Ramen Yamadaya

12/28/11

Ben and I were going to visit the new location of Ramen Yamadaya on Westwood Blvd a couple of weeks ago after playing basketball nearby, but they closed at 9pm. So where better to visit than the main branch in Culver City (I know it’s not their first location, but this one seems to be their most prominent one now). Ramen was a good choice that night, as it was ridiculously cold. It appeared that everyone had the same idea as us, as the place was packed so late, but luckily we only had a wait a couple of minutes.

I had just begun my new diet/exercise plan early of 2012 resolutions, but I couldn’t resist being a fatty. Not only did I get the kakuni ramen with the big ass piece of pork belly (which looked like an eel slithering in the bowl – see below), I got it kotteri-style with extra pork fat. Chris Hei, fatty fatty fat fat (or in Chris Hei online speak, fatty^2 fat^2). It was a satisfying bowl of ramen. Very satisfying, in fact. However, if I were to be more objective, I do think that both the broth and the noodle fall short of my two standards of Ramen – Santouka and Jinya.

Let’s start with the broth. There was a drizzle of black sesame oil, to indicate it being kotteri, over the seemingly very milky-looking broth. The broth itself, however, was rather mild, at least compared to the two places I mentioned above. Still very good, but not as much development in flavor in my opinion. But there was a pronounced porkiness in the broth. As far as noodles were concerned, it was below those two places as well. A bit too hard, almost along the lines of instant noodles-dry. Still soaked up the broth pretty well though. And that big piece of pork belly was just delicate, but like with the broth, was a bit more mild than I had expected. Didn’t make me feel any better about eating such a huge piece.

I’m just nitpicking here, because the ramen at Yamadaya was very satisfying. And I do plan on visiting many more times in the future, especially since the new location is so close to me. But it does, to me, only take the bronze medal as far as the ramen Olympics in LA are concerned.

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Kakuni Ramen - Tonkotsu Kotteri

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Chris Hei grade: B

Ramen Yamadaya
11172 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 815-8776

Ramen Yamadaya on Urbanspoon

Lukshon

12/9/11

I probably use this word way too much and way out-of-context, but man is Lukshon a sexy place. It is arguably the most beautiful restaurant I’ve visited in 2011, but didn’t really give off that pretentious vibe that usually comes with the territory. Anyways, who the hell cares about the design? It’s all about the food, and at Lukshon that means mainly Southeast Asian food. I came here in early December with Ben, Danno and Paul, for a mini-birthday celebration of sorts for Danno.

I’ve seen the words “Asian fusion” being thrown around carelessly on the web with regards to the restaurant, and honestly I think that these actions are unwarranted. Maybe “pan-Asian” is a better way to describe the food, although that just paints a picture of RockSugar in my mind. The flavors of each dish at Lukshon are all authentic, and in some cases the dish itself is as well. The only “fusion” aspect about any of this is the environment you’re eating this food in. Oh, and the price too. The dishes are fairly cheap, but portions are small (think tapas-sizes). So in the end, not a cheap meal, especially if you’re used to eating similar food at traditional Asian restaurants. But the execution is great, flavors are authentic, and ingredients are fresh. Can’t complain about any of that, especially in a quality-Asian-food-deprived side of town.

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In addition to some cocktails (the Singapore Sling is quite awesome FYI), the four of us decided on eleven dishes. The oysters were a nice start, with a refreshing mignonette. The shrimp toast, which were more like shrimp ball, were arguably the best shrimp toast I’ve had in recent memory. Wished I could’ve had more than one bite. The mussels came with a green curry that tasted very authentic, but didn’t necessarily wow me (they charge $3 for rice BTW – meh). So far, quite decent. Then came the middle of the lineup…

The baby squid stuffed with sausage was absolutely delicious (it made Jonathan Gold’s 10 best dishes list of 2011). The duck in the popiah was cooked perfectly, although I wished there was some skin in it. The roti canai was a pleasant surprise. For some reason I didn’t expect to love it, but I did. The chicken pops is arguably the most popular dish on the menu. I personally like some of the other dishes more, but it is a very good dish. Pork belly was…pork belly. I can never say anything bad about pork belly, and this version gave me no reasons to. The X.O. rice was good, but not great. Caught some flak for ordering it. Added an order of the ribs near the end of dinner, and it ended up being one of my favorites.

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We closed out the dinner with the dandan noodles. The restaurant deliberately serves this dish last, because it is apparently very spicy. I’ve had some authentic dandan noodles at Szechuan restaurants in SGV, so I was a little intimidated. And it didn’t help that the three idiots who tried it thought it was spicy. But it was my turn, and I was surprised that I wasn’t reaching for my glass of water. There is a strong Szechuan peppercorn flavor, but the heat level wasn’t that high in my opinion. Pretty good, but not the best version by far. After we destroyed the food, free desserts were served (a standard at Lukshon). Unfortunately I forgot what we had, but the dessert which had two servings was the best (all three were good though).

I really enjoyed all the dishes that night. Some were just pretty good variations of traditional Asian dishes, albeit served in a smaller package and marked up in price, but some were just downright delicious (the squid in particular). In the end, I just want to reiterate that the execution is great, flavors are authentic, and ingredients are fresh. This is probably the best Asian food you can get on the west side of town, and that ain’t too shabby. And again, don’t come here with the preconception of Asian fusion in your mind, or else you would be doing a disservice to both yourself and the restaurant.

Singapore Sling

Singapore Sling ($12)

Fujian Cure

Fujian Cure ($11)

Hot and Sour Gimlet

Hot and Sour Gimlet ($11)

Lukshon Sour

Lukshon Sour ($11)

Malpeque Oysters

Malpeque Oysters ($30)

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast ($8)

Prince Edward Island Black Mussels

Prince Edward Island Black Mussels ($12)

Steamed Organic Jasmine Rice

Steamed Organic Jasmine Rice ($3)

Baby Monterey Squid

Baby Monterey Squid ($11)

Duck Popiah

Duck Popiah ($7)

Lamb Belly Roti Canai

Lamb Belly Roti Canai ($10)

Spicy Chicken Pops

Spicy Chicken Pops ($10)

Garlic Pork Belly

Garlic Pork Belly ($12)

X.O. Rice

X.O. Rice ($10)

Kurobuta Pork Ribs

Kurobuta Pork Ribs ($9)

Dandan Noodles

Dandan Noodles ($13)

Dessert

Dessert (free!)

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Chris Hei grade: B+

Lukshon
3239 Helms Ave
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-6808

Lukshon on Urbanspoon

A-Frame (3)

A group of us came here on Friday, right before an engagement party for my friends Larry and Michelle (congrats!). Nice and easy, quick in-and-out, crowd-pleasing. On this visit, I was able to try a few more new dishes. The wagyu beef tataki was pretty standard, but was well-executed. Same with the crab cakes, which tasted better when wrapped in shiso leaves. The roasted lamb was really good – will probably be one of the repeat dishes in the future. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try the burger (it was gone by the time it got to me), but everyone at the table thought it was very good. Overall, another great meal at A-Frame.

Wagyu Beef Tataki

Wagyu Beef Tataki ($14) – with sliced pearl onions, ginger, pickled jalapeño and shoyu vinaigrette

Furikake Kettle Corn

Furikake Kettle Corn ($6) – buttered Blazin’ J’s Hawaiian style

Double Cheeseburger

Double Cheeseburger ($11) – with tomato confit, pickled red onions, butter lettuce, hot sauce sharp cheddar, and sesame mayo on a buttered brioche bun

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs ($12) – air-dried and hoisin-chili glazed

Cracklin Beer Can Chicken

Cracklin Beer Can Chicken (half $12) – with kimchi, century egg, salsa roja and verde

Kitchen Fries

Kitchen Fries ($6) – wedges of purple Okinawan potato, yam, and Korean sweet potato with kimchi sour cream and sea salt

Blue Crab Cakes

Blue Crab Cakes ($15) – with lemongrass creme fraiche, bibb lettuce, and perilla leaf

Roasted Lamb

Roasted Lamb ($17) – with toasted sesame oil, shoyu and garlic served with fresh herb salad and salsa verde

Chris Hei grade: B+

A-Frame
12565 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-7700

A-Frame (2)

O Hei there Will!

Paul and Will were in LA during the Thanksgiving long weekend, and the three of us decided to go to A-Frame on the day after Thanksgiving, along with Danno, Eugenia and Linh-Nam. It’s nice to go with a bigger group of diners, because I went with just Ben last time, and I wasn’t able to try too many things. But the dishes that we ordered were very good, and I looked forward to see what else the restaurant could do.

Heirloom Pickles ($8) – with creamy dip and extra virgin olive oil

A pleasant surprise. The apples worked very well in particular.

Kitchen Fries ($8) – wedges of purple Okinawan potato, yam, and Korean sweet potato with kimchi sour cream and sea salt

Repeat from first visit. Looks like shit, but tasted great. The kimchi sour cream was a great complement.

Sesame Leaf Wrapped Shrimp Tempura ($11) – with fresh cucumber, herbs and shoyu dipping sauce

Another pleasant surprise. What A-Frame does really well is elevate these seemingly plain dishes and take it to another dimension.

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop ($21) – with fresh citrus, pickled scallion, and polenta cakes

Looked rather unspectacular, but the pork chop was perfectly cooked.

Knuckle Sandwich ($12) – braised bowl of oxtail, tendons, knuckles and other forgotten pieces served with soy chili dipping sauce, and toasted bread

I really wanted to try this during the first visit, and I’m glad we got it this time around. The “forgotten pieces” were well-cooked, and went great with the soy chili sauce.

Charred Baby Octopus ($14) – with carrot kochujang puree, bok choy, pickled vegetables and nori seaweed

This is basically nakji bokum, a traditional Korean dish. Tasted pretty authentic, but I wasn’t thrilled by this.

Cracklin Beer Can Chicken (half $11) – with kimchi, century egg, salsa roja and verde

Another repeat from the first visit. Reaffirmed my opinions of this being one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had in recent years.

Banana Bacon Cream Pie ($7) – vanilla cream, caramel bananas, and bacon brittle

With Eugenia present, we decided to order all of the desserts. This cream pie was pretty damn good.

Thick Ass Ice Cream Sandwich ($6) – black pepper szechuan ice cream and salted chocolate cookie

They had two kinds of ice cream sandwiches. I preferred this one, where the hint of pepper worked well with the salted cookie.

Thick Ass Ice Cream Sandwich ($6) – smoked porter ice cream and chocolate chip cherry cookie

This was was decent, but I thought that the smoky flavor was a little too overpowering.

Pear Shortcake ($8) – with Riesling roasted pears, pecan oat crumble whipped cream and warm gingerbread biscuit

I didn’t really care for this one. Pretty straightforward.

Chu-Don’t-Know-Mang ($7) – pound cake cinnamon churros, with malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream

We had this one last time, and for some reason I thought that the churros were much better the second time around. I really wish I could eat a big cup of the milk and ice cream.

This dinner was actually a little better than my first one here. After a great experience this time, A-Frame has become my go-to place to take friends when they don’t want to spend too much money on a well-executed meal that isn’t too pretentious. None of the dishes really blows my mind, but for what the dishes are – simple, Asian-inspired American food – I think that they are very well-executed. Simple and comforting.

Chris Hei grade: B+

A-Frame
12565 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-7700

A-Frame on Urbanspoon

Waterloo & City

Photo credit: Trippy Food

I didn’t realize that Waterloo & City was right next to A-Frame, which I found out when I went to the latter a couple of Wednesdays ago. After hearing glowing reviews of the restaurant from coworkers, I felt that I had to make a visit before I moved out of the area at the end of this month. So when Jeannie and Joseph came over to help me move and have dinner around the area last Friday, I took this opportunity to finally visit the British gastropub, named after a short underground railroad line in London.

PhotoOur draft beers. Jeannie also ordered a glass of red. What an alcoholic.

PhotoThree varieties of bread, deliciously fresh out of the oven.

House Made and Imported CharouterieHouse Made and Imported Charcuterie – Prince ($28)

If there is one thing to order at Waterloo & City, it has to be the charcuterie platter. For the three of us, our server suggested the prince (medium) one. I really liked this idea of the platter, since I really wanted to try a variety. From this, we got to taste around half of what the restaurant had to offer that night. I definitely want to try some of the other options on possible future visits, like smoked tongue and carrot terrine.

Duck & Walnut Country PateDuck & Walnut Country Pate, Orange Marmalade

Nice combination of sweet from the marmalade and savory from the pate, with a nice hint of nuttiness from the walnut.

Chicken Liver & Foie Gras MousseChicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse

Very creamy and smooth. The soft texture was like cream cheese. Went really well with the toasted brioche that came with the platter.

Rabbit & Pistachio TerrineRabbit & Pistachio Terrine, Piccalilli, Brioche

My least favorite of the selections, but it was good nonetheless. I think it’s because the texture was a little tougher, and the pistachio didn’t add much flavor or contrast.

Wild Boar PateWild Boar Pate

This was actually one of the specials of the day, and we decided to choose it as one of the platter selections. Arguably my favorite of the bunch, with a slight kick of spice.

Cured Meats SelectionCured Meats Selection, Cornichons, Pickled Onions

Nothing noteworthy, just a tasty combination of prosciutto, salami and capocollo(?). The pickled veggies were a nice complement to all the salty meats.

Veal FiletVeal Filet ($27)

I really didn’t know what to order, since the menu seems to vary from traditional British pub fare to bistro fare to even a little Italian. Our server, who was very helpful throughout the night, suggested this dish, which was one of the specials that night. The veal was so juicy and tender. I wasn’t sure how the croquettes and leeks would fit in, but they were delicious as well.  This was probably my favorite dish of the night.

Tomato TerrineTomato Terrine ($13)

With all the meats we ordered, I felt that we had to get some veggies. Nonsense! Well, I had heard good things of the tomato terrine, another one of the specials. It was a nice contrast to the other things we ordered, cool and refreshing.

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

I already had my heart set on ordering this famous dessert of theirs, but it was brought to our table before I had a chance to look at the desserts menu. The rabbit and pistachio terrine had a piece of plastic wrap on it. I didn’t say anything, because it didn’t deter from the dish and it wasn’t a big deal. But our server was apologetic, and comped us the dessert as a result. We really appreciated it! The dessert was extremely sweet, but the ice cream provided a nice balance. Overall, an awesome dessert.

It’s unfortunate that I didn’t have a chance to visit Waterloo & City more often, now that I’m moving out of the area. I would definitely come back to try some of the other charcuterie and more traditional British pub dishes like shepherd’s pie and the medium-rare pork chop with black pudding that I’ve heard so much about – didn’t remember seeing either on the menu that night though (my coworker also suggested the tuna tartare – but come on, tuna tartare…at a gastropub? we’ll see). This was my first time at a gastropub (I don’t really consider Ford’s Filling Station or even Father’s Office as such), and it alleviated any doubt I had about the fare being boring.

Chris Hei grade: B+

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

A-Frame

Photo credit: hektattoo.blogspot.com

Came with Ben after basketball a couple of Wednesdays ago. Despite living close to the restaurant (or soon-to-be used to be close), I never had the urge to A-Frame, because while I think that Chef Roy Choi’s other two efforts (Kogi, Chego) were decent, they were ultimately just mostly hype. Also, the menu didn’t get me excited. But in another attempt to try something new after playing basketball, A-Frame came to mind. And I had heard good things about the restaurant from coworkers. So it was finally time to give it a shot…

We got to the restaurant at around 9:30pm, and the place was packed. The place is pretty small, just a few wooden picnic-esque tables inside, a bar with a few stools, and a patio. Luckily, we were seated within a few minutes. Note that these tables are somewhat communal, so if you have a party of less than four, be prepared to sit with some strangers. I swear that Chef Choi was chillin’ with a bottle of grapefruit soda near the entrance of the restaurant. Not being sure about it, however, I just gave him the patented Chris Hei wave-nod. It was reciprocated.

Furikake Kettle CornFurikake Kettle Corn ($6) – buttered Blazin’ J’s Hawaiian style

Very interesting. Has a nice combination of sweet and savory flavors. I wish movie theater popcorn was like this.

Kitchen FriesKitchen Fries ($6) – purple Okinawan sweet potato, yam, and Korean sweet potato with kimchi sour cream and sea salt

I couldn’t really differentiate the different between the different types (pretty damn dark – impossible to take good photos with an iPhone 3GS), but these fat sweet potato fries were awesome. That kimchi sour cream was delicious.

Baby Back RibsBaby Back Ribs ($11) – air-dried and hoisin-chili glazed

I’m usually not a fan of this “air-dried” preparation of ribs because I think that it dries up the juicy meat, but the flavor was good. Sweet hoisin hits the tongue, then the slight kick of spice creeps up.

Cracklin Beer Can Chicken (half)Cracklin Beer Can Chicken ($11 – half) – with kimchi, century egg, salsa roja and verde

Has to be among the best preparation of chicken I’ve had in years. The skin had a nice rotisserie crisp, and the meat was just downright juicy. The chicken was best by itself, but having it with the different salsa gave it a different identity – like a really good version of El Pollo Loco. The egg, while also good, was more like a tea smoked egg than century egg.

Chu-Don't-Know-MangChu-Don’t-Know-Mang ($7) – pound cake cinnamon churros, with malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream

I was a little embarrassed when ordering this due to its name. The churros were good, but not great. The texture wasn’t very churros-esque – more like fried cake. The vanilla and malted chocolate milk was a nice complement.

I’m glad that Chef Choi’s passion project didn’t disappoint. In terms of individual dishes, the chicken is probably in my top ten for the year. The meal as a whole wasn’t perfect, but there were no bad dishes. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, and I’ll definitely order the chicken and kitchen fries again. A-Frame is a great place to take a small group to share various Asian-influenced takes on modern American comfort food.

Chris Hei grade: B+

A-Frame
12565 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-7700

Tender Greens

I was originally going to write a post about Dino’s, but Will made a good point re: how it didn’t fall under my self-imposed rules of posting (which are now posted on the Chris page). Because of this, we move on to what I had for dinner two Sundays ago. Will and Paul were in L.A., and wanted to round up the gang for a group dinner (especially since Will refused Son of a Gun the night before). Being the popular guy Will is, over a dozen of us gathered at Tender Greens on short notice for a short and sweet dinner.

Usually, I get either the steak or the albacore on a hot plate, where the protein of choice is served with mashed potatoes, a simple salad of choice, and a crostini. But the special of the night appealed to me. It was braised short ribs on mashed potatoes, and had a cherry tomato salad with vinaigrette on the side. The short ribs were very well-braised – no knife necessary. As for the flavor, it tasted good, but maybe could’ve used a little more salt (although I have a greater disposition for salt than most people). The mashed potatoes seemed a little different from the usual one served on a hot plate (maybe it’s just me or the difference was the result of the short ribs sauce, but I did enjoy it). The salad was basically the tender greens salad with cherry tomatoes. Overall, it was a solid plate of food – not sexy, but the type you can go home to and not feel guilty.

Chris Hei grade: B

Tender Greens
9523 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 842-8300

Note: Daniel and Justin make a cameo in the first photo.

Father’s Office

Father’s Office, you elitist, inconsistent, snobby jerks. You sit high and mighty on your throne of lies as having the best burgers in L.A., and deny the peasants and serfs known as your customers the right to use ketchup. You arrogantly charge $14 for the burgers and think you’re giving the commoners a bargain. And for all your hoity-toity attitude and service, I’ve gotten a significantly different experience from the same burger on each visit. What gives?

Anyways, I have to admit, despite all the ranting from the previous paragraph, the Office Burger was pretty damn good on this visit. There was a time not too long ago when I was amongst the believers of this burger being the best in L.A. Then the quality went down the next two visits. The it went up again. Then down. I just didn’t know what to believe in anymore. But back to this visit – the patty was a perfect medium rare, the caramelized onions were delicious, and the cheese was just the right amount. It’s definitely on the right side again, but I reserve judgment on the Office Burger being in the upper echelon of burgers until it becomes more consistent. For this visit, however, it was very good.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Father’s Office
3229 Helms Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 736-2224

Note: credit LAist for the first photo. Also, this review subsequently moved Fatburger down to a B.

Versailles

Gloria’s or Versailles? That’s always the question when I want to go somewhere within walking distance from my apartment. Sure they’re different cuisines (Gloria’s being Mexican/El Salvadorian and Versailles being Cuban), but they’re both Latin, so that’s close enough to compare side-by-side in my opinion (and all Asians look like, no?). Bad jokes aside, I probably choose Gloria’s 90% of the time. But Lawrence never had Versailles before, so him, Ben and myself went last Wednesday after playing basketball.

The two dishes that Versailles is most popular for are Lechon Asado (Cuban Style Roasted Pork) and Famoso Pollo Versailles (Versailles Famous Garlic Chicken). Ben and Lawrence ordered the two, respectively, while I ordered the Combinacion De Pollo y Puerco (combination of the two proteins). Each of the entrees comes with some raw onions, plantains, rice and black beans. The meat is smothered in their garlic sauce, which is more tangy and lemony more than anything else. If you don’t like that type of flavor with meat, then Versailles probably isn’t your thing. But I like it just fine. I don’t, however, think that Versailles is the best of the Latin American restaurants in L.A., like many people proclaim.

Chris Hei grade: B

Versailles Restaurant
10319 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 558-3168

Note: credit Wedding Mapper for the first photo.

Gloria’s

Oh Gloria’s… what more can I say about what has become my second home since I moved to my current apartment almost two years ago? Although I haven’t gone “home” much these last few months (due to my efforts to dine out less to aid in my diet/exercise), there is always a place in my heart for homey food that reminds me of my childhood (Mexican/Latin American food was second to Chinese food in terms of frequency when I was young). Too bad I didn’t get to see Gloria herself or her sons that help her run the restaurant, because they’re always so nice to me (and even know my name by now).

I went with my friends Ben, Daniel and Alex. I got the carne adobada (so predictable, Chris), which is carnitas served in Gloria’s special sauce. It’s arguably their most popular dish, and my go-to item most of the time. Ben got the chicken tortilla soup, an awesome choice as well. Daniel got the carna asada plate, and Alex got the chicken house special burrito. We all shared a couple of orders of revuelta (pork and cheese) and loroco (cheese and herb) papusas. Everything was solid, as usual. The adobada is always a satisfying choice, although I have to admit that it is on the saltier side at times (and I’m a person that loves my bold seasoning). That wasn’t the case this time. This meal made me realize how much I miss Gloria’s, and even though the food itself isn’t what I consider the best of its kind (although that probably wasn’t the case over a year ago), the close proximity of the restaurant and the “just like home” feeling I get every time I’m here will make me go back again and again. Oh, and the food is great too.

Chris Hei grade: B+


Gloria’s Cafe

10227 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 838-0963