Kokekokko

Photo credit: Darin Dines

Kokekokko
203 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-0690
yelp.com/biz/kokekokko-los-angeles

Kokekokko, the yakitori-ya in Little Tokyo specializing in chicken skewers, is a oft-misunderstood spot. The restaurant is probably most well-known for the attitude of its head chef/owner, Tomo-san, and his reluctance to serve first-timer or newer patrons off-menu skewers which are “reserved” for the regulars and black plate customers (true VIPs who have customized plates made for them by the restaurant). I completely get it – this is America, after all. I myself was guilty of hating on Kokekokko for its elitist attitude and had been scared off trying the place for the longest time…until Food’s Eye View insisted I go with him (after he had somewhat established himself with a few visits in the weeks before).

In essence, the way Kokekokko is run is akin to the tiny basement restaurants plenty in Tokyo, which are either invitations-only or give priority to regulars (Totoraku is probably the most famous in town for doing this). Due to their size and lack of self-promotion, they want to reward their loyal customers for their continued support or being the early adopters. In fact, this system is probably passively present at some of your favorite Japanese restaurants in LA. Not the most democratic of systems I know, but for those actually considered as such, there is major gratification to be had for essentially racking up points on your rewards club card. It’s like getting a FastPass for everything at Disneyland because you’ve been there a dozen times already. There is also a sense of camaraderie and friendship that comes out of a relationship like this.

But how do noobs approach Kokekokko? Like you would with any restaurant – sit down, be respectful, and eat what’s in front of you. That’s it really. Kindly ask for the off-menu stuff. If you’re nice and they have plenty, then there’s a high probability you’ll receive at least some of it. How do you think people ascend to regular status? You can be an asshole and go to a restaurant multiple times, and Japanese restaurants like this won’t elevate you to VIP status. They’re not in it for the money, but rather to serve patrons who love and respect their craft. If you go again, they’ll likely recognize you (since it’s pretty much the same servers working there on the regular), and try to hook you up. Just don’t act like a Yelp Elite, and odds are you’ll be fine.

Still, there’s an actual reason why people want to go to Kokekokko outside of its relative exclusivity, right? It’s because the chicken is damn delicious. First of all, they only use Jidori chicken, and get it fresh daily (I think they might even be butchering it themselves), which makes a huge difference in the quality of meat. Add the use of binchotan charcoal, which technically produces no flames or smoke but is able to maintain an extremely high temperature consistently, and the deft skills of men whose grilling skills would make most backyard chefs cry, and you got yourself amazingly grilled skewers of basically every edible part of chicken than can be put on a stick. In fact, this is a great place for offal (attn: The Offalo), as some of the best skewers at Kokekokko are of the organ variety, like the three varieties of heart.

But don’t forget about plain ol’ chicken breast, as the version found here is probably the most well-cooked piece of breast I’ve had in recent memory. The reason: it’s cooked rare. You can request it well-done or what not, but you’ll probably see Tomo-san looking really pissed/sad grilling that breast, because he’s basically cooking the shit out of it. The quality of chicken is here good enough to eat raw even, due to how their source the chickens. So please try it rare or medium-rare at least, if you dare. Besides the skewers, Kokekokko might just be serving the best versions of chicken gyoza, soboro-don, and chicken ramen in LA, as well as other great small plates like chicken-stuffed shiitake mushrooms and smoked duck (see a trend here?). I’d go for the chicken ramen alone (seriously).

However, there’s another reason I’m mentioning Kokekokko: the restaurant is closing in late January 2015. This has been rumored for a while, as a certain favorite sushi chef of mine hinted at this over a year ago. It’s not because business wasn’t good (they’re doing well enough to self-justify the preferential treatments), but rather a new landlord is squeezing the current tenants out. After 25 or so years doing this, I doubt Tomo-san is going to open up another Kokekokko. So at least give them a shot in the next 3 months if chicken skewers remotely interest you. If it doesn’t work out, then fine – there’s always Torihei and Shin-Sen-Gumi. But you’d be yourself a disservice by not going to the only yakitori joint in town that could truly belong in Japan.

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Sasami (breast)

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Sunagimo (gizzard)

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Hatsu (heart)

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“Special” hatsu

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Toku-hatsu (special special heart)

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Negima (thigh w/ leek)

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Shin

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Kawa (skin)

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Tebasaki (wing)

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Seseri (neck)

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Chicken-Stuffed Shiitake Mushrooms

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Roasted Duck Breast

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Soboro-don

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Chicken Ramen

Grade: A-
Cuisine: Japanese (Yakitori-ya, to be specific)
Neighborhood: Little Tokyo
Price: $$ (probably more like $$$ though)

Kokekokko on Urbanspoon

Allumette

Photo credit: Allumette

Allumette – CLOSED
1320 Echo Park Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 935-8787
allumettela.com

Another ambitious restaurant that was too ahead of its time? Or one that was the victim of the wrong location and target clientele?

I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, another critically-acclaimed restaurant in town decided to call it quits. On the surface, Allumette closing up shop at the end of June can be perceived as a huge surprise, as the restaurant was named as one of Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants and LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants for 2014, as well as being short-listed for Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants for 2013, among other accolades. However, the place was certainly hurting for business, and it was evident when we went the week before it was slated to close, and there were still maybe less than a handful of covers all night.

That’s a shame. While I’m not ready to bow down to the genius of Chef Miles, the talent is there, and Allumette had nowhere to go but up as time passes. A lot of the dishes were indeed very ambitious and loaded with multiple flavor components and textures. It was just a bit too…busy for me at times. But the vision is there – just needs time and editing (and restraint, to a certain extent). Unfortunately, this version modern American cuisine, one being targeted at a more approachable level and price, is not working in LA. Red Medicine, a restaurant I consider to be the finished product of what Allumette was headed towards, is closing at the end of this month, and from my visits (after the first time) there I can confirm that they were never nearly as busy as it was assumed.

As a town that has diminished the importance of Michelin-esque fine dining in favor of cuisines that capture a more approachable, global essence reflecting the melting pot that is LA, this type of cooking should be something that we self-proclaimed sophisticated diner should strive to accept. We don’t need another farm-to-table restaurant, or a gastropub. We need to start pushing the envelope, or else LA as a culinary haven will be left behind once again, and this time rightfully so.

Snacks:

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Potatoes a la Plancha – furikake aioli, parmigiano-reggiano, katsuobushi

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Potato Chips – smoked whitefish, uni cream, chive

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Baby Torpedo Onion Panisse – meyer lemon mustard, hibiscus, cilantro

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“Bread & Butter”

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Mini Lumpia

1st Course:

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Cucumbers – apricot fennel compote, ripe & unripe berries, white chocolate

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Blue Prawn – vinegar meringue, rice paper, leek

2nd Course:

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Summer Squash – white corn fondue, june garlic miso, sage

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Arrowtip Squid – pistachio ponzu, cherry, black mint

3rd Course:

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Octopus – za’atar yogurt, okra caviar, plum

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Ivory Salmon – soured celtuce, radish, beet syrup

4th Course:

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Branzino – shellfish tapioca, fried broccoli, lemon

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Pork Collar – pho charcoal, eggplant mayonnaise, pickled wasabi

5th Course:

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Toasted Barley Pot-de-Creme – jasmine, strawberry, rosemary

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Lemongrass Bavarois – hibiscus, oat, tangerine

Grade: B
Cuisine: American
Neighborhood: Echo Park
Price: $$$

Allumette on Urbanspoon

Maude

Photo credit: Eater LA

Maude
212 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 859-3418
mauderestaurant.com

This was unexpected…

TV chef Curtis Stone, most recently known as the host of Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels, opened Maude in Beverly Hills at the beginning of the year. But if you’re expecting a large, corporate, tourist trap of a restaurant that usually comes with the territory of being a celebrity chef, then you’d be completely wrong. What we have here is a passion project of sorts for the chef, a small, quaint spot neatly tucked away on the southern part of the city’s Restaurant Row.

Despite spending more of his career on screen than in the kitchen, Stone’s culinary resume is fairly impressive. And at Maude, he’s assembled a staff that can tout similar levels of experience. The restaurant focuses on a primary ingredient every month, and constructs a tasting menu (only option available) of 10-14 courses around that, at a reasonable price range of $75-95/person. For the month of June, the ingredient was morel mushrooms, so the tasting menu was $115/person.

What I really liked about the focus and progression of our dinner at Maude was that the restaurant never tried to force the issue of reminding the diners that morels was the main ingredient, and that it needed to be the centerpiece of each course. Rather, there were courses where morels were barely utilized or creatively integrated, but were there because they fit well within the scheme of things. That’s what a great fine dining restaurant tasting menu strives for – having a central focus, but keeping a nice progression, and taking chances here and there.

By those accounts, the morels menu at Maude definitely knocked it out of the park. And from everything I’ve heard from previous and future months, it seems as if the restaurant has maintained that high level of creativity and execution throughout. And by creativity and execution, the kitchen has done a good job tip-toeing between respecting the classic approaches and exploring the more progressive formats. It’s a very smooth integration of both – none of the tongue-in-cheek executions you’d see at modernist places.

Also, I was also very impressed at how light the food was. By light, I don’t mean that it’s under-seasoned or healthy, but rather in comparison to how each course appeared and the components involved. I was eating this huge raviolo with consumme (a course that was brought out by Chef Stone himself), expecting it to be very heavy. But it was actually rather refreshing, and the broth even balanced out the dish – just an example.

So yeah – definitely very impressed with what Chef Stone has accomplished with Maude. It’s pumping out Michelin-quality cuisine at a reasonable entry price and neighborhood-esque comfort level. Despite that, the front of the house is extremely professional, knowledgeable, and runs like clockwork without being stuffy (I’m talking about you, Manresa). I’m definitely looking forward to future meals…if I can even get a reservation.

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Risotto – citrus butter, chicken mousse

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Kampachi – avocado, herbs, passion fruit snow

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Scallop – wild garlic, watermelon mind, roe

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Duck Egg – summer squash, horseradish, smoke

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Raviolo – consomme, truffle crumble, watercress

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Pork Belly – jalapeno, daikon, carrot

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Lamb – green garbanzo, eggplant, leek

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Taleggio – onion, charred peach, nasturtium

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Ice Cream Bar – coffee, chocolate, cocoa nib

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Black Forest Floor – dark cherry, chocolate, hazelnut

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Mignardises – blueberry financier, tropical fruit tart, raspberry bonbon

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Morel salt

Grade: A-
Cuisine: American (probably appropriate to say Californian, to be more specific)
Neighborhood: Beverly Hills
Price: $$$$ (June tasting menu featuring morels was $115/person, but excluding that and most likely the upcoming November menu featuring truffles, the price range of the menus is $75-95/person)

Maude on Urbanspoon

b.o.s.


Photo credit: b.o.s. Facebook Page

b.o.s.
424 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 700-7834
bos-la.com

Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right?

Planned by The Offalo, five of us had an amazing dinner at the soon-to-be-closed restaurant in Little Tokyo. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to squeeze one meal in before the end of the month (they close on 9/27), and I’m sure that most of us are kicking ourselves for realizing just now what we’ve been missing out on for the past year. Yes, one year can be considered too soon for owner Jun to be throwing in the towel, but he’s a realistic person, and he and Chef David weren’t going to compromise their vision of how the restaurant should be in order to keep things barely afloat.

But seriously – what’s there to be scared about when it comes to eat offal? I mean, beef cheek, tongue and oxtail are considered offal. Those taste EXACTLY like regular beef! People eat hot dogs all the time. Do you people really want to know what goes inside most casings? With foods like bone marrow, uni (sea urchin roe), and foie gras (duck liver) still so hot right now (the latter outside of CA), there is definitely room for offal to be accepted by mass society. If there was only a place you can find such ingredients executed in an approachable manner from a classically-trained chef…

Instead of dwelling on what happened or what could’ve been, I just want to encourage everyone (all ten of you readers) to check out b.o.s. before their closure. While the restaurant has been labeled as a “nose-to-tail” restaurant this whole time (perpetuated by reviews and blog posts), it really isn’t trying to cater to the offal whores, but rather treat offal as you would a normal protein to integrate it into a more chef-driven form, with the hopes of making it more accessible to the common diner.

You can definitely see the passion Jun and David put into this effort, and while it was a losing one, they are going down swinging. There’s something very… romantic about that, and it shows up in everything the restaurant does. I’ll definitely try to squeeze in another visit during the b.o.s. swan song, and again I encourage everyone to do the same. Let’s send these guys out with a bang! I will keep tabs on both guys re: future projects.

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Carpaccio of Tongue – pea sprouts, avocado, pickled shallots, Isaan dressing

Sizzling Thai Tongue – Thai aromatics, lime chili sauce

Crispy Curried Calf Brain – butternut squash puree, arugula gremolata, grape compote

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Grilled Miso Heart – king oyster mushrooms, yuzu miso vinaigrette

Sweetbread Tacos – salsa verde, pico de gallo, sriracha sour cream, pickled radish

Housemade Turkish Sausage (off-menu) – ground beef, small intestines, rice

Fried Tripe “Calamari” & Small Intestine Chicharron – cilantro garlic yogurt dip, Isaan dressing

Roasted Bone Marrow – housemade furikake, 61-degree egg, sesame gochujang paste

Braised Veal Cheek Pasta – shiitake mushrooms, braised sauce, olive oil poached tomatoes, homemade pappardelle

Whole Roasted Oxtail – ras el hanout, farmer’s market vegetables (130-degree poached tomatoes, roasted heirloom carrots & peewee potatoes, pickled cauliflower w/ North African spices)

Beef Tendon Risotto – English peas, pea sprouts, radish, lardons

Grade: A-
Cuisine: Asian Fusion
Neighborhood: Little Tokyo
Price: $$$

B.O.S. on Urbanspoon

Sushi Tsujita

sushi tsujita

Photo credit: Sushi Tsujita

Sushi Tsujita
2006 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 231-1177
tsujita-la.com/sushi-tsujita

A brief first look at the new sushi restaurant from the Tsujita group that opened on Sawtelle last month, less than a block away from their ramen shops: we went a week after they opened, and my first impression was how pleasantly surprised I was by the dinner (disclaimer: we ate gratis , not as media, but as friends of Kenta-san, the Tsujita corporate chef). I say that because this is Tsujita’s first foray into sushi (to my knowledge), and I didn’t know how proficient they’d be at this. I’d say that for now it’s still below the likes of Shunji and Kiriko when talking about sushi in the area (as well as the city), but they compare very favorably to Q. The Tsujita folks certainly aren’t messing around when it comes to pumping money into the restaurant, and it shows in everything from the decor to, most importantly, the sourcing of the ingredients.

The restaurant brought Kato-san over from Japan to head the restaurant, and while he’s on the shy side (as well as speaking no English), he is surrounded by amicable itamae, who are veterans of places like Shunji. But make no mistake – Kato-san is the man in charge here. He’s doing the sourcing, he’s buying the groceries, and he’s doing the prep, right down to the soy. If I have any criticism, I’d say that the sushi rice can be inconsistent on a couple of nigiri. But it was only a week since opening, and there is nowhere to go but up for Sushi Tsujita. I look forward to returning soon, and hopefully will have the time to give a full, truly unbiased view. But thanks again to Kenta-san and the entire crew at Sushi Tsujita, who were excellent at making me feel at home.

FYI – they also started serving lunch, which includes chirashi and sushi set meals, respectively, at more economic prices.

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Steamed awabi (abalone)

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L to R: Aji nanbanzuke; Ayu w/ yuzu; Tamagyaki, hamoko (pike eel roe) & caviar

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Anago shinjo (sea eel cake/paste), yuzu & okra in dashi

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Whole steamed lobster

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Hata (grouper) kobujime sashimi (from Miyazaki)

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Momotaro tomato gazpacho w/ wine-soaked blueberry

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Kurodai (black sea bream)

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Shima aji (striped jack)

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Akami zuke (soy-marinated lean tuna)

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Kuromutsu (black porgy)

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Alaskan king salmon

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Hata, chutoro sashimi

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Amaebi

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Ikura

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Santa Barbara uni

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Saba

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Anago

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Otoro

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Miyazaki wagyu

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Okoze

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Kohada

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Tamago

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Melon compote

Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Neighborhood: Sawtelle
Price: $$$$ (omakase price points at $120, $150, and $180)

Disclaimer: Food for this meal was hosted (not for media, but f&f)


Sushi Tsujita on Urbanspoon

dineLA Summer 2014 (7/14-7/27) Picks

It’s that time of the year again. This is probably the bi-annual event most people in LA look forward to the most. For this Summer 2014 season, I’ll feature 2 new options at each price point – 12 restaurants that haven’t been featured in previous iterations of my dineLA analysis, as well as previously-featured options that remains such (let’s call those my “greatest hits”). Fear not, however, for I will also provide a breakdown of the other previous selections at the very bottom.

By the way, dineLA – what happened to the $85 dinner price point?

(all photo credits below belong to Discover LA)

LUNCH:

$15

ciboteca1779068_613688768680052_834865407_n0Ciboteca
(Sandwiches, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 8am- ) Optimal Lineup:
– Toscano
– Spinach + arugula
– Milk chocolate cupola mousse
– (soft drink)
Estimated Savings: $9
Notes: Ciboteca is a new panini shop from the Piccolo group (whose Hostaria was and still is a BUY at $15, and whose OG Piccolo is pretty much a dineLA HOFer at $45). They don’t feature the sexy $9 panini options for dineLA though…except for the Toscano, which has Finocchiona (a Tuscan fennel salami). That’s why I’m here folks – to dig this type of information up and game the system. But this is a very good deal for $15: you get a panini, a salad, a pastry, and a fancy soda. Not too shabby.

Settebello (Marina del Rey)
(Pizza, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 11:30am- )
Optimal Lineup:
– Panzanella
– Settebello
Estimated Savings: $8
Notes: This deal is only for the Marina del Rey location – sorry Pasadena folks. I like Settebello. I think it deserves more love amongst pizza lovers in LA, especially seeing how Neapolitan pizza is so hot right now. And for dineLA, you basically get the first course for free. There’s lots of parking, and they don’t get very busy from my experiences. lazy-ox-canteen533920_10150815488361072_476536022_n010GREATEST HIT – Lazy Ox Canteen
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm) Optimal Lineup:
– Shishito peppers
– 7oz lazy ox burger
– Rice pudding
Estimated Savings: ~$15
Notes: I’ve been disappointed by Lazy Ox Canteen by their progress (or lack of) in recent years. After Chefs Centeno and Rocher left, it’s as if the restaurant became content served a limited menu of their greatest hits from Day 1. In the case of dineLA though, this works to their advantage. Proven dishes at a STEEP DISCOUNT – this menu was already a BUY at the $20 price point, but they went ahead and took it a step further. Percentage-wise, this might be the best dineLA deal of the season, lunch or dinner.

$20

Border Grill (Downtown)
(Mexican, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am- )
Optimal Lineup:
– Scallop tiradito
– Enchilada de camarones
Estimated Savings: ~$9
Notes: The menus for the Downtown and Santa Monica locations of Border Grill, respectively, have different menus for dineLA. However, the savings actually look to be almost exact – which means both locations are a BUY. I chose the Downtown one to highlight, because it’s within walking distance from my work. But if you prefer tacos over the other entrees, go to the Santa Monica one.

Muddy Leek
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Fri 11am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Tomato salad
– Shrimp & grits
– Gluten free beignets
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: I actually don’t know much about Muddy Leek, other than that I used to live near the restaurant, and that J. Gold wrote about it last year. I had assumed it was just a run-of-the-mill farm-to-table restaurant. But the menu reads rather…Southern? Pretty interesting. The shrimp & grits is probably their signature dish, and it is on both the lunch and dinner dineLA menus. Lunch is the preferred choice, as you’re bound to save ~$10 no matter what you choose. This is what dineLA should be all about – letting people try out new places at a friendly entry rate without dumbing the menus down. GREATEST HIT – Lukshon
(Asian, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Fri 12-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Crab fritter
– Grilled squid salad
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: I actually previously featured Lukshon at the $25 dinner price point. But with every one of my previous $20 lunch selections either moving weight classes or not doing dineLA this year (with the exception of The Pikey, but it’s really hard to determine value with their menu), it’s worth bumping the dineLA HOFer here. Two of their regular dishes at $20 is a very good deal. Minor rant though: their dinner menu at $35 looks like a HOLD this time around (for the first time ever – they’re usually a strong BUY).

$25

Bourbon Steak
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm) Optimal Lineup:
– Burrata
– Black Angus skirt steak
– Vanilla custard
Estimated Savings: $20
Notes: 3 courses for $25 at the new steakhouse from Michael Mina looks like a great deal. Even if you choose the cheapest options for the first and second courses, you’re still going to save ~$10. But for a restaurant with “steak” in its name – you’d probably want to choose the steak option as entree. The skirt steak is definitely not as sexy as the higher-quality selections of beef that the restaurant offers, but do you really need more than a prime-grade steak for lunch? Water Grill
(Seafood, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11am- )
Optimal Lineup:
– Roasted beets w/ organic apples
– Wild Copper River sockeye salmon
Estimated Savings: $23
Notes: I believe both locations of Water Grill (Downtown and Santa Monica) are offering the same menus for lunch and dinner. Dinner at $45 is a BUY – ~$20 in savings. But you’re saving just as much during lunch at a much lower price point. The entree options bottom out at $19 (the shrimp banh mi), so you’re guaranteed to save money. If you order either of the fish options as the entree (and why wouldn’t you), it’s a double-digit savings AT LUNCH. The Downtown one’s a block away from my office, so I’m very likely going to this one. GREATEST HIT – Bouchon
(French, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Salade de Chou Frise
– Saucisson a l’Ail
– Bouchons
Estimated Savings: ~$20
Notes: It’s difficult to lock down actual savings at Bouchon each season, but I am fairly certain one can saving at least $10 regardless of the selections every time (mostly because I take the cheapest dish of each category from the regular menu as a price floor). Every one of the previous choices at the $25 price point remains a BUY, too (at least the ones that have posted a menu online).

DINNER:

$25

Komodo (Venice)
(Asian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun -9pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Trio of Morsels
– Kimchi Nachos
– Mochiko Fried Chicken
– Traditional Mexican Flan
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: I’ve always assumed Komodo was a cleaner, more expensive version of Kogi, and after reading the menu I can say that I was right…somewhat. There’s definitely the Asian Fusion thing going on (with the tacos in particular), but the dineLA menu doesn’t include the tacos. Instead, you get to choose from some rather traditional-sounding SE Asian/island dishes. The savings might be even more if you choose the salmon, and I did go conservative on the appetizer trio estimate. As good of a time as ever to try Komodo.

Mohawk Bend
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 4-10pm, Fri-Sat 4-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Heirloom tomato salad
– Roasted king salmon
– Peach sorbet
Estimated Savings: ~$10?
Notes: I hate to keep bringing this up season after season, but the $25 dinner dineLA options remain weak in my opinion, especially considering how I’m trying to feature new options. You know how desperate I’m getting when I’m recommending a vegetarian/vegan spot… But Mohawk Bend is indeed a good value at this price point, and you’re more likely going for their excellent beer selection. Makes drinking all them carbs go down a little easier, knowing that you’re eating relatively healthy with the beers. GREATEST HIT – The Corner Door
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
– Pappardelle
– Steamed mussels
– White chocolate snickerdoodles
Estimated Savings: $15
Notes: The Corner Door really has this dineLA thing down. What they’ve managed to do is include the majority of the menu without the restraint of serving them in courses to maximize diner choices (and savings). The choice of two dishes is already a BUY (as long as you’re not choosing two vegetarian dishes), but you get a dessert as well?!? This is a really, really good dineLA deal. Use the savings on their wonderful drinks, or on another dish to share with your crew – it’s a fun place to hang out with friends.

$35

Tipple & Brine
(Seafood, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Wed 5-11pm, Thu-Sat 5pm-12am)
Optimal Lineup:
– Fried octopus
– Market Fish
– Chocolate Cremeaux
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: Tipple & Brine is a new restaurant in Sherman Oaks that focuses on seafood. I’ve read pretty good things about it, and not just pretty good for Sherman Oaks, although you’ll probably want to wait until traffic dies down a bit before heading north for dinner. But the 3 courses at $35 looks like a great value. Feeling guilty about not visiting my mom in the area after dinner though? Not as great of a value. Willie Jane
(Southern, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Thu 6-10pm, Fri-Sat 6-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Hanger steak tartar
– Fried chicken thighs with pimento mac
– Willie Jane red velvet cake
Estimated Savings: ~$9?
Notes: I’m glad Willie Jane moved down from the $45 price point, because it was definitely not a good deal then. But it’s now following big brother Post & Beam’s footsteps in becoming a dineLA value fixture. It’s somewhat difficult to lock down actual savings (I averaged the appetizer prices, and I’m not sure if the fried chicken here is the same as the regular one – but it does come with a side as well), but it looks like you can save $4-9 here. Their fried chicken has a really good reputation, and you know how much I love fried chicken. Plus those first courses sound pretty darn good as well. GREATEST HIT – Black Hogg
(America, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sat 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Pork belly taco
– Brussels sprout hash
– Marrow burger
– Milk & Honey
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: I was going to go with the clams caribena as the entree choice to maximize savings, but “limited quantities” definitely catches the eye – I’m assuming the marrow burger is a dish created specifically for dineLA. Anyways, the entrees’ price range is $16-18, so you’ll still save $5-10 regardless, depending on the combination of dishes. There are plenty who go to Black Hogg expecting this Animal Part Deux, but it’s just a really nice neighborhood spot serving well-executed dishes that are inspired by multiple influences.

$45

Abigaile
(America, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 5-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Pao de queijo
– Roasted medjool dates & kale salad
– Tuna tartare
– Scallops & slab bacon
– Snickers
Estimated Savings: $22
Notes: That Tin Vuong – so hot right now. The chef went from this one Manhattan Beach restaurant to a local empire that now includes the critically-acclaimed Little Sister, Wildcraft Sourdough Pizza, and the new Dia del Campo (the latter also a BUY at the $45 dinner price point). But let’s not forget about the OG here. Just stay away from the cheapest options from the “ruffage” category and the noodle dish from the “carnage” category, and you’re bound to save double-digits. Use those savings on their excellent beer selections. Faith & Flower
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am)
Optimal Lineup:
– Summer squash salad
– Longanisa sausage
– Mesquite grilled skirt steak
– Seared steelhead trout
– Peaches & Cream
Estimated Savings: ~$25
Notes: Man this place looks sexy. And the savings at dinner for dineLA look even sexier. I’m fairly certain about the estimated savings here – the dineLA menu items that are not on the regular menu have comparable counterparts on the regular menu. The floor here is probably $5+, but obviously in choosing the two proteins as mains, you’d get the ~$25 savings. The best idea, actually, is to go as a pair to get one of everything on the dineLA menu. You’ll still save $15/person, which you can apply towards drinks or something else off the regular menu (oxtail agnolotti?). GREATEST HIT – Fogo de Chao
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5-10pm, Fri 5-10:30pm, Sat 4:30-10:30pm, Sun 4-9:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Menu the same as regular
Estimated Savings: $16.50
Notes:  Ah, Fogo de Chao – dependable as ever during dineLA. You know exactly what you’re getting, and you know exactly how much you’re saving. Just make sure to make a reservation, and preferably not at peak hours, because it gets PACKED during dineLA (including plenty of UCLA students – I know from personal experience). Luckily, service doesn’t get compromised, and selections remain consistent and plentiful…unless the Brazilians are still too depressed from the World Cup.

So there you have it – 2 new selections at each price point along with an additional “greatest hits” selection, for a total of 18 again this time around. I hope everyone enjoys these next 2 weeks of grubbin’, because I certainly will. And bonus: AMEX brought back the dineLA $5 statement credits! And it’s for each meal you spend > $21 too!

Previous Selections:

LUNCH ($15)

Fundamental LA – BUY (up to $7 in savings)
The Larder at Burton Way – BUY ($11)
MessHall – BUY ($4)
Next Door by Josie – BUY (~$4)
Short Order – ???
TLT Food – BUY ($6)

($20)

The Pikey – HOLD (~$3?)

($25)

AOC – BUY ($6)
Drago Centro – ???
Little Dom’s (up from $20) – HOLD (~$3)
Mo-Chica (also up from $20) – HOLD (~$4)
Paiche – BUY (~$10)
Rivera – ???
Tavern – BUY ($15)

DINNER

($25)

Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar – BUY ($8)
Hostaria del Piccolo – BUY (~$10)
Post & Beam – BUY (~$10)

($35)

Freddy Smalls Bar + Kitchen – HOLD? (???)
The Gorbals – HOLD? (???)
Gusto – ???
Lukshon – HOLD ($2) – surprise here, as they’re usually a strong BUY
Night + Market – BUY if you refuse to go to Sliver Lake, SELL if nothing’s holding you back
Waterloo & City – BUY (~$10)

($45)

The Bazaar – BUY ($22)
Craft – BUY (~$10)
Lawry’s The Prime Rib – BUY ($16)
Lucques – BUY ($15)
Patina (down from $85) – really hard to tell, but you’re getting 5 courses! Has to be a BUY.

dineLA Stock Legend:
BUY: > 20% in savings off optimal lineup
HOLD: 5-20% in savings off optimal lineup
SELL: under 5% in savings off optimal lineup

Tacolandia (2014)

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Obviously, I ate for free

Tacolandia 2014 @ El Pueblo de Los Angeles
6/28/14 – 3-7pm
125 Paseo De La Plz
Los Angeles, CA 90012
http://microapp.laweekly.com/tacolandia/2014/

I think it’s safe to say that last year’s inaugural Tacolandia was proclaimed a success. For a first-time event that focused on just one dish, albeit one that is synonymous with the city’s culture and identity, things ran very smoothly. Lines (both getting in and per vendor) were manageable, most vendors had plenty to serve from a wide variety of tacos, and the event itself was downright highway robbery for its attendees at $20/person.

This year, prices skyrocketed to the tune of…$25/person. Let’s just say that the even remains a STRONG BUY (although that can be somewhat argued for the premium tickets at $45 a pop in comparison – see The Offalo’s report on the issues regarding that). The event was moved from the parking lot of the Hollywood Paladium to a blocked off section of Olvera Street to accommodate a bigger crowd – no easy feat, as regulations were up the ass left and right (which partially contributed to the drinks issue everyone had). Bill Esparza, one who needs no introduction, told us there were approximately 1000 more attendees this year. No room for walk-up purchases, that’s for sure.

At least with the bigger venue to accommodate more attendees meant more vendors – I believe there were around 40 just for food (which meant that there was no realistic shot of me sampling every taco/tostada this year, though not for a lack of trying). I originally had a gameplan to survey the playing field first via scout run (a la my buffet strategy), but standing in line for 40 minutes to get in, plus the initial shock of seeing the lines at each vendor, had me on tilt.

But after 36 tacos of 30 varieties, I have no more regrets in life. After the event last year, I mentioned that I was 5 pounds heavier and had a hard time breathing. Well, for those who were there to witness, I could barely stand by the end of the day. To be perfectly honest, I should’ve just brought a wheelbarrow, and just had someone push my fat ass around throughout the day. Below are the 25 varieties of tacos/tostada I managed to take a quick photo of before devouring:

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Amor y Tacos – braised short rib taco

The restaurant from Cerritos executed a braised short rib taco w/ caramelized onions, cotija cheese, pickled radishes, and a raspberry salsa that actually worked pretty well. However, the handmade tortilla really fell short – it was thick and undercooked, resulting in a too-chewy texture. Still, this won’t deter me from trying the restaurant someday.

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Bistro LQ x C-V-CHE – guinea fowl teriyaki leg taco

A collaboration between a French and Peruvian chef that produced a taco that was neither French or Peruvian, this one had fusion written all over it. Solid taco, but could’ve actually used more seasoning IMO.

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Carnitas El Momo – sortido taco

I’ve tried an incomplete version of this taco, with carnitas and buche. But the official sortido taco from Carnitas El Momo contains the right amounts of juicy carnitas and fatty pig skin, and by the right amounts I mean plenty of each. Hands down, the current undisputed carnitas champ in town.

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Chef Katsuji Tanabe – fried clam taco

The chef of MexiKosher offered a definitely-not-kosher taco consisting of fried clams, after running out of fried smelt (surprisingly, more than one restaurant served a fried smelt taco). From what I can tell, the preparations for this fried clam taco was the same as the initial smelt one, and it was…kind of weird. The beets were a bit overwhelming, and the sprinkles were…just weird. Pass. Also, can smelt be kosher?

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Chef Timothy Hollingsworth – “Cochinita Pibil”

The former Chef de Cuisine of 3-star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry was definitely the most acclaimed chef at the event. He has relocated to LA, and plans to open a more casual concept in Downtown, one that’ll feature more of the Mexican flavors he has fallen in love with. If this taco was a precursor, then the chef is on the right track. This “cochinita pibil” was by far the most delicate version I’ve seen/eaten. Subtle flavor profiles and combinations of texture, and elegant “plating” (w/ tweezers, because of course).

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Chichen Itza – cochinita pibil

The Yucatan specialist stuck to its guns, and served their trademark cochinita pibil. As excellent as ever. Sorry for the poor(er) photo here.

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Colonia Taco Lounge – beef cheek taco

By now, every taco enthusiast should be familiar with Ricardo Diaz’s name. He was the chef and co-owner of Guisados, before striking it out on his own with Bizarra Capital (which was part of the festival last year), and now Colonia Taco Lounge. This was a solid taco, but I wished we could’ve seen them flex some muscles here.

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Coni’Seafood – marlin taco

Same as last year, as good as last year. I really need to try this place.

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Corazon y Miel – fried smelt taco

I’m a big fan of Corazon y Miel, a restaurant I consider one of the most underrated in LA. The restaurant served a fried smelt taco that had avocado, corn, heirloom tomatoes, and a nice hint of poblano. SOLID.

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Eggslut – braised/fried Nueske’s bacon taco

My boy Johnny and the Eggslut crew served a taco that was fitting of both the festival and what the restaurant’s all about, and that is breakfast and eggs on the regs. The fried quail egg was a nice touch. Can’t wait see what they do next year.

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FIG – braised lengua taco

Perfectly-cooked tongue, from a chef that knows his way around meat. This was an elevated version of the tongue taco Guerrilla Tacos served last year, and that one was quite good.

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Finca Altozano – D#ickhead taco (beef cheek, tongue, pizzle)

I was unfortunately unable to try Chef Javier Plascencia’s offaly-bizarre taco last year, but he managed to shock and awe once again with what they called the “D#ickhead” taco. It was beef cheek, tongue, and pizzle (bull penis) cooked birria-style. The penis tasted like beef tendon – very interesting. And yes, I fully admit to wanting the D that day.

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Flor del Rio – goat birria taco

Birria specialist Flor del Rio brought back the goat birria taco again this year. As good as last year’s.

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George’s at the Cove – Los 3 Cochinitas taco (pig tail, crispy ear, cueritos)

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George’s at the Cove – El Pescado taco (achiote-cured red snapper)

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George’s at the Cove – La Piña tostada (pineapple, espuma de mezcal)

George’s at the Cove ain’t nothing to fuck with. Sorry for the profanity and the lame Wu-Tang reference, but they came rollin’ deep with their A-Team (including Chef Trey, CdC Jon, and Pastry Chef Lori), and managed to not only serve 3 offerings simultaneously(!!!) that were all highlights of the event, but to serve them up until the very end. Mad respect to the team from the La Jolla restaurant, one that was responsible for the single best meal of my year to date (post still in the works).

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Guerrilla Tacos – wild porcini mushroom tostada

As fans of Guerrilla Tacos know (and I know there are plenty of you, because all of you are in my way), Chef Wes has a way with vegetables. This porcini-truffle collabo seemed like a can’t-miss, and was indeed good, but I just wanted…a little more. The problem with having set such a high standard for me, I suppose.

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La Guerrerense – seafood tostada (bacalao, octopus, scallop, sea urchin)

I’ve only tried La Guerrerense twice, both times at Tacolandia, but I can safely say that I LOVE LA GUERRERENSE. I would be willing to be a drug mule for the Mexican cartels in exchange for a regular supply of LG’s food. And crazy thing is, I know that what they serve usually is even better and more expansive than what they offered at the events. Sra. Sabina, te amo.

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Loteria Grill – fried grasshopper tostada

A surprising offering from the local mini-chain. I thought this were pretty good actually. A few ladies had the look of disgust while I was eating this, but I’m not sure if that’s because I was eating grasshoppers, or because of my face.

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Mexicali Taco & Co. – lomo al carbon taco

The Mexicali guys always try to mix things up at events, and Tacolandia was no different. I remember Dommy (a Chowhound veteran and Mexican culinary scholar) telling me how legit they were last year with their offering, right down to the wood they were using for the grill. This year’s definitely had the look and taste of a churrasco prep – very good.

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Petty Cash Taqueria – pork belly carnitas taco

Despite it being a pork belly carnitas taco (pork courtesy of Cook Pigs Ranch), the flavors were very clean. A pleasant surprise.

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Revolutionario LA Food – chicken tagine taco

I believe Chef Zadi actually had to go all McGyver with chicken from fellow chefs at the event, because he said that he had ran out. I tried Revolutionario LA Food during their pop-up last month, and it was a very playful take on the taco incorporating North African flavors and ingredients. Looking forward to seeing what Chef has up his sleeve in the future.

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Tacos Kokopelli – Polvora tostada (smoked salmon, chiltepin, chilmole)

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Tacos Kokopelli – Kraken taco

Tacos Kokopelli came with a trio of offerings this year, two of which focused around smoked salmon, and the other being their famous kraken taco which they served last year.  The kraken one was better than last year’s – don’t think anything changed, but was just executed better this time. And the smoked salmon preparations were even better IMO. Sidenote: are they opening a Chicago branch? If so, why not LA?

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Tortas Ahogadas Ameca – ahogada taco

A sweet and wonderful family operation, serving a taco version of their famed torta ahogada. Arguably the heartiest taco of the day, and held its own against the sexier, chef-driven ones.

Not Pictured:

- Aqui es Texcoco
– La Flor de Yucatan
– Mariscos Jalisco
– Tacos Kokopelli (Summer Dash tostada)
– Tamales Elena

So yeah, that sums up all the tacos I ate at Tacolandia, sans the ones without photos. I missed out on a few big names, like Taco Maria and Picca, but there’s only so much Chris to go around. That just means I have to go in with a more strict game plan next year. Not counting repeats, below were the six that served my favorites of the day, a true accomplishment given how many good ones I ate throughout the event.

Chris Hei’s All-Tacolandia 1st Team:

FIG
Finca Altozano
George’s at the Cove (2x All-Tacolandia) – MVT
La Guerrerense (2x All-Tacolandia)
Tacos Kokopelli
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth

Thanks again to Bill, LA Weekly, and especially to all the chefs and vendors that made this event possible and a success. Looking forward to next year’s, and many more to come!

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