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

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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

The Spice Table

Photo credit: LA Times

Greg wasn’t able to join me in any of our dinners near the vicinity of my birthday, so he wanted to make it up to be by taking me somewhere. Since he was coming from Fullerton, we decided to meet up at The Spice Table in Little Tokyo. When he asked me where we should go, I chose The Spice Table, because it had been on my short list of to-try places for a while, and I really liked the pig tails they served at The Gold Standard. Jen, who joined us, was looking forward to this dinner because she grew up in Singapore and wanted some authentic food.

The restaurant was smaller than I had anticipated, and VERY dark (not that my phone photos would’ve been much better anyways). Nice and cozy, seems like a nice date place if I ever went on one. We went during their one-year anniversary week, so we ordered bottles after bottles of Tiger beer for $1, and tried the ribeye special that wasonly available during that week. The ribeye steak, which was rubbed with what I believe was palm sugar and sambal before getting the grill treatment, was pretty tasty. Problem was, the slices of meat were a bit fatty (not in a good way) and looked hacked. Also, it was on the medium-well side (we asked for medium-rare).

However, the rest of the dishes were better. Fried cauliflower was simple enough, but if not careful, one could easily develop an addition. They were light and airy, and went well with the accompanying fish sauce. The sambal fried potatoes were similarly munch-worthy, except it’s easier to know when to stop when the heat from the sambal hits you. The curry fried chicken wings were good, but way too much batter IMO. The bone marrow, which made J. Gold’s favorite dishes of 2011 list, definitely lived up to the hype. The fattiness of the marrow paired so well with the prawn sambal. Just a bit sad that there wasn’t enough to go around.

Onto the satays. We ordered two different ones: the lamb belly and the foie gras ones. The lamb belly one was nice, but sadly weren’t as good as I expected it to be. The foie gras one was a surprise disappointment. The little pieces were fairly dry, and resembled chicken livers more. I really wanted to try the tripe one, but it wasn’t on the menu that day. Also ordered the kon loh mee, basically egg noodles with char-siu pork, ground pork, choy sum, and sambal, all which we mixed in a big bowl. Pretty good.

For the bigger plates, we ordered the black pepper crab toast, catfish claypot, chicken curry,and pig’s tail (duh). The first two, from the seafood section of the menu, were two of the better dishes we had that night, especially the crab toast. The chicken curry was…chicken curry. Decent, but nothing great. Blame Greg for really wanting a chicken dish (he was on a no-beef diet for Lent). The other real highlight of the night was, of course, the pig’s tails. One big tail came out in all it’s fatty glory, along with some lettuce, herbs, and fish sauce to wrap and dip. Very Viet presentation, and very delicious.

Overall, somewhat of a mixed experience with regards to what we ordered, but still mostly positive. The pig’s tail and the crab toast were the two standouts. Service was very good, and food came out fairly promptly. They even gave me a kaffir lime custard for my birthday (which was very good). I later on read that Chef Bryant Ng was away at a charity event that night, so maybe that might explain some of the inconsistencies, or maybe I just came in with too high of expectations. Still, we had a good dinner, and I have no problem making a return visit in the future. And congrats to Chef Ng on his Food & Wine Best New Chef honor.

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Chris Hei grade: B

The Spice Table
114 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 620-1840

The Spice Table on Urbanspoon

Lazy Ox Canteen

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A group of us went to Lazy Ox Canteen the Friday before my birthday early last month as a celebration of sorts, since I wasn’t planning on doing anything special this year due to my much-anticipated trip to Urasawa the next day. Little did I know that it would become the last Friday in the Josef Centeno regime at the restaurant, as announcements about his departure came out the following week. Good timing, I suppose. Even though Chef Centeno wasn’t in the kitchen that night (he was probably at Baco Mercat), I expected great things out of this kitchen.

We arrived promptly for our reservation that night, but the party before us refused to leave, even ordering another round of drinks apparently after our arrival. But the FOH was great at keeping us informed on the status of that party, and even combined a couple of the small tables on the patio for us while we waited to be seated inside. In the meantime, we ordered drinks and a couple of dishes to get us started. It’s a bit hard to describe what type of restaurant Lazy Ox Canteen is. I guess it qualifies as a gastropub. But as far as cuisine is concerned, it really doesn’t restrict itself to any particular one. There are touches of American, Spanish, Japanese, and other cuisines, often coexisting on one plate.

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Roasted Poblano Soup w/ Pork Belly Chicharon, Autumn Grapes, & Creme Fraiche ($8)

This was very nice. The soup was thick and creamy, as if it was just purely pureed poblano peppers. The pork belly chicharon was a nice contextual contrast, as the grapes were nice tart contrasts to cut the creaminess of the soup.

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Braised Short Ribs w/ Cream of Wheat ($25)

Another winner right out of the gate. The short ribs were braised perfectly, and the cream of wheat was smooth and creamy like a polenta.

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Chicken Liver w/ Bacon, Cracked Mustard, & Mascapone ($11)

However, this was quite underwhelming. Very lifeless compared to the previous two dishes, as the liver was deli-generic.

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7 oz. Lazy Ox Burger w/ Cantal Cheese & Whole Grain Mustard ($15)

We ordered two of these so everyone could try some. The meat blend was nice and juicy, cooked a perfect medium-rare on the first one. The second one, however, was less successful.

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Lace Battered Surf Clams w/ Lime & Caper Pickle Aioli ($13)

A bit tough, and heavy on the batter. Couldn’t really tell if they were anything but basic fried clams.

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Caramelized Cauliflower w/ Chile, Mint, & Pine Nuts ($9)

While $9 for a veggie dish is meh, this was a great dish. Everything together tasted like a tom yum soup of sorts.

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Brussels Spouts w/ Bacon & Pecorino ($10)

Another great veggie dish. The bacon in this looked and tasted like pancetta, and gave it a nice savory flavor.

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Heritage Pork Rillette w/ Marcona Almonds & Castelvetrano Olives ($8)

Judging from this and the chicken livers, it appeared that these type of dishes aren’t really the restaurant’s forte. Underwhelming like the liver.

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Shredded Lamb w/ Coleslaw & Salsa Verde ($12)

Very gamey (which I like) and was cooked well. Kind of like a lamb carnitas of sorts. Solid, but not spectacular, dish.

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Bouillabaisse ($48)

The restaurant has a different large, family-sized, dish featured each day of the week. On the Friday we were there the featured dish was a bouillabaisse. I was a bit sad it wasn’t the famous fried chicken or something more exciting, but held my head high as I tried this. It was actually very good! Nice and homey, with plenty of seafood. But I don’t think I would pay $48 for this again…

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The bouillabaisse came with a salad, which went largely untouched.

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Polenta w/ Creamed Mushrooms & Curry ($11)

This was recommended by our server. It was a great pick. The creamy polenta went really well with the mushrooms, and the curry powder wasn’t overpowering, giving it just enough of the flavor.

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Rice Pudding w/ caramel & pine nut crumb ($9)

We were really stuffed by this point, but had to get one dessert. Of course, we got their most popular one. Looked pretty boring (okay, very boring), but it was delicious! Mix it with the caramel sauce and the creme fraiche, and I’ll beat up any senior citizens who get in my way of this.

When I’m asked to describe Lazy Ox Canteen, I often find myself telling people it’s similar to Animal, only more worldly. However, I realize that these two restaurants are fairly different (other than the small plates concept). Lazy Ox Canteen doesn’t really focus on one particular cuisine, and in doing so, is able to have a nice variety of dishes on its menu. And man, can they cook veggies. However, not everything was a hit, and I wasn’t able to try some of their more famous dishes (pig ears, fried chicken). But I had a great meal, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to experience the last remnants of the reign of Centeno. Now, if only the new kitchen can keep up…

Chris Hei grade: B+

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-5299

Lazy Ox Canteen on Urbanspoon

Sushi Gen

9/10/11Sushi Gen has been a Little Tokyo mainstay for many, many years, and is more popular than ever, as evidenced by the extremely long waits during both lunch and dinner. I’m surprised that I’ve never paid a visit all these years, but I guess I just wasn’t sure if it was worth the wait. However, this is arguably Lawrence’s favorite restaurant in LA, and he’s been trying to get me to go with him for month. I finally caved last Saturday night after one too many guilt trips, and I’m glad I did.

PhotoThe restaurant is actually pretty big for a traditional sushi place, with a long sushi bar to the left of the entrance. There was probably a thirty-minute wait on average (with plenty of these people being USC fans coming after their football game – scary being in enemy territory), but luckily Lawrence made a reservation. He suggested that we try the sashimi platters that are only available at the tables though, to experience a combination of quantity and quality. Seeing that he’s the expert on Sushi Gen (one of the servers even recognized him), I had to oblige.

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We started with an order of ankimo, or monkfish liver, in a traditional preparation. I really like monkfish liver, so I enjoyed this. But after having variations of this at Sushi Zo and the Four on Fish dinner (courtesy of Urasawa), where the ankimo was soft and creamy, this just doesn’t provide the same satisfaction.

PhotoAmaebi, Uni

Lawrence said that the amaebi (sweet shrimp) and uni at Sushi Gen were very good, probably two of the best they have to offer. I have to agree. The amaebi wasn’t like the mushy and slimy one I had at Sushi Zo at all, but rather crisp and indeed a bit sweet. The heads were deep fried for us (pictured below), a plus.

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PhotoSoup, pickle, sunomono with the sashimi dinner.

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We each got a plate of this. Even if the cuts of sashimi were on the basic and safe side (sans those three cuts of toro), they were of good quality. And at twenty-six dollars (that came with soup, pickles, sunomono, tempura, and rice), it’s a steal. The yellowtail and tuna were great (although I wouldn’t have preferred the tuna to be chopped), and their interpretation of spicy tuna was very interesting (no mayo – looks like they used sambal oelek). I could’ve done without the cooked piece of salmon and pile of shredded crab though.

If value was taken into account, Sushi Gen is a definite A. The sashimi dinner, for twenty-six dollars, is a great value, given the amount of food and quality of the sashimi. I haven’t been so full from a sushi dinner in a long time. The service was great as well, very attentive throughout the night. However, from a pure sushi perspective, the restaurant didn’t amaze me. Rather, it pleased me. But that can be attributed to us ordering the sashimi dinner, rather than sitting at the sushi bar for an omakase. I would really like to do that the next time around, to truly see the quality of Sushi Gen.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Sushi-Gen
422 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-0552

Sushi Gen on Urbanspoon