East Borough (Culver City)

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East Borough
9810 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 596-8266
culvercity.east-borough.com

East Borough, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s the partnership of a Costa Mesa restaurant of the same name and the team behind Pitfire Pizza/Superba Snack Bar, opened in Downtown Culver City a little over a month ago to much fanfare. Patrons raved about their lunch offerings of elevated versions of banh mi, bun, com, and other casual traditional Vietnamese dishes, as well as about their dinner offerings of a modern take on the cuisine with creative small plates and progressive large format dishes.

My coworkers and I went for lunch during their first week of opening, and were quite impressed. I ordered the pho baguette, which is basically a bowl of pho in banh mi form.  They don’t serve pho, but this proved to capture all the flavors and ingredients of what you’d find in the soup noodle: beef brisket w/ basil, bean sprouts, and chili (all the contents of a regular bowl of pho), topped w/ a clever sriracha hoison aioli, and served with an even more clever bowl of concentrated pho broth to be used as a dip for the sandwich – think banh mi French dip. A fairly straightforward translation, yes, but it does accurately capture the essence of pho. My coworkers seemed to enjoy their pork belly & egg rice bowl and tofu vermicelli noodles, respectively.

There is one issue most people will have with the restaurant (besides the difficulty of finding parking in Downtown Culver City): the prices. The appetizers are $6-8 (2 pieces of spring roll are $6) and entrees are $12-15 (including the banh mi – the pho baguette was $13). So yeah, not cheap at all. They do use high-quality ingredients, and portions are on the larger side, but that won’t make the prices easier to swallow for most. Some people, including coworker Han, refuse to pay this much for a sandwich that costs $2 in SGV/Little Saigon. It also doesn’t help that their Costa Mesa location, however more fast-casual, has basically the same menu at $3 less per dish. Dinner, which I have yet to try, is also on the higher side ($$$ price range), but at least the direction of the menu reflects that.

For now, East Borough is a great lunch option that isn’t necessarily priced as such. I definitely will be back (I’m especially looking forward to dinner), but during work hours it might have to be on someone else’s dime. Still, it’s by far the best of the Vietnamese offerings on the west side of town (over Nong La and Phorage), and certainly the most progressive-thinking. And they certainly know that they’re hot shit – rightfully so.

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Vietnamese Culver City $$$ N/A

East Borough on Urbanspoon

Zam Zam Market

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Zam Zam Market
11028 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 841-2504

I would not be surprised if Zam Zam Market is a front for some Pakistani drug or weapon smuggling operation – the whole place reminds me of that scene in The Dark Knight where all the mob leaders congregated in the middle of the day to avoid Batman. In this case, it appears the “market” (hard to call it a market when there’s only one shelf of produce – the place is/was probably running under a market license if I had to guess) is trying to avoid any business outside of the mosque spillover from Fridays – it used to be open only Thurs-Sun, in the early afternoon (and even that is a generous description of their business hours). I’ve read glowing reports of the place from LA lunch expeditioner Midtown Lunch. But it wasn’t until the inclusion on the new LA Weekly 99 Essential Restaurants 2013 list, which also mentioned the newer “normal” hours of operation, that gave me the “push” I needed to make a transaction in this dispensary of a restaurant (get it? – okay that sucked).

As I pulled up to park in front of Zam Zam Market, it looked like the place was closed. There is minimal signage outside, one of the doors was locked, and the whole place looked like an abandoned storefront. There is also no menu displayed, and each to-go container was brought out from the back as if there was something to hide. The guys there are nice, but appear to be somewhat surprised at the presence of patrons, let alone non-Indian/Pakistani ones. Using Midtown Lunch’s post as reference, I ordered a mix plate ($10) and a chicken biryani ($7) to-go, the former to eat at work and the latter to take home for the roommates.

The mix plate was a behemoth of a lunch container – it’s basically the container size Bludso’s uses for their SAMPLER…and it was filled up (same with the biryani-only order, sans the compartments even)! There was enough chicken biryani to fill a large Chinese takeout box, they gave both the chicken tandoori and the beef kebab, you get to choose two more items from the steam table (I chose the lamb korma and the chicken karahi – I think that’s right), AND there’s an entire freshly baked naan on the side. I struggled to finish the entire container, but I did, and it was the most stuffed I’ve been from a $10 meal since my foolish college days when I attempted the Costco Challenge (ordering $10 from the food court and finishing everything).

Value aside (and this has to be one of the best cheap eats deal in LA), this is the best Pakistani food I’ve ever had. Not that I have much experience with the cuisine, if any, but I would not hesitate going back. The biryani was as good as advertised, full of flavor (although somewhat difficult to eat), as were the tandoori and kebab, both of which were excellent. I didn’t get a good look at the kitchen, which was open but covered, but it’s surprising to see such quality come out of a kitchen that wouldn’t look out of place in a high school cafeteria. It’s technically outside of the two-mile radius I set for myself re: lunch options, and the food does take some time despite the apparent lack of business, but trust that it’s fresh and legit.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Indian, Pakistani Culver City $ B+

Zam Zam Market on Urbanspoon

Sorrento Italian Market

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Sorrento is like Bay Cities’ brother from the hood – in Culver City instead of Santa Monica, no pretty people crowding the place, plenty of parking, and mom & pop hardware store ambiance. But once you look past all that, some good stuff from the deli counter awaits you. There’s no awesome Italian bread made in-house or a wide assortment of combinations and varieties here, but you can get a sandwich here at Subway prices. And you can be sure that you’ll eat a good sandwich, in addition to eating fresh. Their cannoli is pretty good, too. Get a couple of them with your meatball sub.

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Chris Hei grade: B

Sorrento Italian Market
5518 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 391-7654

Sorrento Italian Market on Urbanspoon

Hannosuke (2)

Edomae tendon

Recently, Jonathan Gold reviewed Hannosuke and Ramen Iroha, two popular imports from Japan located in the food courts of Mitsuwa (the one in Mar Vista) and Marukai (the one in Gardena), respectively. Since the review was published in the LA Times a couple of weeks ago, I have visited both of these places (or re-visited in the case of Hannosuke). While I liked my tendon from the first visit, I didn’t have the foresight to eat it there on the spot, instead taking it to-go back to work. That 10-minute drive was all it took to render the tempura soggy, although I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

This time, not only did I eat the tendon there, I upgraded to the edomae version, which replaces the whitefish with anago (+$3 I believe). Was it worth the $3? I’m not sure, but I received a generous filet of the sea eel, and man was it delicious. So was everything else – everything was crispy, and the sesame oil didn’t have time to set and render all the tempura heavy and soggy, instead only delivering on the fragrance and nuttiness that you’d want. Also, I felt that there was actually less sauce in the rice this time, just enough to give the bowl a nice sweet flavor. By the way, eating it there nets you a small bowl of miso soup and some ginger, as if there wasn’t enough incentive to stay.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Hannosuke
3760 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Chipotle Mexican Grill

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Another quick post right here. I’ll even write a haiku:

Popular Mex. chain,
Doesn’t make me sick after,
Actually decent.

I LOVED Chipotle when I was in high school and it just opened on the bottom floor of the Beverly Center. Made the you’re-cool-when-you-go-hang-out-at-the-mall days worthwhile. And when it opened in Westwood during my college years at UCLA, it was more popular than the all the crappy bars in the area. Up to this day, I consider myself somewhat of a Mexican cuisine snob (despite not having tried most of the great authentic restaurants in town like Guelaguetza, La Casita Mexicana, even street food places like Guisados and Ricky’s Fish Tacos – hypocrite Hei), because I claim to speak conversational Spanish, and I went to a primarily Latino middle school and high school. But yeah, Chipotle is actually decent – when I’m forced to go.

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Chris Hei grade: B-

Chipotle Mexican Grill
9512 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 841-0561

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Hannosuke

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When I first heard about Hannosuke’s opening in the Mar Vista Mitsuwa’s food court, I was cautiously optimistic. Cautious because nothing is ever good in that food court besides Santouka, but optimistic because there was some hype behind the opening. Ultimately, I wanted to see how good a legit tendon (tempura bowl) can be. None of this assorted fried broccoli and carrot with one soggy piece of shrimp shit please. Hannosuke was promising frying to order, with better ingredients. Sounds promising enough.

Well, I got cold feet at the altar. I saw two people in line for Hannosuke, and Santouka repeatedly calling my name. Well, they were just calling out numbers rapid-fire, but all those numbers sounded like “Chris Hei” in a Japanese accent. So yeah, I bitched out and ate ramen. But while eating ramen and staring at the Hannosuke stall, I felt bad for conforming to the obvious and safe choice. Who am I, William Lee (probably 5 people will get this joke)? So I sucked it up mid-meal, and ordered a tendon to-go.

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There are 2 options: the original tendon, which has a white fish filet, 2 pieces of shrimp, nori, kakikage (with shiba ebi and bay scallops), shishito peppers, sweet potato, and a soft boiled egg; and the Edomae tendon, which replaces the white fish with anago at a $4 increase. What I see: plenty of seafood and none of the vegetable fillers that everyone is accustomed to. So far, so good. I ordered the original one and hoped that it would stay crispy for all of 10 minutes. It did not…

So yeah, big mistake. 10 minutes was enough to render all the hard work of frying each item to order useless, as each piece was unfortunately soggy. But the batter, fried in what I believe was sesame oil, had a delicious aroma that filled my cubicle. I broke the soft boiled egg and mixed the runny yoke with the rice that had plenty of the sweet sauce (think eel sauce). Alternating bites of that mixture and the different pieces of tempura was still pretty damn satisfying. Of course, it was really heavy, a bowl of rice with fried stuff (in sesame oil, no less), after eating a small bowl of ramen. But next time, I will give the tendon my undivided attention.

Chris Hei grade: B

Hannosuke
3760 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Hannosuke on Urbanspoon

Waterloo & City (3)

From 6/30/12 dinner:

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Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Armagnac Prunes, Brioche

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House Made and Imported Charcuterie – Prince

Smoked Salmon Terrine, Fried Egg, Sauce Gribiche
Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse
Duck & Walnut Country Pate, Orange Marmalade
Rabbit & Pistachio Terrine, Piccalilli, Brioche
Cured Meats Selection, Cornichons, Pickled Onions

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Roast Quail, Bacon Farce, Fried Green Tomatoes

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Magret Duck Breast, Bing Cherries, Peruvian Potatoes, Fennel

From 7/20/12 dinner:

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House Made and Imported Charcuterie – King

Smoked Salmon Terrine, Fried Egg, Sauce Gribiche
Waterloo Chicken Liver Mousse
Smoked Tongue & Carrot Terrine, Sweet & Sour Chilies, Mustard
Pig Trotters, Sweetbreads, Salsa Verde
Duck & Walnut Country Pate, Orange Marmalade
Rabbit & Pistachio Terrine, Piccalilli, Brioche
Pork & Truffle Pate, Madeira Jelly, Toasted Brioche
Wild Boar Terrine, Harissa, Brioche
Cured Meats Selection, Cornichons, Pickled Onions

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Truffle Pasta, Brown Butter, Parmesan

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Chicken Pot Pie

DineLA menu x2

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Beet & Watermelon Salad, Zucchini Blossoms, Goat Cheese, Walnuts

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Thai Gazpacho, Peekytoe Crab

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Nova Scotia Halibut, Clams, Peas, Potato, Bacon, Champagne

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Waterloo Wellington, Benton’s Asparagus, Onion Marmalade, Red Wine

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Sticky Toffee Pudding, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Ice Cream

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“Twicks”, Chocolate Panna Cotta, Butterscotch Mousse, Shortbread

Chris Hei grade: A-

Waterloo & City
12517 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 391-4222

Waterloo & City (2)

I had a wonderful dinner my first time at Waterloo & City last August, so it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t been back since (before last Friday). While planning a dinner to catch up with Alex and Danno, Alex asked if we can go to a gastropub, and immediately Waterloo & City came to mind. Thank you for suggesting a gastropub, Alex, or else who knows how much longer it would’ve taken for me to make a return visit. And boy, had it been way too long…

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House Made and Imported Charcuterie – Prince ($28 + $10)

Smoked Salmon Terrine, Fried Egg, Sauce Gribiche
Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Armagnac Prunes, Brioche (+$10)
Rabbit & Pistachio Terrine, Piccalilli, Brioche
Cured Meats Selection, Cornichons, Pickled Onions

Last last time, my group of three started with the Prince size chacuterie platter. And like last time, it was more than enough to satisfy the party. This time around, we had: the smoked salmon terrine, the chicken liver & foie gras mousse, the foie gras, the rabbit & pistachio terrine, and the cured meats selection. I had the second, third, and fifth varieties on the first visit. The chicken liver & foie gras mousse, this time presented in a jar (as opposed to being a cut of terrine the last time) was just as good as I remembered; went really well with the accompanying (sweet potato?) jam and brioche. The rabbit & pistachio terrine was actually an improvement; the terrine wasn’t as tough, and the pistachio flavor was a bit more pronounced. The quality and variety of the cured meats was great as well. I ate lots of the beef fat drippings with the meats (fatty heaven w/ a nice horseradish kick).

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Manchester Quail Farce w/ Duck, Wild Mushrooms, Fava Beans, Jus ($14)

The two new types of house-made chacuterie varieties that I tried this time around were good as well. The smoked salmon terrine was nice, but I’m not too crazy about the potato filler within the terrine. But the standout (next to the mousse) was the foie gras; presented in a jar, it was just straight-up foie in all its fatty glory (not in terrine form). Well worth the extra $10 to add to the Prince selection. By the way, while they’re always nice in refilling the accompanying brioche, I usually like to try the pates/terrines with their variety of house-baked breads as well. Delicious! Overall, I believe that Waterloo & City has the best chacuterie platter in Los Angeles.

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Indian Butter Chicken Pizza, Murgh Makahni Sauce, Mozzarella ($14)

Beside the gigantic platter, we split an appetizer and a pizza. The appetizer was a special: the Manchester quail farce (stuffed) w/ duck pate. There was a wonderful jus with the quail, and the sauteed mushrooms and fava beans were nice complements. Alex, seeing brown, had to get the Indian-style pizza. It was a pleasant surprise; not a traditional pizza by any sense (as is the case with just about all of their pizzas – think more ethnic versions along the lines of CPK pizzas), but flavors were on point, and the raita-esque sauce served as a good balance. For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding was a must-order. As good as I remembered it.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding, Milk Ice Cream, Salted Caramel ($9)

I actually thought that this meal at Waterloo & City was better than my first one, although when I compared them side-by-side, they seem fairly identical. Maybe I just miss this type of food, or maybe it has taken me this long to truly appreciate the intricacies of a top-notch gastropub. It has the essence of a traditional one, but incorporates other cuisines and techniques very successfully. Credit to Chef Collins. My next meal here will be much, much sooner.

Chris Hei grade: A-

Waterloo & City
12517 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 391-4222

Waterloo & City on Urbanspoon

Empanada’s Place

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Empanada’s Place is a solid neighborhood restaurant in Culver City that specializes in Argentinian empanadas. Alex seems to really like this place, and he chose it for our dinner a few weeks ago. Each empanada is $3, or a dozen for $30. The selection available is quite extensive, with almost 20 varieties. While I enjoyed the empanadas, there’s really not that much variety between the various ones (although each variety is in an unique shape, for identifying purposes). Also, they’re deep-fried, and after eating a couple of them, the heaviness of the food set in my stomach. Just imagine these as gourmet hot pockets. Note: cash only.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Empanada’s Place
3811 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 391-0888

Empanada's Place on Urbanspoon

Mayura

Photo credit: Grub Street LA

My friend Alex Adams loves all things Indian, especially women. But Indian food comes second. And apparently he was craving it last month. I, of course, found this to be a good opportunity to knock off one restaurant from my to-try list, so I suggested the only Indian restaurant that was on said list. I find found out about the restaurant via J. Gold’s 99 Essential Restaurants list, as Mayura has been a list regular for years. I used to live a couple of blocks away, but never found myself trying the place.

Mayura specialize in Southern Indian cuisine, which is different from the typical Indian dishes that the average diner is familiar with (tandoori, tikki masala, etc. – Northern Indian cuisine). I let Alex take charge of ordering, sans requesting the appam with fish curry, since I had read about it. The appam has a spongy texture and tasted a bit sourdough-y, similar to Ethiopian injera. The fish, which was salmon I believe, was over though. Still a pretty solid dish. Most of what we ordered were like that – just solid, nothing spectacular.

The highlight of the meal was the paper dosa. It was thin and crispy, very crepe-like, and had a nice buttery taste. Mayura has a nice variety of dosas, and I am very intrigued by most of them. I saw a couple of tables with sizzling skillets of something as well, but I have no idea what the dish was. Overall, my first attempt at Southern Indian cuisine was rather…safe. It just wasn’t as in-your-face like some of the Indian food I’ve eaten in the past. I would like to visit again, and just order the dosas. But I’m in no hurry to do so.

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Bhel Puri ($3.95) – mix of fresh tomatoes, onions, boiled potatoes & tamarind chutney

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Kerala Sp Appam w/ Fish Curry ($11.95)

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Raita ($2.50) – yogurt w/ cucumber & onion

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Garlic Naan ($2.50)

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Paper Dosa ($6.95) – crispy paper thin rolled rice crepe

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Malai Kofta ($8.95) – vegetarian cheese balls in tomato sauce

Chris Hei grade: B-

Mayura
10406 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-9644

Mayura on Urbanspoon