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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Allumette

Photo credit: Allumette

Allumette – CLOSED
1320 Echo Park Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 935-8787
allumettela.com

Another ambitious restaurant that was too ahead of its time? Or one that was the victim of the wrong location and target clientele?

I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, another critically-acclaimed restaurant in town decided to call it quits. On the surface, Allumette closing up shop at the end of June can be perceived as a huge surprise, as the restaurant was named as one of Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants and LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants for 2014, as well as being short-listed for Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants for 2013, among other accolades. However, the place was certainly hurting for business, and it was evident when we went the week before it was slated to close, and there were still maybe less than a handful of covers all night.

That’s a shame. While I’m not ready to bow down to the genius of Chef Miles, the talent is there, and Allumette had nowhere to go but up as time passes. A lot of the dishes were indeed very ambitious and loaded with multiple flavor components and textures. It was just a bit too…busy for me at times. But the vision is there – just needs time and editing (and restraint, to a certain extent). Unfortunately, this version modern American cuisine, one being targeted at a more approachable level and price, is not working in LA. Red Medicine, a restaurant I consider to be the finished product of what Allumette was headed towards, is closing at the end of this month, and from my visits (after the first time) there I can confirm that they were never nearly as busy as it was assumed.

As a town that has diminished the importance of Michelin-esque fine dining in favor of cuisines that capture a more approachable, global essence reflecting the melting pot that is LA, this type of cooking should be something that we self-proclaimed sophisticated diner should strive to accept. We don’t need another farm-to-table restaurant, or a gastropub. We need to start pushing the envelope, or else LA as a culinary haven will be left behind once again, and this time rightfully so.

Snacks:

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Potatoes a la Plancha – furikake aioli, parmigiano-reggiano, katsuobushi

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Potato Chips – smoked whitefish, uni cream, chive

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Baby Torpedo Onion Panisse – meyer lemon mustard, hibiscus, cilantro

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“Bread & Butter”

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Mini Lumpia

1st Course:

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Cucumbers – apricot fennel compote, ripe & unripe berries, white chocolate

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Blue Prawn – vinegar meringue, rice paper, leek

2nd Course:

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Summer Squash – white corn fondue, june garlic miso, sage

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Arrowtip Squid – pistachio ponzu, cherry, black mint

3rd Course:

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Octopus – za’atar yogurt, okra caviar, plum

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Ivory Salmon – soured celtuce, radish, beet syrup

4th Course:

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Branzino – shellfish tapioca, fried broccoli, lemon

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Pork Collar – pho charcoal, eggplant mayonnaise, pickled wasabi

5th Course:

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Toasted Barley Pot-de-Creme – jasmine, strawberry, rosemary

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Lemongrass Bavarois – hibiscus, oat, tangerine

Grade: B
Cuisine: American
Neighborhood: Echo Park
Price: $$$

Allumette 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

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

Sushi Tsujita

sushi tsujita

Photo credit: Sushi Tsujita

Sushi Tsujita
2006 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 231-1177
tsujita-la.com/sushi-tsujita

A brief first look at the new sushi restaurant from the Tsujita group that opened on Sawtelle last month, less than a block away from their ramen shops: we went a week after they opened, and my first impression was how pleasantly surprised I was by the dinner (disclaimer: we ate gratis , not as media, but as friends of Kenta-san, the Tsujita corporate chef). I say that because this is Tsujita’s first foray into sushi (to my knowledge), and I didn’t know how proficient they’d be at this. I’d say that for now it’s still below the likes of Shunji and Kiriko when talking about sushi in the area (as well as the city), but they compare very favorably to Q. The Tsujita folks certainly aren’t messing around when it comes to pumping money into the restaurant, and it shows in everything from the decor to, most importantly, the sourcing of the ingredients.

The restaurant brought Kato-san over from Japan to head the restaurant, and while he’s on the shy side (as well as speaking no English), he is surrounded by amicable itamae, who are veterans of places like Shunji. But make no mistake – Kato-san is the man in charge here. He’s doing the sourcing, he’s buying the groceries, and he’s doing the prep, right down to the soy. If I have any criticism, I’d say that the sushi rice can be inconsistent on a couple of nigiri. But it was only a week since opening, and there is nowhere to go but up for Sushi Tsujita. I look forward to returning soon, and hopefully will have the time to give a full, truly unbiased view. But thanks again to Kenta-san and the entire crew at Sushi Tsujita, who were excellent at making me feel at home.

FYI – they also started serving lunch, which includes chirashi and sushi set meals, respectively, at more economic prices.

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Steamed awabi (abalone)

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L to R: Aji nanbanzuke; Ayu w/ yuzu; Tamagyaki, hamoko (pike eel roe) & caviar

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Anago shinjo (sea eel cake/paste), yuzu & okra in dashi

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Whole steamed lobster

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Hata (grouper) kobujime sashimi (from Miyazaki)

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Momotaro tomato gazpacho w/ wine-soaked blueberry

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Kurodai (black sea bream)

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Shima aji (striped jack)

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Akami zuke (soy-marinated lean tuna)

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Kuromutsu (black porgy)

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Alaskan king salmon

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Hata, chutoro sashimi

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Amaebi

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Ikura

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Santa Barbara uni

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Saba

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Anago

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Otoro

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Miyazaki wagyu

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Okoze

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Kohada

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Tamago

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Melon compote

Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi
Neighborhood: Sawtelle
Price: $$$$ (omakase price points at $120, $150, and $180)

Disclaimer: Food for this meal was hosted (not for media, but f&f)


Sushi Tsujita 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

East Borough (Culver City)

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East Borough
9810 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 596-8266
culvercity.east-borough.com

East Borough, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s the partnership of a Costa Mesa restaurant of the same name and the team behind Pitfire Pizza/Superba Snack Bar, opened in Downtown Culver City a little over a month ago to much fanfare. Patrons raved about their lunch offerings of elevated versions of banh mi, bun, com, and other casual traditional Vietnamese dishes, as well as about their dinner offerings of a modern take on the cuisine with creative small plates and progressive large format dishes.

My coworkers and I went for lunch during their first week of opening, and were quite impressed. I ordered the pho baguette, which is basically a bowl of pho in banh mi form.  They don’t serve pho, but this proved to capture all the flavors and ingredients of what you’d find in the soup noodle: beef brisket w/ basil, bean sprouts, and chili (all the contents of a regular bowl of pho), topped w/ a clever sriracha hoison aioli, and served with an even more clever bowl of concentrated pho broth to be used as a dip for the sandwich – think banh mi French dip. A fairly straightforward translation, yes, but it does accurately capture the essence of pho. My coworkers seemed to enjoy their pork belly & egg rice bowl and tofu vermicelli noodles, respectively.

There is one issue most people will have with the restaurant (besides the difficulty of finding parking in Downtown Culver City): the prices. The appetizers are $6-8 (2 pieces of spring roll are $6) and entrees are $12-15 (including the banh mi – the pho baguette was $13). So yeah, not cheap at all. They do use high-quality ingredients, and portions are on the larger side, but that won’t make the prices easier to swallow for most. Some people, including coworker Han, refuse to pay this much for a sandwich that costs $2 in SGV/Little Saigon. It also doesn’t help that their Costa Mesa location, however more fast-casual, has basically the same menu at $3 less per dish. Dinner, which I have yet to try, is also on the higher side ($$$ price range), but at least the direction of the menu reflects that.

For now, East Borough is a great lunch option that isn’t necessarily priced as such. I definitely will be back (I’m especially looking forward to dinner), but during work hours it might have to be on someone else’s dime. Still, it’s by far the best of the Vietnamese offerings on the west side of town (over Nong La and Phorage), and certainly the most progressive-thinking. And they certainly know that they’re hot shit – rightfully so.

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Vietnamese Culver City $$$ N/A

East Borough on Urbanspoon