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

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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