Guerrilla Tacos at Cognoscenti Coffee (Wed 9am-2pm)
6114 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Wes Avila is kind of like Batman of the taco world. When he’s not working as the sous chef for Le Comptoir (currently hosted at The Wine Vault in Glendale), he’s taking taco justice to the streets with the taco cart/stand-turned-truck Guerrilla Tacos. He doesn’t have any superpowers, but he does have an arsenal of quality gadgets (in this case, ingredients) to go along with his crime-fighting intelligence, honed from his experience at some of the finer kitchens around town. [update: I've been told that Chef Wes isn't at Le Comptoir anymore - solely focusing on Guerrilla Tacos now]
Le Comptoir is known around town as a place where quality ingredients, especially vegetables, are allowed to shine, and that philosophy is ever so evident at Guerrilla Tacos. Farmers market vegetables, locally-sourced proteins, and each dish made to order – this is a one-man farm-to-table restaurant operating under a taqueria facade. They’re usually parked outside Handsome Coffee Roasters (Wednesdays 5-8pm, Fridays 9am-2pm, and Saturday & Sunday 9am-1pm), but they’re also outside Cognoscenti Coffee in Culver City on Wednesdays from 9am to 2pm – which is where I was able to try their offerings, as my office had moved to Culver City recently.
The fare at Guerrilla Tacos isn’t your standard taco truck food, nor is it traditional by any sense, but they are traditionally-inspired and jazzed up in ways beyond aesthetics. So far, I’ve only tried their breakfast items (seems like the only type of tacos/burritos offered at Culver City), and each of them have been excellent. Between my two visits, I was able to sample four of their tacos, two of their burritos, and a tamale (and no, my fat ass didn’t eat all of this in two meals). Of the four tacos, two centered around scrambled eggs, and two around fried eggs.
Neither of the scrambled egg tacos contained any meat, but the respective roasted green bean and Anaheim chili were just downright delicious. So were the spinach and charred broccoli that were part of the fried egg tacos – they might have been even better than the prosciutto and pancetta that they were paired with, an amazing feat in itself. All four tacos were fully-composed, with multiple components contributing to the construction, and dressed to the nines – these dolled-up ladies are ready to be taken home by the time they reach your hands. The tortilla does get a bit lost among all the hotness, but gets the job done as the designated driver. The tacos can be messy to eat though, as it’s kind of hard to get a good grip on these busty beauties, but I like it dirty anyways.
From what I’ve read, the burritos here are relatively new to the menu. The two offerings I tried were breakfast burritos that don’t stray too far from the traditional ones I’m familiar with from my growing boy days. In fact, the second one I had, with Cook Pigs Ranch sausage, potato, avocado, and tomato habanero chili, is pretty much a traditional one made with quality ingredients. The other one, however, with that same Cook Pigs Ranch sausage but in patty form, fluffy egg, and queso blanco, was like the most awesome sausage McMuffin in burrito form.
I also tried the duck tamale, but unfortunately the duck was on the dry side, and didn’t have that duck flavor I love. Still a decent tamale though. In fact, the only “bad” thing about Guerrilla Tacos is their prices (tacos are ~$5, and burritos are $10), but I think they’re actually quite fair, for the ingredients they’re using, and each item being made to order by Avila alone. It’s not exactly buying 10 tacos from Leo’s after a night of drinking, but you’ll feel much better about yourself after eating these sexy tacos.
I’ve seen and read about their more creative and fancy offerings served at Handsome for lunch and dinner, and from the looks of it, they’re even better than the excellent breakfast fare I’ve sampled. So please Wes, let me try some of these dishes when you’re at Culver City one of these days. But for now, I’m more than happy continuing to try the creative, and more importantly, delicious breakfast tacos and burritos. Worth the ~4 mile drive from the office, that’s for sure.
|Mexican||Food Truck/Culver City||$||A-|
Just another dinner at Shunji – no big deal, right? Well, I usually just post pictorial updates (or not even post anything at all) of my dinners at the restaurant, with minimal commentary, because there are only so many ways to say how amazing something is. I’ve had extended dinners, running the full gamet of all that Shunji-san has to offer, from his signature dishes to sushi to experimental dishes few have the honor of trying. I’ve also had sushi-intensive meals here (again, the sushi here is arguably the most underrated in the city), as well as meals where I didn’t even have to have any sushi at all.
This most recent dinner falls in the last category, because the dinner centered around an almost-mythical specialty of the restaurant – it’s not mentioned on any menus or special board listings, nor does the restaurant advertise it as an available dish (other than a teaser photo or two on their Facebook page). But all the regulars know of it, and we finally had enough diners (myself, The Offalo, and Andy – a dining extraordinaire we’re familiar with from Chowhound, and comes to LA occasionally just to dine) and advanced planning to try the legendary truffle gohan – it was as if we caught Mew!
I didn’t know what to expect from this dinner, surprisingly enough. That’s because I’ve never had a meal at Shunji where I was truly expecting a certain dish. And this being the single biggest dish at the restaurant to date, I wasn’t sure what else we would receive without being gluts. The dinner started simple enough, with the mozuku and suri nagashi amuses we’ve had many times before. But each of these appetizers got knocked up a notch – the former was topped with crab, red snapper, and red okra (which had the texture of a regular okra sans the slime), and the latter incorporated scallop and four types of mushrooms (I think: enoki, crimini, porcini, shiitake). Then followed a zensai plate with some of Shunji-san’s classics, some dungeness crab with its kanimiso, a fresh spiny lobster tartare made with truffles, and a matsutake dobinmushi for each of us. That matsutake dobinmushi – it’s so hot right now.
After we got past those afterthoughts of dishes, a big black pot of cooked rice was brought out, to which Shunji-san liberally shaved black truffles on. That’s right, the truffle gohan is technically a kamameshi – a traditional Japanese rice dish cooked in an iron pot called a kama, hence the name. According to Wikipedia, the dish “came to refer to a type of Japanese pilaf cooked with various types of meat, seafood, and vegetables, and flavored with soy sauce, sake, or mirin. By cooking the rice and various ingredients in an iron pot, the rice gets slightly burned at the bottom which adds a desirable flavor to the rice.” This is a very homey dish that seems somewhat out of place at a high-end sushi restaurant like Shunji – sounds like the guo fan that I used to eat as a child. But of course, instead of Chinese sausage or cured duck leg, there are truffles…
The dish was a practice in simplicity. It’s really just rice cooked with minimal seasonings, with some truffles added near serving time (I believe it was shaved, then covered for a few minutes to let the flavors soak in the rice and the aroma to be trapped, ready to be unleashed at the weak diner ready to be submitted to its mercy, then finally mixed into the rice uniformly). The bowl of gohan served to each of us came with “homey” accompaniments to complete the rice set of sorts: pickles, ikura, bafun uni, one of Shunji-san’s famous marinated egg yolks, and a small serving of simmered beef (in the style of beef you’d find in gyudon or nikujaya, but with a nice touch of sweetness and made with wagyu here *waves arms*). But the rice was so fragrant, so delicious, not overwhelming in any aspect, but whose flavor profile adjusted with each bite of the rice with each individual accompaniment. And we got to wash it all down with a bowl of spiny lobster miso soup – no big deal.
After finishing off our seconds, Shunji-san stopped serving. “This was it,” he must have thought, “I gave these fatasses so much to eat, there’s no way they’d want sushi, right?” But nope, in front of him sat three fully grown men, looking up at him with sad puppy eyes as to why he wasn’t busting out the fishes. So he caught on, and we spared him somewhat by only requesting three pieces of nigiri. But the clean flavors were a wonderful way to follow the simple, yet decadent rice, and to close out a typical meal at Shunji – in the purest, most classy way possible.
So my thoughts on the truffle gohan: arguably my favorite dish of the year, so good it gets its own sub-heading in the post title, and a spot on my favorite dishes list of this year (see: “Best Of” tab). Of course, the truffles definitely helped, but to eat this dish was to eat at a private dinner at Shunji-san’s house. But then again, the dish does take up a great part of the meal, so it is difficult to experience a wide variety of what Shunji has to offer if eating it. And its availability really depends on the man himself – whether he has the truffles, what kind of truffles, and if he wants to serve the dish at all. But if you’re a Shunji veteran who wants your experience at the restaurant to be just a little different and special, then you have to try this dish at least once. And bring friends (or other Chowhound members who are dying for the chance at finding enough people for such a dinner).
Mozuku w/ Crab, Red Snapper, & Red Okra
Suri Nagashi w/ Scallop & 4 Types of Mushrooms
Zensai (clockwise from top left): sazae, persimmon w/ whipped tofu & truffle, whipped ankimo w/ caviar, blue cheese ball w/ candied persimmon, braised octopus, kazunoko & gingko
Spiny Lobster Tartare w/ Truffles
Truffle Gohan Rice Set: pickles, ikura, bafun uni, marinated egg yolk
Spiny Lobster Miso Soup
Simmered Wagyu Beef (a la Gyudon/Nikujaga)
Desserts: lime ice cream, pineapple sorbet, chocolate mousse, lemon ice cream, mango ice cream, fruits
|Japanese, Sushi||West Los Angeles||$$$$||A+|
11301 W Olympic Blvd, Ste 102
Los Angeles, CA 90064
I haven’t had dinner at Kiriko in a while, so I popped in unannounced this past Wednesday for a (relatively) quick dinner, and to catch up with Ken-san and Shinji-san. Always a good time chatting and sharing some stories, and it was fun to try some new dishes, as well as revisit some Kiriko classics (and downright just great sushi). I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of a rice bowl Ken-san gave me, one with sake lees-marinated (for 3 years) fugu roe (picture a “drunken” tobiko) and sea cucumber intestines (konowata), both of which he brought back from his visit back to Japan last month.
Ankimo w/ ponzu gelee, Hokkaido ikura w/ grated daikon, Riesling-soaked persimmon w/ whipped tofu, shima aji carpaccio w/ bonito gelee & shiso pesto
Fresh albacore w/ garlic ponzu, Hokkaido scallop 2 ways (carpaccio, soy-marinated & seared), seared sanma, smoked kamasu no kobujime
Seared Miyazaki wagyu in black truffle red wine soy
Smoked Scottish Salmon
Sumi Ika Geso
11/2/13 UPDATE: finished the 4 collections below, each with some descriptions to the restaurants in their respective collections. Enjoy :)
Foodie.com is an upstart website that allows users to collect certain recipes to their own tailored lists. Simple concept, but the website itself is easy on the eyes. Recently, they’ve been trying to extend their repertoire to including restaurants in their database, and have asked bloggers to contribute their own curated “collections” (the lists) onto the website. For some reason, I’ve been asked to contribute as well. So I did! The lists are somewhat incomplete, as the website’s database of restaurants isn’t too expansive. But here are 4 collections I made (my profile):
Those of you who know me know that I love making lists (see: my foursquare lists). So foodie.com definitely has potential, in my opinion. They even had US & World Top 100 Restaurants lists curated by some big shots (including J. Gold). I’ll be adding more to the above lists as they add more restaurants to their database (the sushi one in particular).
1576 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
I love CaCao. They use quality ingredients, and their dishes are well-thought-out and well-executed. You are paying more here than at a typical taqueria, but it’s fair for the reasons I laid out. Yet, the restaurant almost never gets discussed in the conversation for having the best tacos in LA. CaCao isn’t just a taqueria, but the tacos here can go toe-to-toe with the best of anyone’s in town. I’m not usually in the Eagle Rock area, nor do I desire to be in it on an usual occasion due to all the damn hipsters, but I do try to make it out to the restaurant a couple of times a year.
I ordered 4 tacos on this visit (in order from left to right in photo above):
Suckling pig cochinita pibil ($5.95 – weekly special) – shredded suckling pig in Yucatan spices, bed of black beans, topped with plantain bananas, habanero aioli & pickled red onion
Carnitas de pato ($4.25) – duck confit, avocado, vinegar onion, radishes, chile oil
Huitlacoche ($4.65) – Burns Farms huitlacoche, Rancho Gordo hominy & roasted corn, topped with aged parmesan cheese, salsa & radish
Quesataco de Tijuana ($4.25) – pan seared tres quesos, filled with alder smoked albacore tuna, topped with salsa roja, avocado, crema & micro-cilantro
First of all, the prices have gone up, by ~50 cents for each taco, and proportionally so for most of the dishes on the menu. I’m not sure when the prices changed, but it’s been almost a year since my last visit. The taco sizes remain the same though, so that’s fine (although the amount in the huitlacoche taco was on the lesser side). I’ve had the huitlacoche and the carnitas de pato tacos before, and they remain as great as ever. The duck carnitas is probably tied with Ricky’s fish taco as the best individual taco in town, in my opinion.
But let’s talk about the tacos I’m trying for the first time. The menu at CaCao has changed a bit, specifically to include more delicacies from Baja California, according to my Mexican cuisine professor. Because of his post, I ordered the quesataco, a Tijuana taco with fried cheese and smoked albacore. I have my concerns regarding a fish + cheese combo, but as it works for Coni’Seafood’s marlin tacos (which I tried at Tacolandia), it works here. It’s a big block of pan-fried cheese, over some meaty smoked albacore, and topped with avocado, crema, salsa roja, and some microgreens. Heavy, but refined with complexity.
The other new taco I tried was their weekly special. For this week, it was the suckling pig cochinita pibil. I actually don’t see the regular pibil on their menu anymore, but I’ve had it before, and considered it one of the better versions in town. This version was different in 2 ways. One, it was made with suckling pig – true Yucatan-style. Extra porky, extra fatty, extra delicious. Love what CaCao does with suckling pig when they get their hands on it. Two, it was served with black beans and plantains. I could’ve actually done without them, but enjoyed their inclusion nonetheless. An excellent taco here.
CaCao remains as good as ever, and I just wanted to bump it to reflect its continued excellence. In addition to the menu additions, they’ve finally completed expansion to the former flower shop next door, and have added beer and wine to the menu. And don’t forget the weekly specials – subscribe to their weekly mailings to receive emails notifying you of them, as well as a 10% coupon for Tuesdays-Thursdays. I still need to go for their specials with sea urchin that’s been so highly spoken of. It’s nice to see that they’re not just content, with their reputation and success.
470 E Windmill Ln, Ste 100
Las Vegas, NV 89123
So, Bachi Burger…
Are you going to open?
LA is waiting.
If you didn’t pick up on it, that’s what we call a haiku - a haiku I am eloquently reciting to the Las Vegas-based burger joint, for their construction on a new location in LA has essentially been halted, despite the occasional reassurances from Eater LA that the project is still in the works. I’ve been jogging by the location on Sawtelle for months now (that Sawtelle – it’s so hot right now), and I swear this one bag of concrete mix or whatever has been sitting in that same spot all this time. So no, I don’t expect Bachi Burger to open anytime soon, certainly not in 2013. Maybe next year though…or maybe never.
Luckily, I had a chance to try Bachi on my last trip to Vegas, for my friend Will’s bachelor party. It had been at the top of my to-dine list for restaurants off-strip (I also tried to hit up Chada Thai, but they were unexpectedly closed for lunch, indefinitely). Mattatouille had told me that I should try to go as early as possible, because they get really busy. And that proved to be true – we were there around noon, and had to wait an extended amount of time. Waiting outside a restaurant in Las Vegas weather during daytime isn’t the most desirable of situations to be in, but Bachi proved to be worth the wait.
Bachi’s creations are technically on the fusion side, with regards to Japanese cuisine. Unlike at most places, the concept is well-executed here. Take their signature Ronin Burger, for instance. There’s an Asian slaw. There’s a tonkatsu-sauce glaze of sorts. There’s a yuzu aioli. And that sesame-miso sauce on the side. All very Japanese flavors. But the burger construction is all-American: a well-seasoned, juicy patty, cooked medium-rare, a fried egg, and a nicely-toasted brioche bun (although it had a touch of sweetness). Forget all the teriyaki burgers or whatnot that you’ve tried – this is what the concept is all about.
I’ve also read plenty of positive reports of their oxtail chili cheese fries, and it did sound very promising. It was a nice dish, but didn’t actually blow me away. The fries were already a little limp, but could’ve been affected by heft of the chili. The chili (w/ beans) was actually pretty straightforward, but replacing the ground beef with oxtail. However, the flavor was a bit too sweet for me (don’t know if it’s supposed to be). That sweet flavor, combined with the seasoning salt mixed with the fries, had a little too much going on in my opinion. But it’s still a good side.
Many people consider the burger at Bachi to be the best in Las Vegas, and I believe that to be true, despite my limited experience with burgers in Sin City. I do know, however, that it could possibly be my favorite burger in LA…if it ever opens here. If not, I just might vandalize the location with bachi sticks as if it was a taiko drum.
Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries – garlic aioli, fried egg ($11.50)
Ronin Burger – angus beef, caramelized onions, Japanese cole slaw, miso goma dressing, fried egg, katsu BBQ, yuzu citrus aioli ($11)
2208 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
With this post, we essentially conclude coverage of all the new ramen restaurant openings in the Little Osaka area – unless another one opens soon, which isn’t completely out of the picture at this point. But all of the big shots in LA do now have branches in this area, with Daikokuya and Shin-Sen-Gumi’s recent openings. Usually, the more the merrier, but as I previously mentioned in my Shin-Sen-Gumi post, the number of ramen shops on Sawtelle is too damn high. But let’s see what each of these restaurants bring to the table:
Asahi – mapo ramen, nostalgia
Daikokuya – decor?
Gottsui – beef ramen
Hayatemaru – appetizers, half sizes
Kotoya – ?
Ramenya – more “varieties”
Shin-Sen-Gumi – customization, appetizers
Tatsu – opens the latest, stunt ordering
Tsujita – best tsukemen, best tonkotsu ramen
Tsujita Annex – best overall ramen (Jiro-style, which no one else has), 2nd best tsukemen
As you see above, it’s hard to say that the addition of Daikokuya really adds anything to the area. Everything on the menu can be found at the other ramen restaurants, and it’s not as if Daikokuya does them better in my opinion. It also doesn’t help that the restaurant is located outside of the actual Little Osaka, being south of Olympic on Sawtelle (in the former Ramen Jinya space). But Daikokuya IS the city’s most popular ramenya by far, as evidenced by the crowds that the Little Tokyo location continues to receive.
Don’t get me wrong people – I think the ramen at Daikokuya is fine. I just don’t think that it’s the best that LA has to offer, and I wouldn’t wait an hour for it. But if you love it, you’ll probably love the version here as well. It’s pretty much EXACTLY how I remembered the Little Tokyo one (as well as the Monterey Park branch) to be. So that’s probably a good thing. Also, while I didn’t order any on this visit, Daikokuya’s gyoza and rice bowls are pretty good, even superior to the ramen in my opinion. So that’s something to consider.
I mentioned decor as a possible selling point for the restaurant. Not like it matters, especially for a ramenya, but I really dig the decor here. It’s like a commercial neighborhood block of a Japanese suburb during the 1980s. I am being this specific, because it reminds me of Shenmue, the Sega Dreamcast game from 1999 (if anyone remembers that game). Really cool, and an upgrade over the slightly over-the-top decor of Jinya (that giant styrofoam bell, in particular).
So if you love Daikokuya, just consider this new branch as one you won’t have to wait nearly as long for, and has arguably the best parking for all the ramen restaurants in the area. There’s your selling point.