Fancy Bao House Arrives in ESGV, Monterey Park Gets 2 Dessert Stores, “Old House” Brings More Sichuan Hotpotting, etc.
So many restaurant openings in SGV, so little time:
1.Rowland Heights: Little Highness Bao: I drove by this bao specialty a few times before they opened, but haven’t visited yet. More than dumplings, I like baos. (By the way, dumplings are not baos, nor vice versa), and this place has baos up the wazoo. Daily rotation of nearly a dozen flavors/varieties, including vegan/vegetarian types, are available. All are hand made in house. I’m beyond excited. 18333 Colima
2. (Apparently) due to family obligations, the only third-wave nano-roaster/espresso house has closed in Monterey Park. Good luck with every thing David! De Cafe Barista had a 3.5 year run in a very, very tough neighborhood for coffee shops. Hexowl, which is currently getting ripped apart online, takes over this space inside the massive mixed-use complex. the626.com reported the news earlier in August, but the hexowl team says the takeover officially happened August. 500 N Atlantic Blvd Ste 121
3. Alhambra: O Young Rock Pot‘s second outlet proved to be extremely short lived. In less than six months, it quickly shuttered, prior to beer license transfer completion. Hunan Fire N Spice (Coming Out of Your Butthole) opened in August. So far, the Yelp reviews seem very pleasant, but there’s still no news of a second Cha Cha Chili reopening anywhere. 640 W Valley
4. The Freezin [sic] Point, a “rolled” Thai-style ice cream shop, has opened next to the Daikokuya in Monterey Park. SGV is so trendy, just like Asia. I won’t be visiting cause who knows what mysterious milk this place is using? 111 N Atlantic Blvd Ste 244 Monterey Park
5. Rowland Heights: Lafunz Hot Pot‘s name in Chinese is actually Old House. Old House is a Chengdu style hot potting joint that’s getting a lot of traction from the local Sichuan’ers. Sadly, it is not in West SGV, but in Rowland Heights. The interior design is by JIS Bros, which has designed many of the “hipper” Chinese restaurants in the last 3 years, including MIAN. 18406 Colima Rd Rowland Heights, CA 91748
6. Monterey Park: Previously reported reconstruction of Seafood Village, my fave Chiu Chow seafood joint in all of SGV (because it isn’t lobster driven) and isn’t a gajillion miles away via local roads, is finally boarded up. The fire that took down the restaurant was pretty horrific, and the rebuild will probably last into 2017. 684 W Garvey Ave
7. Monterey Park: In a complex mostly known for nail parlors right across the parking lot, a Hawaiian shaved ice parlor opened in August. It’s great to see an independent store opening (albeit in an extremely inconspicuous location) when that particular stretch of Atlantic Blvd is being slammed with chains (Panda Express, Blaze, etc). The Shave Shack: 2085 S Atlantic Blvd
Since I’m independent again, unlike Gawker, it should be “OK” to comment on other restaurant/food news pieces. Hopefully I will keep a running tally:
- I’m pretty sure beef shank and/or SPAM in your jian bing aren’t “traditional”. You won’t find the 2 meat ingredients at most breakfast crepe stands in China.
- NYT’s piece on Oceana false fish labeling report is really fascinating but… Are we just talking about fish that are served at restaurants? Or are they only testing processed fish filet? I mean, when you go to 99 Ranch / H-Mart / fish monger, you see a cat fish in the tank, and it’s a catfish. You see a whole golden pompano on ice, it’s a golden pompano (per below). You see a belt fish, it’s belt fish. Things might get tricky with escolar, grouper, tuna, etc. But man, when I buy milk fish, I know it’s milk fish cuz it looks (and tastes) just like milk fish. Is the whole globe stupid or am I just not getting it?
- LA doesn’t lead the cocktail culture, at all. Chicago, and Boston, and probably even Austin are ahead. Two leading factor: 1) DUI 2) 2 A.M. last call. Also, goddamnit, how can you be a proper Cocktail Town when there’s a drought and bartenders don’t automatic serve you a glass of water? Finally, when one of the top cocktail “bar” doesn’t actually have an actual bar for patrons to sit at and ruminate on how unworthy Pappy actualy is…
West SGV Restaurant update July: Pistachio, Churro Boss, Old Shanghai Closed, etc.
And we’re back on the “blog” like it’s 2007. Because I referenced #2girls1cup today, in addition to spotting a cherry Veedub Corrado and weirdly clean Pinto . Figured it was timely:
Pistachio Kitchen has taken over the old Victory French Restaurant which long sat dormant in Monterey Park. The food.. well, the food is a Chiu-Chou/Vietnamese/Canto mess. Looks like there’s pho, there’s cornish hen red rice; there are goi cuon springs roll, and there are HK cafe style dishes. With the standalone footprint, as well as the large parking lot, both translating to higher than average rent, and the amalgamated menu pan Chinese-Vietnamese menu, the lifespan of Pistachio Kitchen, should be just about a year. Maybe 16 months considering the proper green and red colors of the building signage.
Monterey Park food truck scene has suddenly blossomed after the temporary closure of Kembo food truck. In addition to the new al pastor specialty truck, Churro Boss soft opened in July as well in front of the Ralph’s on Atlantic, south of the AMC Theatres. Sneaking fresh churros into Chinese import movie is now officially the best Mexi-Chino move one can make on a Saturday night. Their schedule can be found on Facebook as well as Instagram.
Old Shanghai in Rosemead lasted just about a year at this awkward plaza space squeezed between American fast food and a crappy tea house. The replace is Shanghai Bistro, but the food, according to Chihuo.net reports, is more Zhejiang than straight Shanghai. Seriousuly though, the interior still looks like crap, so if you want Dongpo pork belly, head over to Chang’an:
These were the two best @dinela #lunch deals we had. Great environment very good food and generous portions. You're not going to beat $15 anywhere for the huge serving of braised #porkbelly with caramelzed chestnuts and bokchoy! Perfectly fried #tofu cubes. #spicy chicken and fish fillet. Added the $9 jidori fried chicken @sinosoul and we had left overs for later. Definitely coming back#😋 👍
Rosemead’s Crown Palace had been flipped into Sunshine Seafood. This is still a dimsum house with push carts. The previous iteration of this location lasted less than a year.
The seafood boil phenomenon, as well as the Chinese kebab rise — think, non-chicken proteins on many, many sticks — just won’t quit the SGV. With the opening of Big Fish, Na Mama, and King Red Crawfish, Cajun House S. El Monte is already the fourth seafood boil opening already this year.
Still Missing from Blogging Action in October: But I Had a Blow-Out Meal at Chuan’s
And got a “feature” on Eater under the new VOX guise. That felt good. Chuan’s is awesome. It’s the Republique of Sichuanese food in America. It will succeed as such whereas Lao Sze Chuan Las Vegas will fail. Mark my words. The story was first published on Eater on 10/10, my hat-tip to the Taiwanese Independence Day, also Mary Chen, PT’s birthday:
Beautifully designed Chuan’s brings Sichuanese local dishes in a modern-rustic setting to LA.
Chuan’s is the first non-franchised outpost of the highly glamorous “Ba Guo Bu Yi”[BGBY] Chinese restaurant empire in the US. BGBY was established in 1996 by Mr. He Nong, a highly respect watercolor painter of lotus flowers in China. In 1998, disgusted by the rapid expansion of Yum Brands’s KFC in China, He (pronunced “huh”) took it upon himself to turn the Chinese millenials towards Chengdu style Chinese food instead of the more popular Cantonese style, Western influenced cafes that were rapidly expanding from Hong Kong towards inland China. By mid-2000s, thanks to glamor of Sichuanese food and He’s dedication to promoting his “culinary culture”, He Nong had become the proverbial Danny Meyer of Sichuan restauranteering.
He Nong had become the proverbial Danny Meyer of Sichuan restauranteering.
Even while finding capital for expansion into major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing, He was still painting. In 2001, his water colors traveled to Malaysia for a multi-national exhibit. In 2004, 60 of his paintings were placed in a Germany in a China-Europe exhibition; 10 of those paintings were given to Japan, France, Australia, etc. as national gifts. His 2005 water color titled 秀水沐山川 won him the title of the “Peoples Artist“. After 30 years of painting, He Nong had become China’s own living Monet, except Monet wasn’t also the CEO of a restaurant corporation.
Beyond operating an empire of over thirty upscale Sichuanese restaurants, He Nong is the chairman of the multi-faceted conglomerate Chengdu Jove Industrial. Joe Bastianiach may be an empire builder and a TV show judge, but under Jove Industrial, He Nong operates a culinary school, a boutique hotel, a food processing company that produces seasoning and snacks, an interior design firm, a book publishing company, and a handmade furniture production company. Chengdu Jove Industrial also dabbles in real estate and has developed three commercial complexes.
Despite being busier than Queen Bee herself, He Nong can still be spotted at his newest restaurant baby in Temple City. This particular outfit of Chuan’s in under the management of partner Carol Chen, who brought in a team of Chengdu chefs and paired them with an American FOH. Every member of the waitstaff speaks English but the kitchen doesn’t kowtow to the US palate.
Every member of the waitstaff speaks English but the kitchen doesn’t kowtow to the US palate.
A beer and wine license is coming, and the stage is already set for nightly Sichuan opera showcase (courtesy of the Jove Industrial’s “cultural division”). Furniture was obviously produce by Jove group and imported from China, but the overall design was a joint effort between BGBY HQ in Chengdu as well as an LA-based architect. This Trans-Pacific style of cultural integration, evocative of BYD’s tech center in DTLA, is also apparent in ingredient selection: witness the dish of California avocados and Chinese cucumber salad, witness the use of large mouth bass.
The menu is relatively concise, and is still subject to additions as the alcohol and dessert menu are still in the works. The most prosaic dish of twice-cook pork featured delicately sliced pork belly sauteed with fermented black bean, leeks, and the untraditional jalapeno peppers. The slightly spicy end result is accompanied by 8 palm-sized buns in case patrons wish to produce Sichuanese pork sliders. This unctuous peasant dish is eons above any rendition of twice-cooked pork found in Chinese take-out shacks.
This unctuous peasant dish is eons above any rendition of twice-cooked pork found in Chinese take-out shacks.
The meaty heavy hitters of rice-powder steamed beef on yams and bullfrog hot pot — served in massive ceramic washbasin — are two other highlights of the menu. Chengdu expats will appreciate the hard-to-find greens such as fresh Houttuynia cordata (chameleon plant/heartleaf) and childhood street bread of brown sugar “guo kui” . Despite Chuan’s dedication to Sichuanese cuisine, non-spicy eaters can find solace in dishes such as braised pork belly, “crispy meat with beans” soup, and whole steamed fish. Some of BGBY’s signature dishes in China even makes an appearance in the form of braised soft shell turtle “calipash”.
With the opening of mainland Chinese restaurants all over Los Angeles (ie: Dongpo Meizhou, Little Sheep, Haidilao, Three Travellers, Singapore Leaf), the feel, and the growth of Chinese dining scene is definitely changing. Thanks to the star power of He Nong, Chuan’s is the definitive future of Chinese cuisine in SGV, if not in America. Its arrival in LA is akin to Wolfgang Puck opening Spago in Chongqing.
Finally, a bit of trivia: Chuan’s Temple City officially opened on September 26, 2014, exactly 18 years to the date He Nong opened the first Ba Guo Bu Yi in Chengdu city.
5807 Rosemead Blvd
Reservations are accepted.
SinoSoul AWOL in August, Part II: Met some Thai pals at Kruang Tedd
This experience was totally lovely, except for being filmed for some Asian food show. That was awkward. I look old and creepy next to young some gal. But I got to eat this, and it was delicious. So much so I had subject some vegetarians to oxtail soon. ** HI5 Andrea W **. Originally published on LA Weekly:
Kruang Tedd Restaurant’s Chef Can’t Eat Her Own Muslim-Thai Chicken And Rice, But You Can
By Tony Chen
Categories: Thai Cuisine
P’Toi A’prasert is a petite Thai woman, hardly 40 kilograms even when soaking wet in coconut milk. She took an early retirement from the Royal Thai Navy years ago and, in 2008, came to the United States, with her pensioner husband, looking for a fresh start. Without much English under their belts, the couple settled in Thai Town.
Thanks to her cooking family, A’prasert’s knowledge of her mother flavors runs as deep as any tattooed chef in America with formal training, and she quickly found a job cooking atKruang Tedd restaurant on Hollywood. A’prasert happens to be a devout Muslim who observes halal.
The problem? The chef cannot taste the food she’s cooked before it crosses the pass — because Kruang Tedd’s kitchen isn’t halal. This means that if you eat A’prasert’s glorious khao mok gai, or buried chicken rice, you’ll have to tell her that it’s as good as she thinks it is.
More on that later — first, a little backstory. The building that hosts Kruang Tedd has a long Thai culinary lineage. Previously it was Tepparod, possibly the first Thai restaurant in L.A.’s Thai Town. As early as 1972, the California Restaurant Writers Association nominated Tepparod as one of the best “ethnic” restaurants in Los Angeles. It hustled Thai food to farangs for more than 20 years before closing.
Tepparod became Kruang Tedd, which quickly became a gathering place for Thai rock musicians in the ’90s. Alas, aspiring rockers make mediocre restaurateurs, and Kruang Tedd soon hit a patchy stretch.
Two years ago, while brainstorming concepts to push Kruang Tedd toward the forefront of the competitive Thai Town dining scene after years of neglect, A’prasert casually mentioned she could test a few Muslim Thai dishes not found elsewhere in the area.
The results were the most unusual chicken and rice in Los Angeles — and a Muslim-Thai oxtail soup previously unknown to Angelenos. The khao mok gai (buried chicken rice) andsup haang wua (oxtail soup) were both immediate hits.
The chicken and rice of khao mok gai is essentially a Thai biryani. Deviating from traditional halal cart chicken and rice, it uses turmeric in addition to curry, and the rice is steamed in plentiful coconut milk. As suggested by the dish name, marinated (and pan-fried) chicken leg quarters are buried under par-cooked jasmine rice, which is steamed a bit to ensure complete flavor osmosis. Upon serving, a mint-green chile sauce complements the rice, much like Halal Guy’s white sauce.
There’s chicken and rice in Manhattan, and there’s chicken and rice in L.A.’s Thai Town. One has been hugely hyped; the other is a dormant crouching tiger, as it were, ready to dominate the palate. The oxtail soup tastes like the beautiful marriage of Vietnamese duo boi and Thai tom yum, sporting dreamy chunks of braised beef. Portions of both are insanely large by Thai standards.
Despite the success of the two dishes, Kruang Tedd manager Noi Vanichyanukroh is hesitant to expand the Muslim-Thai menu, as he worries about the health of A’prasert, who is now 60. This year, she wasn’t able to fulfill her Ramadan fast. Thankfully, the night shift at Kruang — the restaurant is open until 2 a.m. on weekends — has mastered her recipe. The second shift happens to be mostly Issan, non-Muslim, women who dish out a coconutty khao soi noodle soup, finished with crisp egg noodles.
While plenty of Muslim-Thais in Southern Thailand, as well as Bangkok, live in perfect comfort in Thailand, A’prasert’s life in the United States is one of inconvenience — since the chef can’t actually taste her own cooking.
In his biography Life, on the Line, noted chef Grant Achatz (Alinea, Next) details the tragedy of completely losing his taste buds due to tongue cancer in 2007, and having to rely on the other chefs on his restaurant’s line for survival.
A’prasert’s cooking style in Kruang Tedd’s commercial kitchen is evocative of Achatz-during-chemo phase, except A’prasert has never sampled her own food at Kruang Tedd, ever. When asked how she cooks her Muslim-Thai dishes at KT, she coyly points to her heart, then smiles wryly. “The kitchen team helps me, and often so do the customers,” she finally answers.
Still, she says the two Muslim dishes offered at Kruang Tedd are prepared exactly as she would cook them for her spouse. The Muslim dry spices (versus traditional Thai fresh spices) are sourced from various Pakistani and Bangladeshi markets in Koreatown, just south of Thai Town. The meats aren’t halal — since neither is KT’s kitchen — but the flavor is pure Muslim-Thai.
Is the Blog Dead? August Edition with Szechuan Impression
Since July, I’ve been eating a lot of a Sichuan food with my new Sichuanese pal Juliet. I’ve also started WeChatting some Sichuanese restaurant folks in LA as I could no longer stand the wait at Chengdu Taste and Szechuan Impressions. Also, I’d like to think Eater introduced Szechuan Impressions to the English-speaking white folks:
Welcome to Dining On A Dime a feature in which Eater surveys LA’s cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
Szechuan Impression took over Ray Ray’s Eat to the Beat just two weeks ago. Last weekend, thanks to some good ol’ Chinese social media, and the boat tons of Chengdu city ex-pats in Los Angeles, the compact restaurant had to purchase all-weather chairs for the diners lining up outside. Yes, another Sichuan restaurant in Alhambra is rapidly blowing up, and there is no way to avoid the lines, even on a Tuesday evening.
Lynn Liu is the young, petite force behind Szechuan Impression. She shys away from talking about herself, but admitted this is already her second restaurant venture within as many years in the United States. The modus operandi here is not so simple: find Sichuan regional culinary treasures that Chinese millenials may (or may not) have had during childhood, find chefs to duplicate the flavor, find seasonal greens to match a Sichuanese’s memory, and update everyone’s impression of Sichuanese cuisine while retaining a bit of nostalgia even in the United States. Hence the name “Szechuan Impression”.
For a solo lunch, a fellow visitor, says a Sichuan-er would partake in the chitterling starch noodles and a bowl of rice (total $7.99), then proudly announces she is a Chengdu ex-pat. For a lunch of two, go for the steamed rice powder dipped lamb with pumpkin and the “school garden” classic starch noodle hot pot . With a four top at dinner, the meal is transformable with limitless combinations. Start with a cold dish of bath tub (“fresh”) pickled cabbage ($8.99), add the spiced minced garlic pork ($8.99), go big with the Chengdu classic of bo bo chicken pot with 40 skewers of spicy chicken and accoutrements ($16.99). Alternatively, begin with rice powder steamed lamb ($9.99), the “impressive” smargasbord spicy hot pot ($14.99), and finish off with Cinderella’s pumpkin cakes ($5.99).
Don’t forget to let the mamasan have her way with the seasonal vegetables, despite the menu’s “UP2U” instructions. Sometimes the staff will offer yam leaves, sometimes it will be empty heart vegetables; all will be quickly tossed in the wok hey, and available with a variety of seasonings suitable for individual greens. Just like the French, the Chinese have always eaten farm-to-table, and Szechuan Impression is aiming to maintain the tradition, but add a little mom & pop “trust me” fun.
The point here is to avoid the twice-cooked pork, the kungpao chicken, the mapo tofu, the stereotypical home-cooked dishes that “mom knows how to make best”. Liu wants to bring elevated Sichuan flavors, not so much the common Sichuan dishes. She favors the dual-purpose dishes of soup casseroles and trusts her Chinese diaspora customer base to provide authentic feedback
For those who are completely lost when confronted by the menu, the following are Liu’s favorite sons from every section of the menu: traditional garlic, spicy cold noodles (“because it’s so hot out right now.. we don’t use any sesame paste”), 狼牙土豆 “wolf teeth” wavy seasoned street fries (“it reminds me of my childhood when these crinkle-cut fries were sold right in front of middle school from street carts”), “敲脚牛肉” crossed-leg beef stew. (“this beef casserole is cooked for 5 hours, it can be eaten 2 ways — spicy, or not, with soup, or not, as you wish. it’s so good it makes you lean back with your legs crossed”), 金汤肥牛 beef golden soup (“we tweaked this recipe a bit to suit SoCal weather. the pumpkin tinged soup is a bit more vinegary than we’d cook in Sichuan, but global warming has not been kind to Los Angeles”), and for dessert, “红糖糍粑” red sugar sticky rice cake.
Of note: the crossed leg beef stew is evocative of a pho broth. In fact, it may the platonic ideal which every bowl of pho bo should achieve. Except this is at a Sichuan restaurant, and the pho is rice, not rice noodles. A pot of this beefy hodgepodge ($18.99) and several bowls of rice should satiate a dining couple. Don’t forget the dessert section, which will be a highlight in the final menu.
Where the Heck Have You Been? July Edition
It’s been half a year since the last update. I’ve lost a refrigerator, lost a scooter, found 200 pounds of winter squash in the yard, and did some stories for LA Weekly. In July, the poke story was a huge hit:
4 Places to Get Good Poke in L.A.
By Tony Chen
While even poke stalwart Sam Choy isn’t sure of poke’s exact origin, it’s apparent that the current form of Japanese-influenced poke became pervasive throughout the “grindz” culture in the 1970s. Since then (and even more so since President Obama’s win), poke — a Hawaiian seasoned raw tuna salad — has become one of the go-to island food memories for mainlanders. During a hot, summer day, a bowl of poke, whether eaten solo or accompanied by rice, brings out the snorkeler in everyone . Here are 3 newish — and one that’s been around for a while — L.A. restaurants for fresh poke.
4. Seasalt Fish Grill
Seasalt Fish Grill’s new branch in Downtown opened with poke on the menu — and the dish was so popular it was immediately introduced to Seasalt’s original Santa Monica branch. The poke here is sesame soyed ahi (sourced daily under the guidelines of Long Beach Aquarium’s “seafood of the future” program), tossed with sesame seeds and green onions. It’s available with tortilla chips, on top of a salad, or by the pound. Restaurateur Jimmy Jang says the the Peruvian ceviche has also been a hit, and there’s absolutely no “secret ingredient” in the poke recipe; we say he’s simply bringing Hawaiian dreams to the cubicles drones of downtown Los Angeles. 508 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; 213-944-6631. 812 W. 7th St.; Los Angeles; 213-243-5700.
3. Poke Etc.
Ofelia Shively, who has lived in Juno and Hawaii, runs a distinct poke deli from the back of a mixed-use Filipino market/cell phone store/notary. Five flavors of poke: oyster sauce, wasabi, kimchee, spicy and limu, are sold a la carte here for $13 a pound, seven varieties if the tako and salmon are also included. A poke bowl with nearly half a pound of poke (of one’s choosing) is $6.95. The kimchi poke, with tuna chunks the size of Duplo, seems to be the most balanced, as the shoyu-based poke trends salty. The limukohu tuna poke is the closest to the Hawaiian style, as it is made with sesame oil, soy sauce, white onion, seaweed, green onion and a generous pinch of white sesame. While waiting for the poke bowl, it’s also possible to order a side of dinuguan and send peso remittane to Philippines for a low fee from businesses within Angelito’s Market, in which Poke Etc. resides. 860 E. Carson Ave., Carson; 310-847-5520.
2. Jus Poke
Stefanie Honda took her Hawaiian father’s original poke recipe and applied a stringent sourcing practice to create a memorable homage to her culinary roots at Jus Poke. In addition to the original sea salt poke, the shoyu, and the spicy (mayo-Sriracha) poke are also available. The latter two are the top two sellers at this new shop. The tuna is sourced from Santa Monica Seafood and co-owner Jeff Snow believes the ogo seaweed from Kona really sets Jus Poke apart. (A pound of poke, made daily, is $19.) The family-operated restaurant is closed on Tuesdays so Honda and Snow can properly instill the island (and Redondon Beach surfer) spirit in their newborn as well as their 6-year old. Salmon as well as octopus poke should be coming out in a few months. 501 N Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach; 310-379-1133.
1. Fish King
The 66-year old fish Glendale purveyor and seafood larder has served poke on and off for years. Recently, it has become a staple in the chilled fish cases next to the mixed ceviche. The dish here is simple: light soy sauce, cilantro, seaweed, wasabi sesame seeds, sesame oil and ahi. The result is a mild and refreshing seafood mixture that is decidedly perfect with readily available rice from onsite galley. Unfortunately, despite Fish King’s maturity, it still does not have an alcohol consumption license. It does, however, have house-made pickled herring with cream sauce, also available at the fishmonger’s station. Just go early and beat the lunch rush, as the waiting throng is mercilessly hungry. 722 N. Glendale Ave., Glendale; 818-244-0804.
Lacha Somtum: Thai Town’s new Issan Superstar
This is going to be a long(er) read. After all, everyone got the more fun read earlier via Tasting Table.
Thai Town has been in some type of lull since Darabar Secret Thai settled into its groove. The clubby restaurant is lovely at night — to slurp khao soi, to pick at kaeng som pae sa while sipping on some scotch and juice. Pailin is still grooving along, doing its mix of Northern and Issan cuisine. Thai Town Plaza old-hand Ganda has been pushed out by Pa-Ord, and that’s a downright shame. I always loved visiting Ganda later in the the evening, over Palms, over Ruen Pair. It always made me feel like I belonged with the prols of Thai Town, not the ritzy kids going to do it up at Hollywood Thai’s karaoke. Alas, things ebb and things flow. Crispy Pork Gang is barely surviving, and really depends on the night crowd to sustain its insane hour (and equally insane rent). There is lip given to some other hip Thai restaurant with hip, tatted cooks, there is some lip given to some Thai-American TV personality. Emporium Thai is still trying as hard as ever to knock-off Jitlada, and Jitlada is still churning out some of the illest Thai food in America under the right conditions. However, there hasn’t been much genuine excitement to really tickle the hounds.
Good thing the noshing highlight of Thai Town so far this year aren’t the relocations (of the duelling Pa-Ord and Hoy-Ka, who hate each other). It’s the quiet bang made by the opening of Lacha Somtum. My Thai comprehension is non-existent, except to barely discern the difference between guay jap and kuai tieu reu when listening to a native.
When I listened to Lacha’s waitress’ translation of the specials menu (above) board the first time, I did not flinch as it didn’t sound impressive. Until I got home.
“Mushroom soup with egg” became “ant egg mushroom soup”. OK. Why did she pull back the punches? From the regular menu, tamarind pork rib soup was indeed the Isan regional soup queen, tom sap. And it goes on, and on, and on. The bamboo “salad” (not under the bamboo “som tum”) is the proverbial Isan/Laos bamboo salad with roasted rice powder known as soop nor mai. Kaeng om (below) is available with chopped cornish hen instead of the typical lame chicken breast.
This changes everything. And of all the kaeng oms available in LA (Cancoon, Yai, Luum Ka Naad, etc.), Lacha’s reigns. This is clearly not just a papaya salad restaurant as the name claims.
Larp ped (above) is geotagged with “Kon Kaen”, the education and economic center of Isan province. This larp ped is undeniable the most interesting duck larp “salad” in LA right now. The shredded duck meat carries carries a light crisp from being confited first, and is topped with the typical Isan style roasted rice powder. It is deliriously good, and at $10, is enough to serve four people during a meal as an appetizer course.
Every thing is just a bit twisted.
Out of the entire som tum menu, there are a couple of caveats, or, really intriguing things, depending on the perspective. Som tum “tum mua” can be translated to som tum garbage, or “kitchen sink”. It is the most offensive of the som tums on the menu, even more so than the “combination”. The chef throws bits of everything from the mis en place into the stank papaya salad (with pla ra, not with regular fish sauce), including mussel, bamboo shoot, long green bean, Thai egg plant, and rice noodles. There’s no escaping the funk if one decides to actually pick from this particular plate. Everything is borderline rancid, and there’s no taming the heat with the khanom jeen noodles, which are often served on the side of a typical Bangkok som tum specialist. There’s something rather Pollack (or, schizophrenic and amazing) about this salad. It’s like a Thai bibimbap, but avant garde and of actual culinary importance. However, like modern art, som tum tum mua is difficult to understand, especially to the typical farang Thai-food n00b. Better then, are the more “traditional” som tum Thai variations with simple fish sauce, and not fermented fish sauce. The puffy shredded fried catfish topping Thai style som tum is a great mix of two fun eats so accepted by Bangkokers — sorry, couldn’t help it — these days. But why stick to Thai som tum (typically over sweetened for Thai-American palates), when there’s this bamboo gloriousness:
From the som tum (which simply means “mixed”) menu, this is the highlight for me. Crunchy, refreshing whole shoots of bamboo, mixed with the fresh brininess of the blue crab. The black crab version, according to the waitress, is even too salty for her. I think I chose wisely. The alternating texture of the crunchy shoots, followed by the soft gooeyness of the raw crab flesh which one had to extra from the shells by sucking and knawing, is an oral pleasure that is probably only matched in the back rooms of Thai massage parlors. Couple this with a tub of sticky rice, a plate of some larp, and a proverbial Issan-Laos lunch is served.
A typical Lao meal is eaten around a low set table, with mixed item “salads”, crudites, some stews or soup (kaengs/non-coconutted curries) and some form of grilled fish/seafood. Any discussion of Lacha offering the “crab” pad Thai listed under “specialties” is basically hog wash. Lacha is also a bit short on the palate-easing soups so known in the Issan traditon. The noodle menu is also rather tame, except for one dish: the khanom jeen nam ya – basically, a Thai “dipping”/”mix-in” noodle with fish stew and crudites (dill, mint, etc.)
With the advent of canned/jarred nam ya curry paste at the grocery, and the commonality of canned tuna in America, it is ridiculously easy to make this Southern Thai dish. Jitlada’s is fiercely spicy. Lacha’s? Aptly named “Super Spicy”. It is undeniably spicier than the kua kling curry(s) at Jitlada. I was never down with Jitlada’s dynamite challenge, but this little plate of noodles offered so much pleasure, then pain, then regret, that it’ll probably become the most important dish, under $10, of 2014 (besides Michael Lee’s aged brisket sandwich I’m currently consuming). The sour mustard accoutrement is suppose to assist in cooling. It doesn’t help worth a damn, neither does the cabbage.
Lacha also does kaeng right. The kaeng nor mai is jammed full of thickening ya nang leaves. It’s also rather funky, but in an earthy, not so briny way. It’s grassy, spicy, gratifying in a way no common Penang curry can ever be. Bamboo shoots is then main game here, just like soop “nor mai” (bamboo). Northwest Laos and northeast Thais must have really regular bowl movements. The kaeng om comes with hearty vegetables, and served alone over rice, makes a rice bowl that makes anything everything coming out of Chego look like stoner food for rubes. Kaeng is stew for the Asian gods. Korean ramen pots are remnants of an U.S. occupation that forced force meat onto a war-torn that just didn’t know any better. One tastes of the Silk Road. The other tastes like msg-infused imperialism.
The kaeng som, typically served in LA Thai town with whole fish, is also stellar. Sourness dominates, but it’s balanced with spiciness instead of sugariness. It’s difficult to say which version (whether Lacha or Darabar) rules supreme, but it does show Lacha is well versed in kaeng. We should just be happy.
However, Lacha is not without bombs. The fried pork larp, a tangy, salty, crispy ball of porcine goodness at Pailin, tastes like a balled up mess of random pig parts (ear for sure). The entire noodle section is weak, without gway chap, the Laos/chinese soy rice noodle sheets so commonly found in Issan street markets. Still, what’s the alternative for LA Thai food right now? Overpriced nam priks being served by tatted kids paired with shitty Thai rum carrying a 400% markup? Feh to that.
Belcampo: multi-millionaire-driven, dry-aged, grass-fed cheeseburger, Downtown
Note number 1: that’s Downtown Los Angeles, not somewhere up in Marin County.
Note number 2: sorry for all the hyphens.
The face of Belcampo is ostensibly a late 30s entrepreneurial mom from the Bay Area. The money behind Belcampo, however, is really a retired-in-name-only Wall Street gentleman who sold his brokerage firm, for $1.5B, at age.. 47/48ish. Money may not buy happiness, but money buys manpower to grow good California beef.
Belcampo is a vertically integrated conglomerate. That $12.50 burger above is a from a conglomerate that owns ranches, travel resorts, 20000-sqft USDA licensed slaughterhouse and meat processing plant, butcher shops, and restaurants. You could be eating a burger produced by Hyundai, one of the nastiest chaebols in South Korea, but instead of Kraft, it’s Belcampo. Thankfully Belcampo is focused on delivering sustainable protein from top-end down. Whew.
With a more than just a few million dollars, Mr. Robinson, now the chairman of Global Portfolio Advisors, a brokerage clearing house, has powered Mrs. Anya Fernald to backup Eat Real with some meat, instead of words. While Eat Real LA was mostly a tame bomb, Eat Real Oakland has expanded year over year, and Eat Real will reach Atlanta this year. But what good is a food festival when one can’t get a morally compassed burger in Downtown. In comes Belcampo with all its gloriousness.
Will I eat another burger in ’14 other than what is served at Belcampo? Probably not. Is this is the single most expensive 1/3 pound burger in LA? As far as I know. Does anyone know how expensive it is to own and operate a USDA certified slaughterhouse? Rancho Feeding Co. does, (and they just got shutdown by the FDA, then bought out). Will Mr. Robinson ever be portrayed in Wolf of Wallstreet, the III? Hopefully not. Should he inspire us to make millions of dollars so we can hire our own Edibles CEO and run butcher shops? Yes to the millions, no to the cow blood.
The point of this is really to demonstrate how it took takes a one-percenter to bring “affordable” sustainably raised beef to the plate. No one else is doing this in America, save perhaps Blue Hill Stone Barn. We, as Angelenos, are lucky as hell that a rich and smart man decided to pay it forward. Also, hipsters: just shut up about rich people and eat the burger. It is way, WAY better than anything coming out of Umami/Comme Ca/Father’s Office.