful and easy to fit into my mouth. It was still a messy sandwich though because grilled vegetables tend to be squirmy. Some cheese would have been nice, both for flavor and to hold things together.

Caesar salad

Sandwiches some with a side of your choice of salad or fruit salad, and the caesar is excellent. I'm convinced that Literati is a place where you can order anything and have it be good.

Fruit salad

So is this a good coffee shop for socializing? Well, it depends. Literati is a step in the right direction, since it seems like most independent coffee shops in the area insist on having some sort of live event every single evening of the week, which prevents coffee-shop-style socializing (if I want noise, I'll go to a bar, thanks). Unfortunately, Literati has a TV. I really think that TVs belong in sports bars, your house, the gym, and Circuit City. The end. The TV isn't too distracting though, as it's not a focal point.

I'll be back. In fact, I already have been, many times. Literati is not perfect (where are the armchairs?), but it's my favorite coffee shop for now.

Chicken pesto sandwich

Literati Cafe

12081 Wilshire Blvd.
Brentwood, California
(310) 231-7484

Other Area Coffee Shop Reviews:
The Talking Stick
18th Street Coffee House
Anastasia's Asylum