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Category: L.A

Restaurants and Street Food in L.A

Szechuan Impression

s impress (1 of 13)I used to believe my stomach was cast iron; I could consume anything inside it and not really worry about it. The ever dwindling populations of Lactase enzymes, as well as Szechuan (some pronounce Sich-Chawn, which I prefer after the name of the province in Southwest China) cuisine have served as the gravity to those ill-formed ideas. I don’t care what all my Chinese friends say (you know who you are), I know you are hurting after consuming chilies like popcorn.

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some of the flatware was so elegant, yet it was simply not uniform

As Chengdu Taste was one of my great dining experiences of 2014, I was eager to try Szechuan Impression, the newcomer to the regional Chinese dining scene.  It’s amazing how much variety comes from this area, an ancient regional crossroads for Sichuan based salt merchants. There are said to be four sub-styles, the most known being Chengdu style named after the provincial capital of Sichuan province.

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Chengdu is a sub-provincial city in Sichuan Province, and is the birthplace of the first widely used paper money, as well as around 14 million people as of the 2010 census. Directly west is the Chongqing municipality, also called ‘Fog City’ due to the over 100 days of fog per year, and its status among the ten most air-polluted cities in the world. Chengdu is considered a city of leisure given its numerous tea houses, greater than 1000 year history as the starting point of the Silk Road, and the rumored ‘thousands’ of dishes.

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The Lost City of Camello Gigante

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A great many fantastic adventures in life are conceived in inebriation. The quest for the Lost City of Camello Gigante began like most stories, three young men in search of fortune and glory – yet what we found in the bygone region across the border was beyond our wildest dreams.

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Earlier this month I heard from friend and head Sommelier at Osteria Mozza, Matthew Bostick that he was going on an impromptu adventure south of the border to drink wine in the burgeoning Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. Not looking to be outdone I decided to drop my own wine key and head south to investigate.

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As I’ve not been to Baja California I knew that I needed to enlist an expert and guide. I got together with good friend and newly minted beverage director for Broken Spanish (soon to debut in the old Rivera space) Michael Lay. With Mike (the fixer) on board, I immediately got down to the business searching for ways to make the trip as absurd as possible. ‘We leave upon the tail of the Hour of the Wolf,’ or something silly like that I recall texting Mike. “Ok cool I’m in, but what time is that?” 5am.

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“The Hour of the Wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons are most powerful. The Hour of the Wolf is also the hour when most children are born.” – The 1968 Ingmar Bergman horror film ‘Hour of the Wolf’
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PortoVino Wine Dinner at Pizzeria Ortica

OC (10 of 18)I first heard of Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, California from my Chef Steve Samson when we were opening Sotto, in South Beverly Hills several years ago. I didn’t think much of it, or the Orange County dining scene for anything other than ethnic food for quite a while, until Joanie Karapetiean introduced me to Joel Anthony Caruso. “You guys should totally meet! You are like the same person!” I remember her saying one afternoon. I’m not normally told such things, so I immediately began investigating Joel’s Instagram account (The de facto standard of legitimacy in today’s world). I was impressed and intrigued; that someone in OC would have a specialty as esoteric as Amaro, but also be able to sport a power beard and a power suit so seamlessly.

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Joel Anthony Caruso (also known as Pretty Tony) is one of the most visible and talented members of OC Food and Beverage Community. Joel is one of the few Beverage Directors that can actually get behind the stick and produce a respectable cocktail (winning multiple bartending competitions) as well as a gifted sommelier with an extensive knowledge of Italian Wine.

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The wine program at Ortica is exemplary, and not what you would expect dining in Costa Mesa with indigenous varietals and stellar wine makers at every price point. Joel’s wine program has one of the best unions of old world and new world wine; with a keen eye for indigenous Italian varieties grown in California as well as some great vintage depth from the old world.

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Poderi Aldo Conterno

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Aldo Conterno is one of those storied names among what many consider to be the greatest grape in all of Italy, Nebbiolo. It invokes such a rich and visceral response, it transforms in the glass, and it belongs to Italy. Long one of my favorite producers is Aldo Conterno, a producer with one foot in a storied past and the other heading towards the future.

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Sun Ha Jang: The Korean Duck Explosion

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I don’t really get cravings, but often times I find myself thinking about duck fat; I make my eggs with it, I store it alongside bacon fat, and I would drink it like coconut water. I think all people secretly love duck fat, they just aren’t comfortable admitting it (Vegans are like distance runners, they secretly hate themselves, but I digress). Sun Ha Jang is like a speakeasy for duck fat lovers, those in the closet and out. I’m out.

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Sun Ha Jang is in a mini plaza next to some other restaurants, a mildly non descript building on the edge of Koreatown. Upon entry, an ominous duck stares down upon you foreshadowing the deep healing properties of liquified fowl fat. Extra saturated please. 

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Barnyard Venice

I often find myself a champion of the westside of Los Angeles; I feel that the energy and proximity to the ocean in this part of town is what Los Angeles is all about. I like to give everything west of the 405 freeway a chance, which led me to try Barnyard in Venice. I hang out in Venice almost daily and keep a keen eye on the restaurant scene there.

Over the weekend a friend had told me that there was a Ramen night going on at Barnyard on Tuesdays. This seemed really interesting to me, but certainly out of place for a restaurant that calls itself Mediterranean. Chef Walter Manzke has the same concept in all fairness with his lunch menu at Republique featuring a Korean Fried Rice Bowl.

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After a disappointing experience at Willy Jane, in which I was turned off by not only the service, but the lack of focus on the plates (I sent the chicken back for being undercooked, we were sent a vegan dish and no one was vegan at the table). I tend to roll my eyes at talk of New Southern cuisine, after all it has it’s roots in the inadequate nutrition fed to slaves in the deep south. I think when executed well it can be stellar, yet too often it suffers from the constraints of nostalgia and a lack of presentation / innovation. Yes, there are several notable exceptions here. I thought I would give another new restaurant a try – Barnyard.

Barnyard, which for me is a difficult name for a restaurant to swallow in of itself, is helmed by the Husband and wife team of Chef Jesse and GM Celia Barber. I am a fan of the Tasting Kitchen, which is where Jesse hails from so I was hoping for big things. Celia was absent from the floor on the night I attended. 

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Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se

Being perpetually on the hunt for food that I have not tried before often leads me to strip malls. Artesia is a strange and magical place with a small Indian population (4.6% of the 2000 census); often thought of as Little India along Pioneer blvd despite the fact that East Asian markets out number the Indian ones 3 to 1. On the window of Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se were the descriptors, Maharashtrian Delicacies and Gujarati buffet. I have a love hate relationship with the word buffet, but that emotion is usually love when it comes to Indian food.

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The Marathi people inhabit Western India, and came to prominence when their great leader and warrior king Shivaji Bhonsle formed the Maratha kingdom out the ashes of the Adilshahi Sultanate in 1674. From just a small force of 2,000 fighters given to him by his father he created an army of 100,000 warriors. A master strategist and devout Hindu, Shivaji utilized geography, speed and to conquer Southern India.

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I was probably as hungry as a Maratha warrior when I arrived at Mumbai Ki Galliyon Si, which translates to the Streets of Mumbai, and specializes in street food.

Gujarat is a state in the Western part of India with a population in excess of 60 million people, mostly vegetarians. This is the birthplace of civilization in the heart of the Indus River Valley, with neolithic cities dating back to 7000 BCE. I’m not anti-vegetarians (more meat for me), I just don’t like it when I don’t do my prior research and walk into the door desiring stewed goat meat.

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Sunday probably isn’t the best day to go, because there was only one person working. She was a delightful woman, but repeatedly mentioned her plight of being by herself which made us feel bad (well, it annoyed me). She eagerly took our initial order, but subsequent requests were received at the counter. I realize this was/is street food, but we weren’t eating it in the street so I am less understanding of this circumstance. 

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Out of the Blue in L.A

“Out of the Blue” is a series of casual, private dinners hosted by COOP HIMMELB(L)AU in their Los Angeles Studio. COOP HIMMELB(L)AU is a world renown global architecture firm based in Vienna and Los Angeles. It’s CEO and Design Principal is the co-founder Wolf D. Prix, he is a pretty incredibly man.

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The location of the L.A studio is in a high rise on the edge of MacArthur Park on West 6th Street. A 4 square block park with a dramatic city skyline view surrounding a geese filled lake. This 130 year old public land is largely dominated by Latin American drug gangs (mainly meth), notably The Crazy Riders who formed right here in the mid-80s along with the Columbia Lil Cycos which formed on Columbia Avenue nearby.

With the continual influx of Salvadoran immigrants since the early 2000s, the transnational MS – 13 gang from the Pico-Union area locked up most of the turf west of Downtown. As a result, the park is relatively quiet and safe; features all night soccer matches across Wilshire Blvd., extensive free parking, and an upcoming Pupusa Festival (the 4th annual).

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This was a frustrating pop up to find; the invitation didn’t have any directions and no one seemed to know anything about it. We resorted to sneaking in the building and finding another person with a bag filled with wine who had more information than we did.

We found the floor and walked down a dark hallway to another door with no signage whatsoever, opening said door to find an expansive open air room with a fantastic view and swanky dressed Europeans.

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Colonia Taco Lounge

When people ask me why I moved out to Los Angeles I give a response that I stole from a friend of mine, but really encapsulates the truth of the matter, the authentic mexican food.

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I grew up surrounded by Mexican cuisine and spent some time in Ciudad Juarez as well as Mexico City – this is a cuisine that I know fairly well and I am always keen to try more. The chef of Colonia Taco Lounge and nearby Bizarra Capital, Ricardo Diaz focuses on Guisados, cubes of meat cooked in sauce.

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After trying to dine at Colonia Taco Lounge on a night in which we called and were told they would be open to arrive finding a closed restaurant, we arrived for our second attempt. Nothing makes me happier than taking 5 freeways to get to La Puente for tacos in rush hour from the West side of Los Angeles.

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Colonia closes very early, and we felt the early shut down as tables and chairs were put up around us as we ate. I was happy to see a high quality Steven Segal movie playing on one of the television screens near the bar.

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The meal is started by a fresh carafe of water with citrus which I felt was a nice touch. Colonia is one of those institutions that hasn’t figured out what kind of service it wants to offer, as you leave your table and order at a counter in the corner where the menu is displayed on a massive chalkboard. We frequently had to go back up to reorder and ask for more drinks.

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I couldn’t really decide on cocktails, and the beer list was kind of all over the place. I generally don’t like beer in my cocktails but the Michelada was the best i’ve ever tasted – this includes the one I had while munching on tacos grilled on an old chrome bumper / oil drum in the mega-slum (worlds largest – 2006) NezaChalcoIzta

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