Restaurant Review #33: Lazy Daisy Cafe, Santa Monica

I'll make this one short and sweet. The service was slow (only one woman to both wait tables and man the to-go counter--maybe it was an off day). The cappucino was good. The omelette was okay, but I can do better. The plates were different (white with bright blue painted edges) and matched the cups (bright blue). The atmosphere was nice. It was quiet and only about half full at 9:30am on a Wednesday. I'd go back, but I wouldn't go out of my way to go back.

Lazy Daisy Cafe

2300 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA
Breakfast and lunch only

There are other locations as well (Wilshire near Bundy is one).

Restaurant Review #32: Gingergrass, Silverlake

Dining room

Someone to hear my prayers, someone who cares

In St. Louis there was this restaurant called Pho Grand that had ten different tofu dishes. Ten!!! I always ordered tofu with ginger and onions, or occasionally, tofu with lemongrass and chiles. Since moving to LA, I have not been able to find a restaurant that can satisfy my desire to eat a plate full of delicious tofu and crushed rice (the only kind of rice I really like).


Take second best, put me to the test

I've been eating all this half-assed Vietnamese food on the Westside at restaurants that never have exciting tofu dishes. I have noticed that tofu does not seem to be a common item on the menu at authentic places, but can't a girl get a break? Anyway, I finally went to Gingergrass about a month ago, and again last weekend, after having known about it for an entire year. Waiting that long to eat there was a serious mistake!!! They actually have a tofu entree!


Things on your chest you need to confess

First, a little disclaimer. The food at Gingergrass is what I would call white people Vietnamese food. If you want something super-authentic, you're still gonna have to drive down to Orange County. Judged on its own merits though, the food is awfully good. Most of it.

I've tried two of their specialty drinks, the gingerale and the fresh ginger limeade. I enjoyed both, but I was absolutely blown away by the gingerale. It's made from fresh pressed ginger. I've never had anything like it, and I had to order a second one to quench my passion. Both drinks, however, seem to lose their fizziness excessively quickly. Why is this? They also have a basil lime elixir, which I am skeptical of (you want me to drink basil?). Maybe next time.

Shrimp chips

Everyone gets shrimp chips while they wait for their food. I can assure you that there are no shrimp in these, as I did not die from eating them. The thing is, the busboy who delivers them to your table is kinda mumbly, so I couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought he might have said shrimp chips. They tasted kinda shrimpy. I wondered, would a restaurant really serve something with shellfish in it, one of the top 10 allergens, as a surrogate bread basket, and not announce loud and clear, "This has shrimp in it!!!"? Then I remembered how common peanuts are at bars, and that bread has wheat in it. But um, my allergy is more important, right? Anyway, the shrimp chips were like nothing I'd ever had before. I think they are kind of like pork rinds (but cleaner?), though nary a pork rind has crossed my lips. I am a good Jewish girl, after all. Wait, no I'm not. I'm not even Jewish. They come with hoisin sauce for dipping. They also kind of remind me of those packing peanuts made of corn starch, but crunchier (you know, the edible ones?), or cheeto puffs, but denser and slicker (and flatter, of course). You'll just have to try them yourself if you really want to know.

Reach out and touch faith

Gingergrass's food is GOOD. Good like you take one bite and you're so happy you want to cry. Ok, I was anyway. I had to refrain. I was already dining alone, and didn't need the whole restaurant thinking I was emotionally unstable and couldn't get anyone to eat out with me. I like to dine out alone sometimes, because I can taste my food more when I'm not trying to carry on a conversation.

Green papaya salad

On my first visit, I had the green papaya salad. The heavens opened and angels sung when I saw that this dish had....drumroll please...no shrimp! Finally, I could try this dish without fear of death. Ah. Green papaya tastes nothing like papaya. It's kind of like jicama, but chewier. Yeah, you probably haven't had jicama. Sorry. Anyway, the salad was very juicy, kinda sweet, and kinda spicy. Yum. A new favorite. And enough for leftovers. I made it last for 2 more meals.

Vegetarian Imperial Rolls

As an appetizer on this visit, I ordered the vegetarian imperial rolls. They arrived at the table looking somewhat overcooked, but since I was raised on burnt food, I wasn't too concerned. In fact, they were fantastically crunchy. You know how eggroll outsides are crunchy but then chewy? Well, these were just crunchy. Very interesting. Most importantly, they came with the vegan nuoc cham dipping sauce I'm in love with. Overall, the imperial rolls weren't anything particularly innovative, but they were yummy.

Beef, sweet potatoes, and green beans in a peanut chili sauce

My friend ordered the bo sate, "tender filet mignon in a spicy peanut sauce, wok-tossed with yams and long beans." I thought the sauce was off and rather oily. He liked the dish a lot though, so maybe it wasn't that bad. I appreciate the nod to steak and potatoes by using beef and sweet potatoes, though as someone who gets full fast, I don't like dense food pairings.

Steamed fish in a banana leaf, still wrapped, with a side of coleslaw and crushed rice

I ordered the banana leaf fish, which was described as a "tilapia fillet steamed in banana leaves with lemongrass, ginger, chilies, scallions on a bed of carrots and shiitake mushrooms." I figured, most things sound kinda boring on the menu, but actually taste really good. So I let my qualms about tilapia (aka the cheap fish) and the carrots (yucky) slide. It turns out that this was what I would call a diet dish. The fish was steamed all right, and so was everything else. No sauce. Steamed minced ginger. Yum. No. And the lemongrass? What lemongrass? And the shiitake mushrooms, which can easily be made amazing, were awfully bland. I dumped the nuoc cham sauce from the imperial rolls on it, which improved the dish significantly, and thanked myself for having permanently given up dieting (highly recommended).

Steamed fish in a banana leaf, unwrapped

On my first visit, I had the Gingergrass tofu, "crispy tofu with shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy served with our vegan nuoc cham sauce." One bite convinced me that I had found a new favorite restaurant. I am not sure how they made the tofu crispy--it was definitely deep fried, but appeared to be coated in some sort of very thin breading. Intriguing. Wish I knew how to replicate that. The mushrooms and bok choy were sauteed and pretty tasty, though I didn't quite think their flavor jived with the sauce.

Though I was certain that no dish could top it, I felt I should branch out a bit before locking into ordering the exact same thing for the rest of my days. The experiment failed, but now I know. The only entrees I have yet to try are the shaking beef and lemongrass chicken. Neither sound too exciting to me, but meat doesn't excite me in general. There's also a pork chop dish and a shrimp dish, but I don't/can't eat either. Though I'd really love to try the carmelized shrimp if I could. All of the entrees are served with rice and slaw. The slaw is not mayonaissey, like traditional coleslaw, but vinegary. Pretty good stuff, though I'm usually too stuffed from everything else to eat much of it.

Gingergrass Tofu

On my first visit, I had the ginger creme brulee for dessert. It wasn't that gingery, but it was still good, though I thought maybe the texture should have been a bit smoother (I will not claim to be a creme brulee expert). The top was nice and hard, like it should be. Unfortunately, a month later, they had discontinued it. For some reason, key lime coconut bars, and all of the other desserts, just don't appeal to me. I am sweet tooth girl, but I don't get that excited about most restaurant dessert menus. It's always stuff I've had before.

I'll make you a believer

I've just dissed a lot of my meal, and you're probably feeling a bit skeptical about my praise. Just avoid the bo sate and the fish, and you should be fine. To experience the best Gingergrass has to offer, you can check out Mako Mondays, where the chef prepares a fixed menu for $35. You get a ton of food for this price. I haven't been, but I think it's a great idea. If you can't make it to one of these events, I'd recommend the gingerale, papaya salad, and tofu (in case you couldn't figure that out from reading this review). If I'd had the fish or beef on my first visit, I probably wouldn't have been so impressed. Those dishes definitely need some fine tuning.

You know I’m a forgiver

"No you're not, Amy, you're harsh!" Yes, I can hear what you're thinking. Well, the thing is, if a restaurant has done something to impress me, I will go to great lengths to defend its shortcomings (Musha would be a good example of this). I like to think that at a good restaurant, I should be able to order any dish and have it be spectacular. Maybe that's asking too much, but I don't think it is. But ok, I can forgive the bland fish and the off-tasting chili peanut sauce since I never plan to order these things again. I am going to religiously order a green papaya salad and tofu every time I eat here from now on. Those two things, and the drinks, are amazing, so I don't care if they serve a steaming pile of shit to the other people in the restaurant. Well, I guess I would, because I'd have to smell it.

I should mention that the price is very much right at Gingergrass. I had a drink, appetizer, main course, and dessert for $28 including tax and tip, and I had leftovers, too. Gingergrass doesn't serve alcohol, but you can pick some up at the wine store across the street. I believe there is a $5 corkage fee. I hate corkage fees.

My own personal Jesus

Food being perhaps the closest thing in my life to religious experience, I'm gonna have to give mad props to Mako for giving me a green papaya salad without shrimp, ginger ale made from fresh pressed ginger, perfect fried tofu and succulent dipping sauce.

2396 Glendale Boulevard
Silver Lake, CA 90039
(323) 644-1600


Restaurant Review #31: Sushi Tenn, Sawtelle, West LA

Yellowtail scallion handroll-$8

Update: Sushi Tenn has permanently closed.

I can't help but want to eat at a place that I walk by all the time, even if I don't think it will be good. Sushi Tenn was one of those places. It has the trappings of trendiness, which I don't quite care for--backlit sign, sleek interior, noise, hip people--and never seemed to be very busy, and yet, I still insisted on trying it.

The restaurant is small, with about 5 largeish tables (it looks like there are more until you actually count them) and a bar that seats about 14. There are also four outdoor tables, one of which we took. I thought sitting in misty darkness would beat subjecting my headachey friend to the glowing white, echoey interior of the restaurant, though I was kind of disappointed to pass it up. Also, there was a wait to sit inside, and after a day on the road, I didn't have the patience for that.

A server promptly came outside to turn on the heating pole that sits between the four tables, which was nice. Our table, which I chose myself, was actually terrible for anything but food photography, due to the glaring fluorescent light that shone down from the restaurant's overhang. If I hadn't sat there by accidental choice, I would have been unhappy. The street noise wasn't too bad, partly because of the hedges surrounding the outdoor space, and partly because it was a Sunday night and traffic on Sawtelle wasn't bad. We were the only people on the patio, which was nice.

Clam miso soup-$4

I didn't order much, because the prices were exorbitant and I didn't expect the food to be great. My friend didn't order anything--there is virtually nothing on the menu for the non-sushi-eater, except for miso soup and maybe some of the salads. But no teriyaki chicken, no kobe beef, not even a decent cooked fish dish. True, there were a couple of cooked fish appetizers, but judging from the size of the tofu appetizer I ordered, it would probably take about 6 appetizers to even start to make a meal-sized portion of fish.

Now, I have a small appetite, but even for me the portions were small. I ordered a hand roll because the cut roll--a mere yellowtail scallion roll, which normally costs $6--was a whopping $14. I can't even imagine what the justification for that could have been. Sure the yellowtail was good, but it was not $14 good. The hand roll came on an ordinary small light green plastic plate, which meant that I was really not impressed with the presentation. What I was impressed with though was the presence of real wasabi. That's right. Real. Only once before in the probably fifty times I've eaten sushi have I gotten fresh wasabi, and I specifically had to ask for that. Wow! I wanted to just eat it straight. And I tried, too, but after burning my brain a few times, I had to give up. The interesting thing about the roll itself was that it wasn't rolled ina cone shape, and that the white part of the scallion had been used, rather than the green part. The fish itself was cut into rectangular chunks. I kind of prefer when they mince it, but that's just me. According to the restaurants website, the sushi chef believes in staying true to his native cuisine, so there are no spicy tuna rolls or California rolls. That's kinda cool.

The clam miso soup was good, and made me realize that there are different kinds of clams. I've eaten very few clams in my life, so I'm no expert on the subject, so I'll just tell you that the clams in the soup were like mussels and not like the thick, crunchy clam that is served as surf clam or giant clam when you order sushi. I think they used a brown or red miso paste, as opposed to the yellow that is almost universally used in most miso soups. The brown is a bit bitter and, I think, a bit tasteless. I'm not sure if that's what they always use in clam miso soup, since this was my first. It may have been a choice made in order to not detract from the delicate flavor of the clams, which were quite good. Still, I would have preferred yellow miso.

Tofu in sesame sauce-$8

The biggest disappointment of the evening, aside from the high prices, was the tofu appetizer I ordered. I was excited when it arrived because of the cool dish and because it came in a small ball--was it fresh tofu? I've never had fresh tofu! I was also shocked though--look how small that thing is! That cost $8? The flavor was quite bitter and the super creamy texture really threw me off. I couldn't even bring myself to eat it because of the bitterness, though I tried dipping it in soy sauce and various other things to make it taste better. I've never had bitter tofu before, and I didn't like it at all. Did they add something to it? Why was it so creamy? There was also a dab of wasabi on top hidden under the shreds of nori, which I probably would have been really unhappy about if I'd accidentally gobbled it.

The service was good, but the food was extremely overpriced and I didn't care for the atmosphere. Some of the prices here make Nobu look inexpensive! I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity, but I won't be going back.

Sushi Tenn
2004 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Restaurant Review #30: Akwa, Santa Monica (now closed)

I went to Akwa late on a weeknight. There was only one other couple in the restaurant, and the kitchen was about to close when we hadn't even ordered yet. I almost wished they hadn't let us in--having worked at many jobs where my freedom was contingent on a customer leaving, I really don't like being that customer. I tell myself that I've karmically earned it, but I still don't like it. It was a little odd that the restaurant was so empty--it just looks like a place that would be full of well-dressed early thirtysomethings every night--though honestly, it may have too much in common with Sushi Roku to be of much value to the Downtown Santa Monica dining scene. It does set itself apart with its spacious interior layout, live music, and rooftop area, however. Maybe it could even outdo Roku--but do people know this? Are they eating there? I'm not sure.

My friend and I ordered a shrimp tempura roll for him, and for me, a yellowtail roll and yellowtail sushi. The food wasn't presented very well--it all came on a large butcher block, and wasn't laid out very precisely. Was that a message from the chef to go home, or just plain carelessness? It did taste good--good enough that my non-sushi-eating, non-seafood-eating friend got hooked on sushi and started insisting on frequent trips to Whole Foods to fulfill his cravings. The hostess and our waitress were very friendly and didn't make us feel like we were intruding on their otherwise empty restaurant--that was largely my own self-inflicted pain.

I don't feel like I really got a sense of what the restaurant was like from this visit. I felt rushed, didn't order a lot of food, and since there were no other patrons, I didn't get a sense of what the clientele is like (though I imagine it's white, well-dressed, and affluent). There are a lot of things on the menu that looked interesting, and I liked the decor and the spacious layout--even if the restaurant gets noisy, my guess is that since there is plenty of space between tables, you can still hear the people you're eating with. That's especially nice when so many places in LA seem to want to cram as many tables into as few square feet as possible. I realize rents are expensive, but still. There is also a wide variety of seating options--sushi bar, first floor, second floor, or rooftop.

I'd like to go back and see what Akwa is really about, especially since they have live Latin and Brazilian jazz music on the rooftop on Friday and Saturday nights. They also offer eight different kinds of maki for $4 each during happy hour. That's not a huge discount, but it's rare for a sushi happy hour to have that much selection.

1413 5th St
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 656-9688


Restaurant Review #29: Little Hong Kong Cafe, Sawtelle, West LA

Tangerine Chicken

Not noticeably different from orange chicken except in name, the tangerine chicken consists of mostly small pieces of white meat deep fried in a thick batter. This dish is very tasty, somewhat spicy, and contains no veggies whatsover. I found that I only needed a few bites to feel full due to the heaviness of deep fried chicken combined with the artificially full feeling imparted by spicy foods. Either because of MSG or because it was deep fried (I'm leaning toward the latter), this dish did not agree with my stomach, but it was definitely me and not the dish itself as my friend did not get sick. Note that you can order your food without MSG, but you have to request it.

The chicken came with hot and sour soup, which is generally hard to mess up. The soup was pretty good and pretty spicy but it had a kind of underlying musty flavor that I didn't care for. It also came with two small spring rolls, which were so dry I couldn't eat them.

Ma-po Tofu

On the vegetarian section of the menu, ma-po tofu was the only dish that wasn't just a plate of veggies. Fortunately, it's also a dish I like. Silken tofu squares swim in a bath of thick, spicy sauce garnished with scallions.

We also tried both a passion fruit and a peach boba tea. Both were so syrupy sweet I couldn't barely drink them, and the boba were tasteless and getting a bit mushy. If you want boba, you're better off going next door or across the street.

According to my friend who picked up our takeout order, the service was very friendly, and quite prompt. They told him the wait for our food would be ten minutes, and it was ten minutes exactly. They took care to make sure he could carry everything, including the drinks. Although there was a shift change while he was waiting, and he had no problems with a messed up order or any misunderstandings. I might also point out, in light of the recent articles, that this place has a grade A rating. You can also have the food delivered by a third party delivery service (see link to menu, below).

Overall, in spite of my criticisms, I think this place is a winner, because the food is very inexpensive, but not so inexpensive as to qualify as "cheap Chinese," which is generally a good thing where meat is involved. The menu is quite extensive, so there's something for pretty much anyone. I had this meal to go, but I've also eaten at their restaurant. It's very casual, with ambience slightly above that of a fast food restaurant--not a place for a date or to really catch up with a friend, but perfect for a quick bite to eat. As far as I can tell, there aren't a lot of options for Chinese in this part of town, so when I can't go to Mao's Kitchen, Little Hong Kong Cafe will do.

Little Hong Kong Cafe
2129 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA