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

Maude

Photo credit: Eater LA

Maude
212 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 859-3418
mauderestaurant.com

This was unexpected…

TV chef Curtis Stone, most recently known as the host of Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels, opened Maude in Beverly Hills at the beginning of the year. But if you’re expecting a large, corporate, tourist trap of a restaurant that usually comes with the territory of being a celebrity chef, then you’d be completely wrong. What we have here is a passion project of sorts for the chef, a small, quaint spot neatly tucked away on the southern part of the city’s Restaurant Row.

Despite spending more of his career on screen than in the kitchen, Stone’s culinary resume is fairly impressive. And at Maude, he’s assembled a staff that can tout similar levels of experience. The restaurant focuses on a primary ingredient every month, and constructs a tasting menu (only option available) of 10-14 courses around that, at a reasonable price range of $75-95/person. For the month of June, the ingredient was morel mushrooms, so the tasting menu was $115/person.

What I really liked about the focus and progression of our dinner at Maude was that the restaurant never tried to force the issue of reminding the diners that morels was the main ingredient, and that it needed to be the centerpiece of each course. Rather, there were courses where morels were barely utilized or creatively integrated, but were there because they fit well within the scheme of things. That’s what a great fine dining restaurant tasting menu strives for – having a central focus, but keeping a nice progression, and taking chances here and there.

By those accounts, the morels menu at Maude definitely knocked it out of the park. And from everything I’ve heard from previous and future months, it seems as if the restaurant has maintained that high level of creativity and execution throughout. And by creativity and execution, the kitchen has done a good job tip-toeing between respecting the classic approaches and exploring the more progressive formats. It’s a very smooth integration of both – none of the tongue-in-cheek executions you’d see at modernist places.

Also, I was also very impressed at how light the food was. By light, I don’t mean that it’s under-seasoned or healthy, but rather in comparison to how each course appeared and the components involved. I was eating this huge raviolo with consumme (a course that was brought out by Chef Stone himself), expecting it to be very heavy. But it was actually rather refreshing, and the broth even balanced out the dish – just an example.

So yeah – definitely very impressed with what Chef Stone has accomplished with Maude. It’s pumping out Michelin-quality cuisine at a reasonable entry price and neighborhood-esque comfort level. Despite that, the front of the house is extremely professional, knowledgeable, and runs like clockwork without being stuffy (I’m talking about you, Manresa). I’m definitely looking forward to future meals…if I can even get a reservation.

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Risotto – citrus butter, chicken mousse

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Kampachi – avocado, herbs, passion fruit snow

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Scallop – wild garlic, watermelon mind, roe

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Duck Egg – summer squash, horseradish, smoke

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Raviolo – consomme, truffle crumble, watercress

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Pork Belly – jalapeno, daikon, carrot

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Lamb – green garbanzo, eggplant, leek

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Taleggio – onion, charred peach, nasturtium

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Ice Cream Bar – coffee, chocolate, cocoa nib

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Black Forest Floor – dark cherry, chocolate, hazelnut

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Mignardises – blueberry financier, tropical fruit tart, raspberry bonbon

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Morel salt

Grade: A-
Cuisine: American (probably appropriate to say Californian, to be more specific)
Neighborhood: Beverly Hills
Price: $$$$ (June tasting menu featuring morels was $115/person, but excluding that and most likely the upcoming November menu featuring truffles, the price range of the menus is $75-95/person)

Maude on Urbanspoon

Night + Market Song

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Night + Market Song
3322 W Sunset Blvd
Los AngelesCA 90026
(323) 
849-0223
www.nightmarketsong.com

The 2nd location of Night + Market just opened in late March, and I was there shortly after. While I haven’t been back since (due to work and taking the bus to said work on most days), the fairly close proximity and the ease of parking in Hipster Central are both pluses in my book, as well as what I perceive as bigger portions for a couple of the dishes. The minus? Besides having to be around hipsters, the restaurant is still in a soft-open phase of sorts. That means: no reservations, less seating, slightly smaller menu, no alcohol (not even BYOB), and possible seizures from the psychedelic interior paint job.

But Kris is there every night, and he continues to bring it. Food is as good as ever, and it feels like you’re eating it out of Kris’ apartment. That level of comfort is more than welcome, almost as warm as the heat from that nam kao tod. “Night + Market Song” might mean Night + Market 2, but Night + Market’s song will forever be:

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Pork Toro ($7)

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Luu Suk ($10) – pork blood & MSG dipping soup w/ pork crackling, crispy noodles, chile, herbs

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Larb Lanna – Chiang Rai-Style Pork Larb ($11)

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Moo Sadoong – Startled Pig ($9)

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Nam Kao Tod – Crispy Rice Salad ($9)

Grade: normally it’d be too early to determine, but food is as good as ever – so A- holds
Cuisine: Thai
Neighborhood: Silver Lake
Price: $$

Night + Market Song on Urbanspoon

Corazon y Miel

Corazon y Miel
6626 Atlantic Ave
Bell, CA 90201
(323) 560-1776
corazonymiel.com

A destination-worthy restaurant in Bell? Or more likely to be asked: where is Bell again?

For those of you who don’t venture outside of the central/west parts of LA (or SGV for the FOBs), Bell is a few minutes directly south of Downtown.  With regard to restaurants, the most (and for some, only) notable one would be La Casita Mexicana. But last year, Corazon y Miel (“heart & honey” in Spanish) opened in the area, to much critical acclaim. The restaurant labels itself as a Latin American gastropub of sorts, and Chef Eduardo Ruiz’s time at Animal gets brought up over and over again, but at the corazón of things Corazon y Miel is straight-up soulful Latino food that has been taken to the next level with refinement.

While Corazon y Miel has indeed received its share of acclaim and coverage from a critical/press perspective, I feel that the word still hasn’t truly reached the general public. Very few blogs have covered the restaurant, and mentioning its name to a casual Yelper usually elicits a “huh?” response (not sexy enough I suppose). In fact, the vast majority of patrons at the time of our dinner on a Friday night was local (later confirmed by the restaurant, who was surprised that we were from West LA and Fullerton, respectively – we actually chose the restaurant because it was kind of a midway point between us). But that just means that the rest of town is missing out…

First of all, the dishes are reasonably priced. Appetizers are all under $10, and entrees don’t go past low-$20s. Sure, some may scoff at paying $20-30/person for Latin American cuisine, but c’mon – if Corazon y Miel was located in Downtown or the westside, I can assure you that you’d be paying much more for the same food. Our party of three ate and drank plenty for a little over $30/person. And if that’s not enough food, bring a party of five and “fire the menu” – your party gets one of each dish on the menu for $175 (that’s $35/person, and you save 20+% off menu prices).

But how’s the actual food?

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Jalapeno y Tocino ($6) – bacon, jalapeno, chorizo, street corn salad

This appetizer essentially captures the essence of East LA street food. Here, a bacon-wrapped hot dog is replaced with a bacon-wrapped jalapeno that has been stuffed w/ chorizo. And an elote is a bed of mayo-y corn salad. A nice start.

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Ensalada de Cueritos ($8) – pig skin 2 ways, chili con limon, candied citrus zest, Ommegang Wit Taster

This was my favorite of the night. I haven’t had cueritos (pickled pigskin) many times, but I can say that I’ll be looking it more on menus from now on.  It had a very soft and gelatinous texture, reminiscent of a Korean acorn jelly, but retained a very porcine flavor. Marinated and served like a ceviche, the acidity countered the pigskin wonderfully. And the other way, the chicharron, was textbook execution. Too bad they ran out of their regular ceviche dish, because they certainly do this well.  Came w/ a beer taster BTW.

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Corazon Burger ($10) – beef, bacon, grilled panela, sweet jalapeno onion relish, fries, add fried egg ($1)

This was a very novel attempt at Latin-izing the gastropub burger, but there was just a little too much going on. The patty was meaty and well-seasoned, but combining that with the bacon, the panela cheese, and the aggressive sweet jalapeno onion relish, and everything is kind of fighting against one another for attention. Plus, wasn’t a fan of the cemita-esque bun, but again, I totally get the concept.

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Pan con Chompipe ($18) – 2-pound Salvadoran turkey leg sandwich

This thing was HUGE – imagine one of those mutant legs you eat at Disneyland in sandwich form. Definitely a knife-and-fork sandwich. Came with a turkey gravy on the side, but it was barely used, as the turkey leg was plenty flavorful and juicy (latter surprising for turkey). Plus, fried capers? Genius.

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Borrego ($20) – lamb chops en barbacoa, goat cheese gnocchi, pickled chayote

While the lamb chops were finished on the grill, it didn’t really embody a true barbacoa-style meat. A rather straight-forward dish, but the chops were cooked to a nice medium-rare, and the goat cheese gnocchi were tasty as well.

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Boca Negra ($6) – chocolate cake, chipotle custard, ancho whip

Not necessarily spicy, but definitely smoky. This was very good.

I really liked my dinner at Corazon y Miel. Great interpretation of Latin American cuisine at reasonable prices, executed with the precision and refinement you’d expect from a more modern/progressive restaurant. Yes, it’s in Bell (where again?), but that’s arguably closer for most people than say, the SGV, and there’s a lot of parking. Also, the bar program is pretty damn impressive (shoutout to Darwin). You can make reservations for their fairly long bar, where it’s happy hour 5-7pm & 9-closing (full menu served as well), and you get to interact and sample stuff, etc. If you live on the westside, and your friend lives in the OC/SGV, Corazon y Miel is a great midway point to meet up. If not…still go.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Latin American Bell $$ A-

Corazon y Miel on Urbanspoon

Manresa (Los Gatos, CA)

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Manresa
320 Village Ln
Los Gatos, CA 95030
(408) 354-4330
www.manresarestaurant.com

Short summary: a great meal. However, with all the accolades and such, this dinner was more of a technically precise meal with impeccable ingredients used than a mind-blowing one that has me thinking about it for days. In the end, I respect Manresa more than I love it, but I sure do like it a lot. The restaurant is like one of those beautiful girls that are perfect both physically and mentally, but given a choice between her and your flawed true love, you still have to follow your heart. Manresa is the restaurant for those who follow their brains.

There are very good reasons why just about everyone in the world sings Manresa’s praises. Having one of the most talented chefs in the country heading the place, using only the best-quality ingredients available, classic fine-dining atmosphere and service – it’s only logical. But for me, the whole package can feel a little stiff for a culinary-uneducated individual like myself. The service issue has been debated before by others, and I understand that they’re striving for that 3rd Michelin star (French fine dining standards), but it’s too TTH for me personally. Still, the service is indeed extremely knowledgeable and attentive. Just not as…happy?

But don’t get me wrong – Manresa is an amazing restaurant. Next to my meals at Red Medicine, I’ve never appreciated the vegetable-centric dishes more at a restaurant. Every dish we had was indeed delicious and executed to near perfection from the technique and plating perspectives (except for the loin in the lamb dish – overcooked). The butterscotch dessert was one of the most inspired ones I’ve had this year, but I wouldn’t say that any of the savory dishes had a similarly lingering effect. It’s less of “man this dish was fucking awesome and I need to have it again now” and more of “oh okay that was a very good dish, but it’s supposed to be.”

These little imperfections at a “perfect” restaurant keep it from getting my “perfect” grade. Yeah, this post makes the restaurant sound somewhat indifferent, but that’s because an “A-” is disappointing for what is considered an “A” restaurant that has “A+” aspirations. Still, if you got the money, Manresa is still one of the flag-bearers of New American fine dining cuisine, and should be on every enthusiasts’ to-dine bucket list.

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Red bell pepper pate de fruit, black olive madeleine

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Gazpacho, 25 tomatoes

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Local milk panna cotta, Monterey Bay abalone, breakfast radishes

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Moroccan octopus, summer beans

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Fava bean risotto, porcini mushroom, sheep’s milk cheese

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“Into the Vegetable Garden”

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Black cod, tomatillo, cassava, roasted bone sauce

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Lightly smoked albacore

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Roasted duck, fennel, fig, milk, honey

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Napa Valley spring lamb, dates, olives

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Butterscotch, plum, buckwheat

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Raspberry, chocolate, tonka bean

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Strawberry pate de fruit, chocolate madeleine, cocoa & basil bonbon

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Chocolate brioche

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Los Gatos $$$$ A-

Manresa on Urbanspoon

Guerrilla Tacos

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Guerrilla Tacos at Cognoscenti Coffee (Wed 9am-2pm)
6114 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(818) 640-3033
guerrillatacos.com

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.

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Tacos

Green Bean Scramble Taco

Spinach/Prosciutto/Fried Egg Taco

Cook Pigs Ranch Sausage/Egg/Queso Blanco Burrito

Duck Tamal, Arbol Chile

Tacos

Pancetta & Charred Broccoli Taco w/ Fried Egg, Arbol Chili, & Scallions

Roasted Anaheim Chili Taco w/ Oaxacan Cheese, Scrambled Egg, Almond Chili, & Chives

Burrito w/ Cook Pigs Ranch Breakfast Sausage, Potato, Avocado, & Tomato Habanero Chili

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Mexican Food Truck/Culver City $ A-

Guerrilla Tacos on Urbanspoon

CaCao Mexicatessen [2]

Tacos

CaCao Mexicatessen
1576 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 478-2791
www.cacaodeli.com

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.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Mexican Eagle Rock $$ A-

Red Medicine [3]

1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(323) 651-5500
redmedicinela.com

Red Medicine is a very polarizing restaurant. It has its fans (like myself) who defend the progressive, Vietnamese-inspired cooking as forward-thinking cuisine that cannot be found anywhere else. On the other hand, there are plenty of diners in LA who see the restaurant as arrogant and gimmicky, and rather “fusion-y” with no real sense of direction. The restaurant has done itself no favors in the past, whether it be the “unmasking” of LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila, or the more recent Twitter incident where they publicly shamed no-shows. In fact, they are probably more appreciated by chefs and out-of-town diners than the masses here in the city who pride themselves on dining at what’s the next hot thing, or the next critical darling. And that’s too bad, because I do believe Red Medicine is sophisticated dining at its finest and most creative, one that can exist in a much more formal setting, but is what it is because it’s in LA. And that’s not a bad thing, although the level of appreciation might come with such territory. But put this restaurant in NYC or SF, and it probably has a Michelin star.

The controversial restaurant is also one that has consistently gotten better over time. I liked my first visit, and I really liked my next visit, and I loved my most recent visit from a couple of weeks ago. With each visit, the flavors get more bold, the profiles get more complex, and the combinations get more cohesive. But these characteristics are some of the aspects that make the restaurant so polarizing. It’s not a matter of complaining that diners aren’t sophisticated enough to understand and appreciate the dishes here, but rather more of a “there’s too fucking much going on here and I just want to enjoy my food” sentiment. And that’s just fine – this restaurant isn’t for everyone, and the restaurant knows it. It’s true to its own vision, however weird and complicated that may be. You just have to go in with an open mind. Also, those of you who’ve had service issues in the past – I can truly say that I’ve never encounter such problems. Water was always refilled, servers were informative and checked in often without being intrusive, and dishes were cleared after every course.

On this visit, Lawrence and I got the tasting menu (now of public knowledge and on the menu), and we added 4 supplemental dishes to make a custom 10-course meal. The standard 6-course tasting, at $65, isn’t really much of a steal, but it does have dishes that aren’t on the regular menu, and I’d say that you would want to order at least 5 of the 6 dishes if you were going the a la carte route anyways. I don’t want to go into a course-by-course breakdown since I’ve already done it in the past, but if you have a group of 2 or 4 this is definitely the route to go (do note that each course is essentially just the dish served in the same manner as they would be a la carte, hence me suggesting an even number of diners). You can always add other dishes that sound intriguing, and there are plenty of those, or if you have a larger group, you can order one of the large format dishes (I’ve heard amazing things about the brisket in particular, which I haven’t gotten around to trying). And don’t forget the cocktails – just as good and creative as the dishes.

I’ve praised the birch ice dessert to many people in the past, and it’s again a highlight of my meal. There’s so much going on in the dessert – different flavor profiles, different textures, even different temperatures. You have to get a little of everything in one bite to truly appreciate and enjoy it though. And the trout roe appetizer was essentially the dessert in savory form. From the different things working with and against each other, to the dish composition, right down to the fish bowl presentation and the ice cover on top, the trout roe was executed just as well as the birch ice. Future protip at Red Medicine: order anything that comes in a fish bowl. The other dishes were great as well – the restaurant has an uncanny ability for making me like the vegetarian dishes more than the protein-based ones. But therein lies a problem, if there is any – the “weakest” link of the menu (and this is more of the case at more places than people think) is the meat-based main courses. Last time, the akaushi beef dish was by far the weakest, a dry piece of meat without any flavor (and unfortunately, a variation of such dish suffered the same fate during Darin Dines’ most recent visit). The lamb shoulder dish was cooked well and tasted fine, but in comparison to the other dishes, was rather…boring.

But one decent dish does not deter my dining experience at Red Medicine, and I’m sure many people enjoyed or will enjoy dishes like the lamb shoulder. But I don’t think it’s the strength of the restaurant to execute straightforward protein courses. I really do love the restaurant though, and highly recommend it to everyone I know. Those who have dismissed it after facing initial disappointment, or were turned off by their rather immature attitudes on social media, should really give it another shot. On a Saturday night, there were plenty of seats available, going back to my earlier point of the LA diners’ apathy towards the restaurant. If the bar served the full menu, I’d probably go much more often, as the restaurant is open until 2am EVERY NIGHT (a true late-night gem, but one that’s not really priced in the hangover/munchies range). But for now, an occasional visit rekindles my love and appreciation for such sophistication, and more importantly, pleasure to the taste buds.

1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe

1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe

Biodynamic Leeks

Biodynamic Leeks – yuzu, buttermilk ($15)

2nd Course: Custard of Fresh Cream

2nd Course: Custard of Fresh Cream

Santa Barbara Uni

Santa Barbara Uni – almond milk, kei apple ($18)

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts – shallots, fish sauce ($9)

3rd Course: Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast

3rd Course: Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast

4th Course: Young Potatoes

4th Course: Young Potatoes

5th Course: Lamb's Shoulder

5th Course: Lamb’s Shoulder

Coconut Baravois

Coconut Baravois – coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant ($9)

6th Course: Shaved Ice of Redwood Stems
6th Course: Shaved Ice of Redwood Stems

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Asian Beverly Hills $$$ A-

Previous Visits: (1) (2)

Manhattan Beach Post

Manhattan Beach Post
1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 545-5405
http://www.eatmbpost.com

I’m going to keep this post short & sweet, because that’s exactly how I would describe the dishes here (and the fact that I’ve been neglecting this post for 3 months due to the poor photos) – short, in that this is basically a small plates restaurant, and sweet, not in the saccharin sense, but rather in the notion of something pleasant.

It took me a LONG time for me to finally make my way down to Manhattan Beach to try MB Post. It’s not the closest to my home or work, and it’s kind of a hassle making the trek down south via 405S on a normal day. Also, the place sounds like it’s always packed. But too many people have raved about the place, to the point I couldn’t resist anymore. You’re going to pile up on the number of dishes ordered, standard of dining at a small plates restaurant. But, MB Post is a restaurant where you can close your eyes and point at a dish, and not be disappointed by the random choice. There are no gimmicks here, nor are there any specializations cuisine-wise (if I had to describe the food here, it’d be American with an Asian flair) – just simple and well-executed dishes that Chef LeFevre (formerly of The Water Grill in Downtown, and before that, at the legendary Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago) probably enjoys making at home.

If there’s a signature dish here, it would be the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits. Not exactly flaky or fluffy, these biscuits aren’t traditional in the Southern sense. Rather, they are somewhat dense, but not too heavy despite the added bacon and cheddar. The accompanying maple butter is nice, but probably not even needed. It would be dangerous to get too many orders of this. But while you might have come for the biscuits, you stay for everything else. The pork jowl has been on the menu since Day 1, and it’s pretty amazing – a not-too-fatty cut of pork jowl with a caramelized sear that’s somewhat reminiscent of Asian jerky, with a nice hit of fish sauce. Chef LeFevre also does justice to seafood and veggies, so don’t forget to order some of those dishes, too.

Despite being in a beautiful people area like Manhattan Beach, and being a small plates restaurant, MB Post is surprisingly affordable. It’s not a cheap restaurant, but prices are more than fair for food and ingredients of this caliber (you can probably order the same amount of food here for maybe 2/3 of the price at a place like Animal). Also heard brunch is equally as great – just wished the restaurant was a little closer. But with MB Post (and now Fishing with Dynamite), it looks like Chef LeFevre is establishing himself as the culinary king of Manhattan Beach.

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Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits ($5 – pictured is 2 orders)

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Farro ($12)

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Blistering Blue Lake Green Beans ($9)

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($10)

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Steamed Mussels ($14)

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Vietnamese Caramel Pork Jowl ($13)

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White Oak Grilled Skirt Steak ($18)

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The “Elvis” ($7)

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Valrhona Chocolate & Salted Caramel Tart ($6)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Manhattan Beach $$$ A-

M.B. Post on Urbanspoon

Son of a Gun (2)

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-9033
http://sonofagunrestaurant.com/

Previous visit: July 2011

I can’t believe it had been almost 2 years since my first and only visit to Son of a Gun, before my return this past weekend. From what I remember (or more like what came to me when I read about my previous post of the restaurant), I liked the place plenty, but it wasn’t without flaws, and was still solidly in big bro Animal’s shadows. However, I’ve been hearing and reading nothing but praises for the seafood-centric restaurant since, and when buddy Paul came into town to visit, it seemed like an appropriate time to return (since he was there during the last meal, and had initially wanted to return to Animal).

Comparing this dinner with what I remember about the last one (aided by the previous post of course), and I can say that Son of a Gun has gotten better. Like with Animal, portions are small and prices are (relatively) high, but there’s plenty of positives here, especially with regards to creativity with seafood (i.e. not just raw bar assortments), and more importantly, the dinner as a delicious meal. Also, the bar program is pretty damn good there. I don’t remember it from the last dinner (or whether it even existed back then), but we tried a handful of cocktails and drinks across the menu, and they didn’t disappoint (and they were strong too). Below are photos of what we ordered, with some notes:

Today's Oysters on the Half Shell, Condiments
Today’s Oysters on the Half Shell, Condiments ($3/each)

Didn’t hear what the varieties were, but they were certainly fresh, however straightforward with the standard accompaniments. A great way to kick off the night of seafood though.

Gloucester Scallop, Yuzu Kosho, Pickled Shiitake
Gloucester Scallop, Yuzu Kosho, Pickled Shiitake ($16)

Here was a single jumbo scallop from Gloucester, MA served sashimi-style, right down to the yuzukosho. The pickling of the shiitake mushroom wasn’t strong, but added an interesting, earthy flavor component to the dish. Nicely done.

Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, Pumpernickel
Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, Pumpernickel ($16)

I believe this has been on the menu since opening day, but I didn’t get to try it last time. Separately, it’s just steelhead roe (basically ikura), whipped maple-flavored cream cheese, and pumpernickel crisps. But get everything together in one bite, and the dish becomes a wonderful play on lox on bagel with cream cheese.

Uni, Burrata, Button Mushroom, Yuzu
Uni, Burrata, Button Mushroom, Yuzu ($19)

I’ve read plenty about this dish, and it didn’t disappoint. Uni + burrata is an interesting combination, seeing how it’s creamy-on-creamy, but it worked. However, it could’ve used more uni (greedy me) to get a better uni:burrata ratio.

Lobster Roll, Celery, Lemon Aioli
Lobster Roll, Celery, Lemon Aioli ($8)

The people’s favorite from day one. Still the people’s champ.

Curly Kale, Caesar Dressing, Walnut, Parmesan
Curly Kale, Caesar Dressing, Walnut, Parmesan ($11)

We felt the need to order a vegetable dish to counter all the protein, so we found it in the form of this kale Caesar salad. Straightforward, but well-executed.

Fried Chicken Sandwich, Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw, Rooster Aioli
Fried Chicken Sandwich, Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw, Rooster Aioli ($14)

The people’s co-favorite. One that I actually wasn’t as crazy about as everyone else in town. However, I found a much better sandwich this time around. Still the same-looking gigantic sandwich, but the chicken this time was juicy and flavorful. And of course, the slaw was great once again. Southern hospitality at its finest.

Linguine and Clam, Uni Aglio-Olio, Chili, Breadcrumbs
Linguine and Clam, Uni Aglio-Olio, Chili, Breadcrumbs ($19)

A lot of people like this dish, and what’s not to love, with it being an spicy, uni-infused version of the classic linguine and clams. But this dish was a little heavy-handed with the cream (I can’t believe I’m writing this), and a bit too oily. Too much of a good thing, really. Tone it down a bit, and the dish would be amazing.

Shrimp Toast Sandwich, Herbs, Sriracha Mayo
Shrimp Toast Sandwich, Herbs, Sriracha Mayo ($12)

I had more than just a bite this time around, and it’s…good. But I think it was one of the weaker dishes of the night.

Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Crispy Pork, Ginger-Soy
Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Crispy Pork, Ginger-Soy ($22)

This sounded great (especially given my love for soft shell crab), and came highly recommended by our server. Besides being a little too heavy with the batter, I thought this was indeed great. A nice variation of the traditional tempura-fried soft shell crab with ponzu you’d find at Japanese restaurants, with the crispy pork adding some extra fattiness.

Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue
Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue ($6)

Had this last time, a solid deconstruct key lime pie of sorts.

Italian Hamburger: Gianduja, Brioche, Caramel, Maldon
Italian Hamburger: Gianduja, Brioche, Caramel, Maldon ($7)

An interesting dessert here, basically an ice cream sandwich with a sweet brioche bun and gianduja (basically Nutella) ice cream. The caramel and maldon salt gave it an salted caramel flavor.

Today's Sorbet: Coconut
Today’s Sorbet: Coconut ($6)

Might seem standard, but the sorbet and ice cream were actually the dessert standouts, pleasant surprises. It was rich (but not overly so) for a sorbet, and I believe there was a toasted flavor to the coconut.

Today's Ice Cream: Dreamsicle
Today’s Ice Cream: Dreamsicle ($6)

Why don’t more people make creamsicle/dreamsicle-flavored things? They were one of my favorite frozen treats from my childhood, and it was really cool to see it in ice cream form here. This captured the orange + ice milk flavors perfectly.

To sum it up, an inspired and improved Son of a Gun has now stepped out of Animal’s shadow (in my eyes – I’m sure most people saw things differently), and is now standing toe-to-toe with big brother. It’s probably the best seafood restaurant in LA after Providence, but do know that the dishes do add up once you get too excited (and you will). It won’t be two more years until the next visit, that’s for sure.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American, Seafood Mid-City West $$$ A-

Son of a Gun Restaurant on Urbanspoon