Q Sushi

Q Sushi
521 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 225-6285
qsushila.com

Sushi is so hot right now in LA. Not that it wasn’t before, but nowadays diners have evolved from the mere specialty rolls to the elegant tastings known as omakase, where chefs dazzle with an array of appetizers and nigiri that can easily run bills into triple digits. While this movement has been for the better, it has also dumbed-down the definition and experience of the meaning and value of an omakase in general. Restaurants have been trying to “outdo” one another with excess and gluttony with regards to their “omakase,” not taking into consideration the delicacy and skill involved in preparing and progressing the extended experience without losing a step.

With all of that being said, LA as a city is fortunate to have so many quality high-end sushi options. There’s Kiriko, who can dish out nigiri both classic and modern as well as anyone, all while more than happy to appease the diner next to you who has ordered a California roll. There’s Mori, who walks down a more traditional path and has gotten the rice part of the sushi down to an exact science. There’s Shunji, who now has the most impressive array of quality fishes that can finally hang with Shunji-san’s world-class cooking. And if you’re making seven figures and going to Urasawa on a regular basis, more power to you.

Q Sushi opened to much fanfare last November. Probably not to the general public, but sushi connoisseurs had been keeping a very close eye on the restaurant, and the B-list food media (i.e. Tasting Table, Thrillist) and some bloggers were quick to jump on the bandwagon. Q’s selling point was that it brought over a chef from Japan whose specialty was intimate, carefully-prepared sushi, and that they would be strictly focusing on Edomae-style sushi, at least in the sense that everything would be done the old-fashioned way. That means, among various things, more marinated and cured fishes, because that was how they were kept fresh back in the day. Also, the sushi rice doesn’t contain any sugar, and is served at slightly above room temperature.

Not that I don’t appreciate taking it back old-school, but I do think that the scope of sushi has evolved to a point where we don’t have to be restricted by such confines that were mainly established due to the limitations of the time period. If I were to approach any of the quality sushi restaurants I mentioned above to serve me an omakase where it was kept strictly Edomae, I bet it can be done with ease, because that’s basically Sushi 101 for these masters. So it wasn’t as if Q was bringing something new to the table, because Edomae sushi exists everywhere. And for these very reasons, I wasn’t ready to sip the Q Kool-Aid just yet, especially at a starting price that is pretty much the second most-expensive in town (tied with Mori, and behind Urasawa).

I finally pulled the trigger on dining at Q for two reasons: 1) I recently started working at a new job that is within walking distance of the restaurant (albeit at a firm that rivals the restaurant’s namesake – I’ll leave it at just that), and 2) J. Gold wrote a positive review of the place a few weeks ago, and if I ever wanted to try the place I’d have to do it soon. So there I was recently, dining solo amongst an intimate group of ten at the sushi bar, looking up at all the decorations and wood that showed off the $2 million dollars’ worth of construction and interior design, and eating what was repeatedly said to me was LA’s first true Edomae experience.

If you read up to this far, it does appear that I went into the dinner with some preconceptions of the restaurant, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t true. However, I did keep an open mind, and was, for the most part, rewarded in doing so. There was a tranquil aspect of dining at Q, from the meditation-inducing interior design, to the calm appearance of the sushi bar, to the cool and collected sushi chefs, down to the server speaking in a hushed tone. And while I was never truly off-my-seat thrilled at any point during my dinner, I did appreciate the cohesiveness and pacing of it. In the BBC version of LA’s sushi scene, you can say that Q isn’t Doctor Who or Sherlock, but rather, Downton Abbey.

My 20-course omakase comprised of six appetizers and fourteen pieces of nigiri, to which I added a couple of extras. The chefs were quick and detailed in their description of each course, down to where the seafood was from, an encouraging sign. It’s easy to love true wild bluefin tuna (however controversial it may be) and hard to mess up, but the flight of nigiri I had of it was excellent, and even moreso the seared otoro that was served with a unrefined miso/sansho pepper/chili oil concoction that was like crack (picture a Japanese XO sauce of sorts). And yes, there were various fishes served in kobujime form (kelp-cured, one of the main aspects of Edomae sushi), but the three-day cure was just right, as was the wonderfully-pickled kohada (gizzard shad), proving Q was true to its word in executing the Edomae aspect of the meal with perfection.

Among other highlights, the Saikyo miso (from Kyoto) of the marinated Santa Barbara uni (which I added as a supplement) really brought out the sweetness of both components. And the sake-braised octopus was tender and flavorful, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the way it was cut. Overall, the pristine seafood was just that, of excellent quality, but the roster of fishes wasn’t anything a seasoned veteran of sushi would be truly impressed or surprised by (it can be said that the roster was kept fairly close to Edomae availability, but not the restaurant’s true intention in my opinion). So while a piece of engawa nigiri isn’t going to blow my mind, I definitely acknowledged the quality of the halibut fin served. And I’m not saying this from a price perspective; my favorite piece of nigiri is iwashi, which is sardine. Despite it being a rather cheap cut, not many places in town serve it, because it really takes a lot of skill and work in preparation.

With all of that being said, I think there’s a certain aspect of Q that should be highlighted – it’s an excellent place for novices of high-end sushi and omakase dining. For those who are trying to get into the game, a meal at Q can be life-changing and educational even. Like I previously mentioned, the chefs are extremely informative and courteous in pointing out the nuances of your dinner, as was my server. Although attending an opera before a rock concert isn’t a prerequisite, going to Q is a great way of easing into high-end sushi before you’re unwillingly exposed to all the weird stuff I’ve come to love, all while taking a walk down memory lane.

I actually don’t have anything truly negative to say about Q, but I will say that the sushi rice wasn’t really my cup of tea, so to speak. The restaurant keeps to tradition in the sense that only red vinegar was used, and the rice was served slightly above room temperature. By now, most in town have actually had experience to warmer sushi rice (due to the Nozawa family of restaurants and their offspring), so that’s not really a shocking thing anymore. And I myself do like my rice along the temperature Q has it, but I did find it on the…dry side. There was a certain “al dente” toothsome texture to it, which kind of highlighted that slight dryness. But it wasn’t bad – just not my thing.

In the end, my preconceptions of Q turned out to be true, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take away the glitz and glamour of the media hype and the price of admission, Q is a great sushi restaurant for beginners of high-end sushi and omakase dining. It’s not the next great sushi bar that will further LA’s claim to the domestic throne of the cuisine, but it’s a good restaurant that doesn’t look out of place in a city full of contenders. I still encourage sushi connoisseurs to take this university course on Edomae sushi, but it’s purely an elective – there are still five or so required sushi courses before Q.

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Seared Hirame

Kampachi w/ Onion Soy

Kumamoto Oyster w/ Bonito Dashi

Seared Otoro w/ Miso-Sansho-Chili Oil Topping

Okoze w/ Ponzu

Miso Soup w/ Grated Carrots, Sansho & Sake Lees

Suzuki Kobujime

Kurodai

Engawa

Sumi Ika

Akami Zuke

Chutoro

Otoro

Kohada

Shima Aji

Sake

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Tako

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Shiro Ebi

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Anago

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Tamago

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Uni Saikyo

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Aoyagi

Grade: B+
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Neighborhood: Downtown
Price: $$$$+ (~20-course omakase is $165, but there’s a $75 10-course lunch on weekdays)

Q Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Orleans & York Deli

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Orleans & York Deli
4454 W Slauson Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90043
(323) 291-8800
orleansandyorkdeli.com

Once you get a hang of how things work, and used to the people who actively participate in the crowd-sourcing, Chowhound is an excellent source of unearthing new eats in town. I had some initial difficulties in finding new lunch spots near work, but after doing some research, I came across a place that was recommended in the forums and very much nearby: Orleans & York Deli. The name and the menu did worry me a little, since it seems like they’re trying to do both cajun/creole cuisine AND a variety of sandwiches they consider “New York” (hence the name of the restaurant). It also doesn’t help when there’s no restaurant in LA that truly does food from the Big Easy justice, so the place would be charting new waters.

While Orleans & York isn’t a full-scale cajun/creole restaurant, the food they serve that is within the realm of the cuisine is excellent – this po’ boy here can’t get enough of them po’ boys! The fried catfish one is very good, but it’s all about the fried shrimp po’ boy. Plump, well-seasoned and fried pieces of shrimp (they could be as large as 21/25, which is unprecedented for such a casual restaurant), fresh house-baked baguettes, and DAT HOT SAUCE – so hot. The sandwiches aren’t necessarily cheap – the po’ boys are $9-11 each, but they’re essentially footlongs, so you’re getting plenty for what you’re paying for. I haven’t tried the “New York” side of the menu, but my coworkers seem to be fairly satisfied with some of the offerings. But it’s like what my man Bubba said in Forrest Gump: “shrimp is the fruit of the sea” – and it’s plenty fruitful here.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Cajun/Creole View Park/Windsor Hills $ B+

Orleans and York Deli on Urbanspoon

Bachi Burger (Las Vegas, NV)

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Bachi Burger
470 E Windmill Ln, Ste 100
Las Vegas, NV 89123
(702) 242-2244
www.bachiburger.com

So, Bachi Burger…
Are you going to open?
LA is waiting.

If you didn’t pick up on it, that’s what we call a haiku – a haiku I am eloquently reciting to the Las Vegas-based burger joint, for their construction on a new location in LA has essentially been halted, despite the occasional reassurances from Eater LA that the project is still in the works. I’ve been jogging by the location on Sawtelle for months now (that Sawtelle – it’s so hot right now), and I swear this one bag of concrete mix or whatever has been sitting in that same spot all this time. So no, I don’t expect Bachi Burger to open anytime soon, certainly not in 2013. Maybe next year though…or maybe never.

Luckily, I had a chance to try Bachi on my last trip to Vegas, for my friend Will’s bachelor party. It had been at the top of my to-dine list for restaurants off-strip (I also tried to hit up Chada Thai, but they were unexpectedly closed for lunch, indefinitely). Mattatouille had told me that I should try to go as early as possible, because they get really busy. And that proved to be true – we were there around noon, and had to wait an extended amount of time. Waiting outside a restaurant in Las Vegas weather during daytime isn’t the most desirable of situations to be in, but Bachi proved to be worth the wait.

Bachi’s creations are technically on the fusion side, with regards to Japanese cuisine. Unlike at most places, the concept is well-executed here. Take their signature Ronin Burger, for instance. There’s an Asian slaw. There’s a tonkatsu-sauce glaze of sorts. There’s a yuzu aioli. And that sesame-miso sauce on the side. All very Japanese flavors. But the burger construction is all-American: a well-seasoned, juicy patty, cooked medium-rare, a fried egg, and a nicely-toasted brioche bun (although it had a touch of sweetness). Forget all the teriyaki burgers or whatnot that you’ve tried – this is what the concept is all about.

I’ve also read plenty of positive reports of their oxtail chili cheese fries, and it did sound very promising. It was a nice dish, but didn’t actually blow me away. The fries were already a little limp, but could’ve been affected by heft of the chili. The chili (w/ beans) was actually pretty straightforward, but replacing the ground beef with oxtail. However, the flavor was a bit too sweet for me (don’t know if it’s supposed to be). That sweet flavor, combined with the seasoning salt mixed with the fries, had a little too much going on in my opinion. But it’s still a good side.

Many people consider the burger at Bachi to be the best in Las Vegas, and I believe that to be true, despite my limited experience with burgers in Sin City. I do know, however, that it could possibly be my favorite burger in LA…if it ever opens here. If not, I just might vandalize the location with bachi sticks as if it was a taiko drum.

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Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries – garlic aioli, fried egg ($11.50)

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Ronin Burger – angus beef, caramelized onions, Japanese cole slaw, miso goma dressing, fried egg, katsu BBQ, yuzu citrus aioli ($11)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Burgers Las Vegas/Southeast $$ B+

Bachi Burger on Urbanspoon

Alma

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Alma
952 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 444-1422
www.alma-la.com

It’s good to be Ari Taymor these days. You have your own critically-acclaimed restaurant in Downtown LA, praised in particular by Jonathan Gold, who named Alma one of his 101 Best Restaurants in LA + having one of his 10 best dishes of 2012. And now, you’re on the national stage, being named as THE Best New Restaurant in the entire country by Bon Appetit. All of this accomplished at the age of 27 (same as me!), armed with an impressive resume that includes the likes of Bar Tartine and Flour + Water in SF, as well as the pop-up that led to the current restaurant of the same name.

Alma had been high on my to-dine list for quite some time, and one day in early August I decided to just pull the trigger on OpenTable for a solo dinner, as a treat to myself for all the fine work I’ve accomplished (ha!). The process wasn’t very difficult – there were tables available online during prime hours for a weekday, and I was going to go at around their 6 pm opening anyways (plus I was a solo diner sitting at the bar). I was beginning to fear that LA diners might not appreciate dining of this caliber and execution, as the restaurant’s style always felt like it belonged more in SF in my opinion.

However, the Bon Appetit honor was released less than a week after I made my reservation, and the atmosphere during my dinner definitely reflected the restaurant as the sudden new hotness. I arrived at around 6:10 pm for my dinner, and the restaurant was already more than half full. By the end of my dinner, there were at least a dozen people waiting to be seated out front, most of them patiently waiting with a glass of wine in their hands, happy to have a chance to dine at a nationally-acclaimed restaurant.

The restaurant has an a la carte menu of roughly over a dozen of dishes, most of them on the smaller side. There is also a tasting menu available, which consists of 10 courses at $90. The latter is at a very reasonable price point in my opinion, as a similar restaurant in SF serving a tasting of this length would probably be closer to $150. Despite some of the a la carte-only dishes sounding very promising, I went with the tasting. Please note that after November 29, the restaurant plans to nix the a la carte option, and go to prix fixe only: 5 courses for $65, or a longer tasting menu for $110 (length not specified).

Snacks:
oyster with herbs
brown butter bearnaise with corn silk
seaweed & tofu beignet, yuzu kosho, lime
English muffin, uni, burrata, caviar, liquorice herbs

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The tasting menu began with 4 snacks, 2 of which are available to order as a la carte. The fresh oyster came with an herb foam/mousse of sorts, and tasted quite…herbal. With the brown butter bearnaise, it was kind of interesting to see a sauce/condiment as the central component of a dish. But those 2 bites were just warm-up pitches. The seaweed and tofu beignet is probably the restaurant’s most well-known dish. It kind of looked like a darker version of the fried seaweed fish you’d find at Chinese restaurants, and it was heavier/thicker than I expected. But the acidic components of the yuzu kosho and the lime aioli worked well with the beignet’s creamy tofu filling. And you really can’t go wrong with a combination of uni + burrata + caviar on top of that housemade English muffin. Alma’s baked goods are really something.

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“summer vegetables”

The first real course was this vegetable medley, which also included a corn fritter, in a “BBQ sauce” (that’s what they called it according to my notes). Simple and effective. This is just a dish that allows the ingredients to shine, most of which were picked from the restaurant’s own garden in Venice.

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tomato, watermelon, black garlic, macadamia nut, epazote

Next up was this composed salad. The cubes you see are compressed watermelon, brushed with black garlic oil. Quite interesting. The highlight here was the fresh heirloom tomato – ridiculously sweet and juicy.

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mackerel, plum, succulents

The same said about the heirloom tomato above can also be applied to the plum here, which was also presented here as a consomme. The consomme and actual pieces combined to give off a very…canned fruit type of flavor, and I meant that in the nicest way possible. What I’m trying to get across is that those plum bits were absolutely juicy and sweet, as if they were concentrated. Would’ve been great as a base for a dessert. As a result, the mackerel got lost in the dish. It was also not as briny as I like my mackerel.

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chicken liver, smoked maple, coffee

This was an interesting take on the traditional chicken liver you’d find at Jewish delis. I didn’t mention it previously, but despite its reputation for being ingredient-driven, Alma is quite the “progressive” restaurant. Much of the kitchen’s repertoire involves such gadgetry and techniques (the liquid nitrogen was busted out frequently, in particular). This dish had the traditional flavors, but was presented as frozen crumbles, which melted into a creamy mousse as you ate it.

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summer corn soup, vadouvan, nasturtium

And here is a soup, in the middle of a tasting menu. Meh, right? But wait just a minute – this was actually the best dish of the night, no joke. This summer corn soup, which also included the corn kernels, was just a good, hearty bowl of deliciousness. The vadouvan added plenty of depth, and the nasturtium ice cream acted as the cooling chaser (like a yogurt or raita) to counter the soup. A deceptively sophisticated dish.

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housemade bread with cultured butter ($5)

During the soup course, this additional plate was brought out. What a great idea, as the bread was nice for dipping into the soup and sopping up the last drop, and it was a nice gesture. In fact, it appears that every diner who ordered the tasting menu received the bread as part of the course. Not sure if it was intended, or if the restaurant was kind (a couple of a la carte diners received an extra course as well). But the bread, hot upon arrival, man was it good. There was a beer & rye bread to the left, and a squid ink epi to the right, served with a wonderfully whipped cultured butter. Both were crusty, then soft, with each bite. More people should be talking about the bread at Alma.

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roasted abalone, shellfish, zucchini

The shellfish here, besides abalone, were clams and mussels. They, along with zucchini and summer squash, were served with a “soup” (what they said), which I assume was made from the shellfish present here. Very mild, especially following the previously course.

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“Tisane of Terroir”

The palate cleanser (oddly served before the main course) was an herbal tea infused with grapefruit and dashi. Had a weird sweet and savory flavor to it (along with the grapefruit’s bitter aftertaste).

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dry aged rib-eye, alliums, sunflower

A straightforward dish, but well-executed. The 45-day aged ribeye was cooked to a perfect rare, and went well with the sunflower & onion puree. There was also onion done 3 ways here. Despite the 45-day age, the meat was actually rather mild, but at the same time quite meaty still.

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watermelon & gin

Now to the desserts. We have a scoop each of watermelon and gin-flavored sorbet (though one of them might have been a semifreddo – sorry don’t remember). Those compressed watermelon cubes (sans black garlic oil, obviously) come back in play here, and the combination makes for a refreshing dessert.

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“frozen summer”

This is a very ambitious dessert. The components here consisted of the vegetables from their garden, served as a chamomile semifreddo, sorrel sorbet, and other grassy goodness. It was indeed a green dessert. But while I appreciate the effort in this farm-to-table dessert, it was kind of like eating sweet wheatgrass ice cream. Nice try though.

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plum & tarragon pate de fruit

I enjoyed my dinner at Alma. However, I would say that I appreciated and respected my meal more than truly loved it as is. Ingredients were served at the prime of their availability, and execution was in top form. But most of the dishes just didn’t wow me as much as I thought they would – I only just liked them (with the exceptions of the summer corn soup and breads). There was also the dilemma of the a la carte menu’s presence. I felt that some of the dishes and desserts there were more interesting by menu description (and from what I read on various blogs, that proved to be somewhat accurate). But I almost always go the tasting route when available – who am I to say that I know a restaurant’s best dishes and progression more than its own?

The restaurant itself isn’t very big, and that kitchen is just downright small for the number of chefs working in it. Decor was extremely simple, like a living room layout you’d find in IKEA catalogs. The interior was kind of dark after the sun set, but gave off a very homey feel, which I attribute to the IKEA look. The service was warm, but I think the increased business got to them with regards to the front of the house execution and timing. I would wait a few minutes for one course, and wait 20+ for the next. Also, not that I need the attention, but for those who really care, they do disappear at times. Some are short with the descriptions, while some are extremely detailed. Not a big deal at all, but just a FYI…

I think Alma is only going to get better as time passes. It feels as if they’re still trying to find their stride, as some things just don’t appear to be fully thought-out or composed. But the blueprint is there, and the talent is definitely there. The move to a tasting-only format should help with the menu’s focus, and I think that Taymor has a bright future ahead of him. For a while, it felt like a restaurant that was appreciated more by out-of-towners than the locals (see: Red Medicine). But with the recent honors, Alma definitely has the opportunity to attract more diners, and will do well to keep them coming back as they progress themselves.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Downtown $$$ B+

Alma on Urbanspoon

Orenchi Ramen (Santa Clara, CA)

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Orenchi Ramen
3540 Homestead Rd
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 246-2955
www.orenchi-ramen.com

And I thought ramen was popular in LA…

Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara has been dubbed the most popular ramen shop in America by multiple sources (along with ~2600 Yelp reviews). We had to get there over half an hour before they opened at 11:30am just to ensure a minimal wait upon their doors opening for lunch, as the restaurant is quite small (Will said that if we didn’t get there when we did, we would’ve had to wait over an hour). There were all sorts of people waiting – locals, nearby workers, and Asian tourists with cameras (probably where I fit in). But was it worth the wait, especially for someone who slurps noodles on a regular basis?

In a word: yes. By now you all know the drill with tonkotsu ramen – pork-bone-simmered for long periods of time, chewy noodles, slices of chashu, etc. Orenchi’s bowl also includes menma (fermented bamboo shoots), kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), scallions, nori, marinated soft-boiled egg, and a bit of black garlic oil and sesame seeds. First of all, the broth here is quite fascinating. It’s essentially what we would consider kotteri-style, with plenty of visible back fat particles floating on top. Yet, the base isn’t too overpowering with the heft and the saltiness – quite balanced and refined, actually.

The other components aren’t as memorable as the broth, but competent in their own rights. The noodles aren’t glorious, but they have enough chew and bounce to match the broth well. The toppings are all nice touches, and I actually liked that the black garlic oil wasn’t used liberally, as it’s beginning to get hot at ramen shops, and I feel that more than a little is somewhat of a overkill. But the chashu and egg are especially noteworthy, if for different reasons. The good news: that soft-boiled egg was cooked perfectly. Also nicely marinated. The bad news: there were maybe 2 paper-thin slices of overcooked, lean pork. We also split an order of chicken karaage – not bad.

This is definitely a bowl of ramen worth waiting for, but do go early, for the reasons I gave above, and the fact that they only serve 500 bowls a day (and apparently only 15 servings of their tsukemen). Service is efficient and friendly. The bowls are fairly-priced. Also, I read that they plan to open a second location in the Mission district of SF, and that they’re opening a robataya right next door to the current location (saw some construction while waiting). But they do need to step that chashu game up…

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Japanese Santa Clara $ B+

Orenchi Ramen on Urbanspoon

Lucky Noodle King

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Lucky Noodle King
534 E Valley Blvd, Ste 10
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 573-5668
www.luckynoodleking.com

Funny how things turn out…

We had this grand plan of finally going to Chengdu Taste this past Saturday. I actually wasn’t the one who suggested it, because I was among Canto people, and you know how weak they are at handling spice ;). But my friend Ben lives near the restaurant, and was very curious about Szechuan/Sichuan cuisine. Of course, it didn’t take much to get me excited about going, and I even went as far as announcing our impending dinner on Twitter, and asking the local big shots (Clarissa Wei, David Chan, SinoSoul) what to order. Knowing how busy the restaurant is, especially after the J. Gold review, I suggested that we have dinner before 6pm. But NOOOOO – these idiots insisted on 7:30, even mentioning that an hour’s wait is doable. Little did they know…

I warned these idiots thusly – there were at least 20 parties ahead of us. We had planned on watching a movie at 10pm, so figured an hour’s wait was okay. But half an hour passed, and only 2 names were crossed out. Then an hour passed, and only another 2 were crossed out. People were not coming out – must be because of the free wi-fi! Anyways, there was no way we would get in and eat dinner before the movie, so unfortunately my dream of dining at Chengdu Taste will have to be fulfilled another day. Since we were so locked in on Sichuan food that night, I first thought of Chung King as the contingency plan – but they closed at 9 (c’mon, really?). But luckily (pun unintended), nearby Lucky Noodle King came to the rescue.

Lucky Noodle King had been on my to-dine list for quite some time, but it’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle when the Andrew Wiggins of the SGV universe enters the picture. The restaurant had the spotlight itself a couple of years ago, when J. Gold reviewed the place, and subsequently naming their dan dan mian as one of his top 10 dishes of that year (Mr. Chan echoes a similar sentiment) – so in no way should this dinner be considered some also-ran. We got there around 9, and the place was empty (they technically close at 9:30). But by mid-meal, the tiny restaurant was packed, all 5-6 tables of it. Upon being seated, we received a plate of spicy cabbage and peanuts, which set the mood for the night: Hot in Herre!

I consider my spice tolerance to be moderate, and it held up pretty well during dinner. But I sweat A LOT when I eat spicy foods (doesn’t help being fat), and I went through the napkins quickly – but it burned so good. We basically ordered the most basic of Sichuan dishes, since the guys weren’t familiar with the cuisine: water-boiled fish, mapo tofu, wontons in chili oil, Chongqing fried chicken, and of course the dan dan mian. The first 3 dishes were executed as well as any version I’ve had in the SGV. But let’s talk about this dan dan mian that’s so hot (again, pun unintended). Every version I’ve had of the dish goes heavy-handed with either the spice, the sesame paste, or the peanuts, but never all 3 aspects. But Lucky Noodle King balances these characteristics of the ideal dan dan mian well (although it might not seem like it above from the angle I shot the dish at), and they worked off all each other wonderfully.

The Chongqing fried chicken was the table favorite, but it was probably the weakest dish of the night for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, but I wanted the pieces of chicken to be crispier. Also, there seemed to be some bits of sugar tossed in – not sure if that’s supposed to be there, but I didn’t like the wok-charred pieces I ate, thinking that they were chicken (maybe the dish was Americanized for us?). Will probably try the intestine version next time, or get one of their hot pots or double-cooked pork – I will definitely be returning. Regardless, the dinner was a successful one, and we were lucky (okay, pun intended here) to have Sichuan food of this caliber while deciding on the fly.

And sorry for starting off this post so Chengdu Taste-heavy…

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Chinese San Gabriel $ B+

Lucky Noodle King on Urbanspoon

Ha Tien Quan

Bun Mam

Ha Tien Quan
529 E Valley Blvd, Ste 178A
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 288-1896

Despite domination of the San Gabriel Valley by the Chinese (at least from a culinary perspective), there is no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants in the area. You can most likely satisfy your cravings for pho, banh mi, or bun on just about every block of a major street. However, at Ha Tien Quan, a new-ish Vietnamese restaurant that opened on Valley Blvd in San Gabriel a few months ago, you won’t find any of those standard dishes. Instead, you’ll have to “settle” for dishes such as bun mam, an anchovy-based noodle soup with fish, shrimp, pork belly, and eggplant, and hu tieu nai sa-te, a lemongrass chili-based one with slices of deer. I doubt most people in LA, outside of regional Vietnamese households (Ha Tien is a city located in the southwest part of Vietnam, bordering Cambodia), have had these dishes.

So how did I hear of this restaurant, one with minimal critical and online presence? Well, there were a couple of places where Ha Tien Quan was featured, and they’re two very influential ones: LA Weekly, which featured the restaurant in a blog post before naming it one of their 99 Essential Restaurants of 2013, and the Gastronomer, who is one of the most respected food bloggers in LA and my go-to source for all foods Vietnamese. But all that this has resulted in are a dozen or so Yelp reviews and exactly zero reports from other publications/blogs; not that the restaurant is hurting for them though – we arrived on a Saturday night to a lively room, one that wasn’t completely full, but full of apparent regulars of the place who are friendly with the owner.

Although I felt a bit out of place (had the ambiance of a Vietnamese family gathering, one I was essentially crashing), I enjoyed my meal at Ha Tien Quan. I ordered the bun mam (which I described earlier), and it’s quite a genius bowl, combining both savory and sweet flavors, topped off by a briny effect from the anchovy broth that’s fantastically funky. It’s something I can get down to – or with, rather. The herbs and veggies that came on the side were also quite unique. We also split an order of banh khot, which are mini pan-fried rice cakes you eat with lettuce, herbs, and fish sauce (similar to banh xeo, which is more familiar to us novice diners of Vietnamese cuisine). The rice cakes are both airy and crispy, and even more delicious with all the accompaniments.

I look forward to my future visits to Ha Tien Quan and discovering new dishes to expand my Vietnamese palate repertoire. I might even be interested in trying the vegetarian versions of their dishes, which they serve (and those alone) only on every quarter and three-quarter moon days, in accordance to Buddhist traditions – check your lunar calendars.

Banh Khot

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Vietnamese San Gabriel $ B+

Ha Tien Quan on Urbanspoon