HATCH Yakitori + Sticks

You can’t judge food by its appearance at the newer HATCH Yakitori + Bar located in DTLA’s The Bloc. If I did, I would have never tasted their delicious signature Japanese-style black karaage fried chicken on a stick.

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When it was first delivered to my table, I declined it. The two day brined chicken thigh meat is by far the ugliest item on the menu. It looks like nuggets of dry black coal, or a meteorite that dropped to earth from a far-off galaxy. This karaage gets its coloring by rolling the chicken pieces in squid ink powder, before deep frying and skewering with a stick.

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Noticing my friends animated and thrilled faces while devouring a plate of crispy black nuggets, I reluctantly squeezed a slice of grilled lime on top, dipped it in a black ranch aioli and took a bite. I will never turn up my nose again. The moist chicken meat has an exquisite balance of taste, texture, and aroma. The chefs use thigh meat, because it tastes better than breast meat. Legs of chickens are fundamentally different than drier and whiter breast meat. Thighs are built for endurance and contain a higher concentration of myoglobin which gives leg meat its characteristic dark color and umami-rich taste.

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What makes HATCH Yakitori + Bar unique is its Japanese style stick food and creative Japanese twist to cocktails. Bar Director James Fastiggi stirs things up by pairing fresh and innovative flavors with owner-partners Akarad “AK” Tachavatcharapa, Nara Latip, Partner and Executive Chef Daniel Shemtob’s exciting menu. 

When I requested a drink to start my culinary adventure, Fastiggi recommended the “Wassup Bae” made with Roku Gin, wasabi, cucumber, lemon juice, lemongrass syrup and a whisper of charcoal salt on the rim. He told me it’s a millennial favorite.

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Next I sipped a refreshing green Matcha Highball made with Iwai Whisky, coconut lemongrass nigori, lemon juice, house-made honey syrup and matcha powder. It’s poured into an ice-filled Collins glass and served with a metal straw. I learned that Iwai whiskey offers tasting notes of pear, quince, red fruits and vanilla. Matured in the finest Japanese handmade mizunara oak casks, it spends the last leg of its maturation at sea, with the salt air and ebb and flow of the tides enriching the whisky. This drink paired well with the crunchy avocado tuna toast on crispy rice with scallions and sesame seeds.

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While enjoying a “Mushroom Party” stick, I sipped a pleasing “The Rum Tum Tum” cocktail. It’s made with house-made tepache, a beverage of Mexican origins in which pineapples are fermented for seven days before spices are added, and then joined with Greenbar Spiced Rum, lemon juice, Demerara syrup and Angostura bitters. It’s a tropical vacation in a glass. There were three different types of grilled mushrooms on this “party” stick.

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Next we enjoyed sipping a Yuzu Sour paired with a plate of hamachi. This cocktail is a refreshing twist on a Pisco Sour and is presented with a pretty design on the creamy egg white foam. It’s also prepared with Iwai Whisky, yuzu liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup.

The prettiest pink drink named “For Goodness ‘Sake’” was decorated with an edible flower. It gets its dazzling color from a pour of prickly pear juice, dry sake, Tito’s vodka, lychee juice and pear syrup. This drink went well with chicken meatballs shaped as cigars on a stick and served with a side of savory egg yolk for dipping.

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A crowd favorite was the slightly sweet and spicy “Mangorita” made with Lunazul Tequila, house-made mango syrup, agave nectar, lime juice, orange bitters, and serrano pepper. The rim was slightly salty and peppery. We sipped this while enjoying a one bite Wagyu Beef A5 Nigiri. Chef Daniel cuts a thin slice the finest Japanese beef with delicate marbling evenly distributed throughout. He then brushes on a soy sauce they make in house, and lightly sears the beef with a cooking blowtorch before topping it with a crispy garlic chip.

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The “Tokyo Drift” drink has a pour of Kaiyo Whisky, Angostura & orange bitters, and a magic citrus elixir developed by Fastiggi. It was inspired by a savory sauce made by Chef de Cuisine Erick Cielo. This drink went nicely with the Agedashi Tofu. It’s a Japanese way to prepare silken firm tofu. First the tofu is lightly dusted with potato starch, cut into squares, deep fried until golden brown and served hot. The chefs top this tofu with umami flavor, paper thin bonito fish flakes and green chive ribbons.

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Besides cocktails, the bar also serves unfiltered and cloudy sake. American and Japanese beers on draft include Asahi, Sapporo, Orion, and Kirin, as well as Coedo Shiro Hefeweizen Wheat Beer, Samurai Blonde Ale, Delicious IPA, and the Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale. Two varieties from the Kyoto Brewing Company are served in bottles. They serve Kyoto Matcha IPA and Kyoto Kuromame Black Soybean Ale.  Ginger beer includes a 8% alcohol content Hitachino Ginger Brew.

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During Happy Hour Chef Daniel offers one hour of discounted oysters that can be ordered chilled, grilled, or fried accompanied by ume mignoette. There are plates of slow cooked miso pork spare ribs glistening with a spice blend, miso caramel and green onions. House sake, wine and beer by the glass are available at special prices.

HATCH Yakitori + Bar is open for lunch every Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for Dinner every Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m, Friday and Saturday the restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday dinner service begins at 6 p.m. Happy Hour is every Monday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. $$ 700 W. 7th St. (213)282-9070.

This article was also featured in the Beverly Press.

 

Pine & Crane leaves you pining for more

I’ve often driven by Pine & Crane and have noticed a long line of people winding out the door. The popular Taiwanese-Chinese restaurant is a fast-casual operation where guests place their order at the counter and then find a table or spot at the wooden communal table. There’s room for 40 diners inside, or you can find a seat outside at the Sunset Triangle space, but, you must take your food to go.

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The vegetables used to make the innovative dishes are from chef Vivian Ku’s family farm in Bakersfield. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

My friend Mary and I looked over the chalkboard menu of shareable small plates, vegetables and noodles, and selected a beverage. There is a choice of exotic Chinese and Taiwanese loose leaf teas, iced teas including a floral jasmine green tea, passionfruit black tea, and bubble milk teas made with whole milk, house simple syrup and optional Boba pearls. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s. The taro milk tea is a creamy lavender color made with real taro, whole milk, taro powder and optional chewy tapioca balls resting on the bottom of the glass. Mary ordered the sea salt black milk tea topped with an in-house sea salt whipped cream. They also make a sea salt jasmine tea that is a delightful balance of sweet and savory.

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For beer and wine drinkers they offer a rotating selection of beers on draft including Smog City Little Bo Pils and a Boulevard Tropical Pale Ale that offers bright refreshing flavors of grapefruit and passion fruit accented by citrusy hops. It’s the perfect pairing with the beef roll.

Wine can be ordered by the glass or bottle. The rotating list might include a Teutonic Riesling from the Willamette Valley offering notes of apple, honeysuckle and pear. The Chahalem Chardonnay offers ripe golden apples with hints of peach and papaya. It pairs nicely with the autumn Kabocha squash dumplings.

For those looking for sake, they offer a Gekkeikan Nigori which is thicker, cloudy and creamier in texture. They also pour a connoisseur glass of sake, Sho Chiku Bai Junmai Ginjo offering a silky-smooth, rich texture with fruity flavor.

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We found a table for two along the wood banquette wall and admired the modern dining room with concrete flooring, light wood ceiling and natural light streaming in from the front windows. Our dishes were delivered to our table rather quickly and first to arrive were four panfried Kabocha squash dumplings. Kabocha is also known as Japanese pumpkin, with an orange, fluffy texture that offers a sweeter than butternut squash flavor.

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Pine & Crane’s owner and chef Vivian Ku offers organic, seasonal produce in many of the dishes. She gets her veggies from her family farm in Bakersfield. The Ku farm has supplied Asian markets in Southern California with their produce for over 20 years. When available, guests dining at Pine & Crane can purchase Ku’s produce to take home.

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We ordered the wood ear mushrooms grown at Ku’s farm. The chef adds sesame oil, soy sauce and a little rice wine to dazzle them.

The eggplant from the farm is sliced and sautéed with basil and chiles until soft in texture and filled with wonderful balanced flavors.

Our friendly server brought us a beef roll made with a deep-fried scallion pancake that is rolled like a burrito. This shareable dish is filled with pieces of seasoned beef shank, long slices of cucumber, scallions and cilantro. Cut into four large bite size pieces, I took one and dipped it into the accompanying slightly sweet hoisin sauce with a touch of ginger. Mary raved about this popular roll, and we noticed over half the diners were enjoying a roll on their table.

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The Dan Dan noodles at Pine & Crane are prepared Taiwanese style rather than the spicier Sichuan version. They’re milder, with more sesame, peanuts and just a dash of house-made chili oil. The large white bowl of noodles had long strips of cucumber, small scallion medallions and sprigs of cilantro. The sesame-peanut sauce adds a touch of sweetness to this shareable dish.

There are about a dozen items to choose from on the small plate menu and even more on the rotating cold appetizer section, plus noodles and rice. With so many more dishes to try on the menu, I plan to come back again soon.

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Pine & Crane does not take reservations, and seating is first-come, first-serve. I recommend calling ahead to see how busy they are in the dining room. Open Wednesday through Monday from 12 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. $$. 1521 Griffith Park Blvd. (323)668-1128.

 

Delicious Taiwanese Lunch with Comedian Rob Schneider

IMG_8450Actor, comedian, SNL superstar, screenwriter and director Rob Schneider and I were among the guests invited to attend the “Overseas Quality Restaurant” awards ceremony and cooking demonstration yesterday, Sept. 29 at the Culture Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in El Monte.

Awards were given to Taiwanese restaurant owners serving authentic Taiwanese cuisine in the United States and Canada. There are at least 16 restaurants in Southern California that earned a Taiwanese Excellence designation.

After the awards ceremony and before the cooking demonstration, Schneider came over to my table and placed a hand on my back and his friend David, who was sitting next to me. I asked Schneider what was he doing at this Taiwanese luncheon, he replied, “I am a huge fan of the Taiwanese.”

He told me that he is a “rock-star” in Taiwan, because of his movie Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. “Taiwanese have a huge heart and love to laugh.”

He has been invited by Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau to promote “Taiwan Tea Adventure” and bike tours on the island. He also took his wife to IMG_8415Taiwan in 2011 for their nine-day honeymoon.

When culinary star and chef Theresa Lin, known as “The Julia Child of Taiwan” urged Schneider to come up front during the cooking demonstration of “Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, she gave Schneider a bowl of Chinese leeks and told him to take a hand full. “This is Chinese Viagra,” she said with a giggle. “Your wife will be very busy tonight.” The guests laughed with Schneider.

After the demonstration, Schneider and I sat down at our assigned round table to enjoy some of Schneider’s favorite Taiwanese food. The nine course lunch included:

First course – Dried mulberries, mango and Roselle – a species of Hibiscus native to West Africa. China is one of the largest producers of Roselle. The Taiwanese like to make the red color Roselle into a tea for its health benefits to the stomach, liver and kidneys.

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Second course – The salty and fishy tasting Mullet roll with slice radish.  Third course – A fried bread coffin box made with thick cut bread is dipped in egg, deep-fried, cut along three sides, opened and filled with shrimp, chicken and a variety vegetables.

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Fourth course – Chou’s shrimp roll wrapped in tofu paper and fried in canola oil and served with young ginger.

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Fifth course – a popular Southern Chinese dish – fish ball soup made with fish, flour and flavorings in a clear broth with lettuce.

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Sixth course – Taiwan’s beef noodle soup with very thin, long noodles. The history of this dish is over 100 years. During Typhoon season in Taiwan from June to September, fisherman can’t fish in the ocean, so everyone eats these delicious noodles. “This is pure comfort food,” said Brad Shih, Director of Taiwan Tourism Bureau Los Angeles, as he reached over to enjoy another bowl. This dish was enhanced with refreshing cilantro.

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Seventh course – Eel with noodles. Eighth course – Congee was served. It’s a thick rice porridge popular in Taiwan. It is most often served with side dishes, such as meat, fish, and flavorings and easy to digest. This one had fish with its skin.

IMG_8430Nine Course – Almond Jelly. It’s like an almond flan and served with diced red beans.

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Also a plate of sliced watermelon, strawberries and pineapple were delivered to the table before the lunch was over.

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Whew! What a delicious lunch! Thank you Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles and Taiwan Tourism Bureau Los Angeles.

Duck, Duck, Goose Dinner

IMG_4899You can’t help but say “wow” when you walk through the red lacquered door of Chi Lin. Located next to the romantic RivaBella Italian restaurant on Sunset Blvd., the décor inside Chi Lin is dark and sexy with an alluring jet black and red color palette.

Hundreds of small lanterns are suspended from the ceiling. The inspiration of this lighting was based on the ships sailing into Hong Kong harbor.

The front fountain adds some Feng Shui to the restaurant, while a retractable metal roof allows the outside to come in on warm summer nights.

Panes of glass in the dining room display garden vignettes of a butterfly migration path with colored lights creating different seasonal themes. It’s exquisite.

I dined with a group of Chinese food aficionados to enjoy Chi Lin’s Tuesday night Peking duck special – “Duck, Duck, Goose” dinner.

Our server, Thomas, first brought us a light pink Grey Goose sparkling Mau cocktail made with vodka – the goose part of the dinner.

Three crepes filled with generous pieces of crispy Peking duck skin and topped with julienne cucumbers and scallions were served with hoisin sauce toIMG_4908 enhance the sweetness of the duck. Alan Young, the assistant general manager of Chi Lin explained the duck is air dried for eight hours.

“We stuff each duck with secret Chinese ingredients and roast them for almost one hour,” Young said. “While it’s roasting, we glaze the duck to give it a lacquered shine.”

As one plate was taken away, another arrived with wok sautéed Peking duck, Chinese broccoli, scallions and ginger scented heirloom rice. The two courses of duck with a cocktail is well-priced at $24 per person. Chi Lin’s signature full order of flavorful Peking duck is $68 and feeds up to four guests.

All of the dishes on the menu are now being prepared by the new Executive Chef Tyson Wong Ophaso. As a former “Iron Chef” alum, Ophaso is from New York and classically trained in Asia, France and the East Coast. He has enhanced the menu created by Chef Yujean Kang. While on Iron Chef, Chef Ophaso competed against the famous Chef Morimoto.

Wanting to experience more of the dishes from this talented chef, we ordered additional family-style dishes to share around the table. The tender filet mignon with black pepper sauce was topped with Thai and Opal basil with flash fried – crispy Shiso leaves. It was spectacular.

Peking prawns are tossed in a wok with piquant Peking sauce and served on a bed of chive blossoms.

Thin slices of steamed Chilean sea bass bathed in a light Soya sauce, ginger and scallions were delicious.

My favorite was the Yu-Shiang style eggplant chips made with baby eggplant and I will order this again on my next visit.

IMG_4922For dessert, we shared a luscious green tea layer cake filled with green tea mascarpone mousse and raspberries. And a beautiful cake with a Chi-Lin chocolate custard with five-spice ice cream. The prettiest dessert was the exquisite Yuzu cheesecake made with an Oolong shortbread crust and topped with a lychee elderflower relish. These desserts completed a wonderful Hong Kong meal with a modern twist.

Valet parking is available in front for $10 if you get your ticket validated. $$ Prices range from $8 to $68. Open for dinner nightly at 6 p.m. 9201 W Sunset Blvd. (310)278-2068.

 

Mo-Chica

DSC_0084The special tasting menu featured on Tuesdays at Mo-Chica encouraged me to gather a group of friends to experience Chef Ricardo Zarate’s Peruvian cuisine.

We sat in the back room of the restaurant admiring the vibrant red walls with the words “Mo-Chica” in big letters. A hip-looking llama by famed local graffiti artist Kozem enhances this urban restaurant’s unique vibe.

Looking over the cocktail menu by Deysi Alvarez, we ordered watermelon margaritas – a melon libation with a sweet yet spicy zing – and Peruvian maids, which is similar to a mojito with albilla pisco, cucumber, mint, fresh lime and evaporated cane syrup.

Later we ordered a couple of white wines from Argentina and Spain. The Catena chardonnay offered a hint of honeyed tropical fruit flavors.

Three of us selected the five-course tasting menu for $27 per person. The first course was a salad of vine-ripened roasted heirloom tomatoes with smooth burrata, huacatay pesto (Peruvian black mint) and crunchy quinoa, which originated in Peru.

Chef Zarate enjoys using quinoa and Peruvian black mint in many of his dishes.

One friend ordered a la carte off the main menu. Her grilled artichoke was topped with huacatay pesto.

Our second course was an interesting ceviche trio. Our favorite was the Hokkaido (Japanese) scallops with bottarga (a shaved Mediterranean cured fish roe) resting next to monkfish liver with cherry marmalade. Liver of any kind is definitely an acquired taste. The cherries do sweeten its distinctive flavor. Last, was a delicate bite size piece of Hamachi (Japanese yellowtail) with a slightly salty seaweed salad.

The third course was a roasted chicken thigh layered with truffles. The flavors were intensified with Shitake mushrooms and a jalapeno sauce. Our server Jean, from Lima, DSC_0091explained that the sauce is made with tofu to thicken it without having to add any fat. It was a gorgeous dish. We all enjoyed the golden colored Kobacha, a Japanese winter squash.

After taking a bite of the magnificent short rib entrée, we all agreed this dish was the best of the four served. The meat was incredibly tender and full of distinctive flavors that soaked into the creamy quinoa risotto.

Our last course was a splendid slice of tres leches cake. One friend commented that she wished the cake was soaked with more leche, yet she liked that it was accompanied with a blueberry sauce as well.

We asked Jean which Peruvian dishes on the menu were foods that he ate as a young boy. He said that his grandmother would always make him Papa a la Huancaina –  a dish of Peruvian potatoes, olives, and hard-boiled egg with a spicy cheese sauce made with Peruvian aji Amarillo peppers. Chef Zarate offers his version with green beans and bacon to elevate it to a more modern culinary comfort food.

Upon leaving, we all agreed that Chef Zarate’s beef short ribs were the highlight of the tasting menu. Many top-notch restaurants in Los Angeles serve beef short ribs for $27. At Mo-Chica, it was one of the five courses served for that same price.

Come try the Tuesday tasting menu at Mo-Chica. The dishes will vary each week, yet I guarantee that you will enjoy the unique flavors and creative presentation of Chef Zarate and his talented culinary staff.

Open for lunch and dinner. The lunch special is two daily dishes with rice and a dessert for $15 per person. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.  Lunch service begins at 11:30 a.m. Come between 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to get 20 percent off your bill. Dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. $$ 514 W. 7th St. (213)622-3744. http://www.mo-chica.com.

Published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

 

The Pleasing Paiche

IMG_1420Chef Ricardo Zarate’s newest restaurant, Paiche in Marina del Rey, opened earlier this month to a standing-room crowd. I was invited to a pre-opening “hard-hat” tasting a few days earlier and saw two young artists with brushes in hand applying gold paint on to floor to ceiling cobalt blue posts. They were replicating the scales of the Paiche fish, the restaurant’s namesake.

“Paiche is a large freshwater fish found in the Amazon,” Zarate said. “The babies can be around 10 to 14 pounds. The adults grow up to over 400 pounds.” The bigger fish are known to come out of the water to snatch small land animals walking along the Amazon basin.

Cooking has been a part of Zarate’s life from an early age, he said. With 12 brothers and sisters, he often helped out in the kitchen. “I’m number 11, one of the youngest,” Zarate said. “I didn’t realize I wanted to work as a chef until I was 16-years-old. I just knew that I enjoyed cooking for others,” he said.

Later, he studied at Institute of Americas Culinary School and after graduating, settled in London. He worked at various restaurants and consulted with Gordon Ramsay before coming to Los Angeles and opening Mo-Chica in 2009, his first of three restaurants.

Located in downtown Los Angeles, Mo-Chica is named for the language of a pre-Incan civilization. Zarate’s authentic Peruvian food became so popular, that he had to move to a bigger space on 7th street in 2012.

Next came Picca, which means, “to nibble.” It’s a Peruvian cantina with a Japanese cuisine influences. Zarate has a chef’s counter where guests can dine and watch the chef and his staff prepare creative nouvelle dishes.

Paiche is the third creation from Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2011. It has a Japanese Izakaya feel with lacquered wood tables and Zen-like Steelite International plates.IMG_1435 Small smooth stones are at each place setting for guests to rest their chopsticks.

Ricardo puts passion into his creative plates and enjoys using yuzu, an aromatic Japanese citrus fruit.  We tasted yuzu with the seared albacore salad topped with a hard-boiled quail egg. He also adds a hot pepper sauce called aji in many dishes. It has been used in Peru since the times of the Incas, and is a staple in Peruvian cooking.

Since Chef Ricado Zarate has hit L.A.’s restaurant scene, he has opened three restuarants, Mo-Chica, Picca and now Paiche. He was named “Best New Chef” in 2011 by Food and Wine magazine. One of my favorite dishes was the eggplant with a slightly spicy aji and miso sauce. Microgreens and shaved Parmesan cheese topped this vegetarian dish.

We tried various fish dishes and really enjoyed the crispy fish with a slightly tart lime yuzu dipping sauce.

Zarate is known for his beautifully presented ceviche dishes. The seared tuna tartar was ceviche style, topped with caviar and served with crisp wonton chips.

A satisfying plate of yellowtail and salmon served sashimi style arrived with a sweet miso sauce and topped with garlic chips. Another dish of seared albacore and halibut is bathed in a pool of aji amarillo aioli.

IMG_1446Three pieces of Amazonia paiche were plated in an aji amarillo lemon vinaigrette with a sweet potato mousse on top and a crunchy sweet potato chip. It was a light, buttery type of fish. Now I know why this is the most requested fish in South American restaurants.

One of the most dramatic looking dishes to be sent to our table was a Santa Barbara prawn with its head and all, wrapped in filo dough, fried and slicked with a spicy jalapeno ponzu dressing. The sauce was tart and a dark brown color.

King crab legs accompanied Diver scallops with a red chili rocoto amarillo sauce.

We gave a thumbs up to the bite-size stuffed yucca beignets filled with Manchego cheese and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Patiently, we waited for the dessert of a puff pastry filled with sweet potato and topped with a pumpkin cream with caramel and toasted pecans.

The residents of Marina del Rey are fortunate to have Paiche and Ricardo Zarate in their neighborhood. It’s an exciting culinary destination for foodies to sip a glass of wine, sake, or creative cocktail as they experience a rollercoaster of pleasing sensations. Open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Dinner begins daily at 5:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. 13488 Maxella Ave. (310)893-6100.

This review was published in the 4/25/13 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Wokcano has a Wow Factor

IMG_1311“Want to try Wokcano on Third Street with me?” I asked a fellow restaurant writer. “Sure, I’ve never tried it,” Gerry replied. I told her, “ Wokcano doesn’t only serve sushi and sashimi, they also serve marvelous Chinese food.”

The manager Aaron greeted me and led me to a table under a padded white wall. Since I was the first to arrive, I looked over the lunch menu and noticed that lunch special start at $7.50. I asked Aaron for some recommendations. “We are unveiling our new menu today,” he said. “We have a really nice seared salmon carpaccio.”

It arrived thinly sliced with a hint of white truffle and housemade ponzu sauce. On top was a sprinkle of caviar. As I picked up the coral colored fish with chopsticks and placed it in my mouth, I gasped, “This is so soft and luxurious.”

IMG_1293My friend Gerry arrived just as Aaron brought out his favorite dish, the black pepper beef mignon. Tender chunks of beef were quickly stir fried with onions and glazed with a rich black pepper sauce. He also brought out a plate of the crispy honey walnut shrimp with sweet honey walnuts and a few broccoli florets. “The staff all love this dish,” shared Aaron.

A few minutes later, Aaron arrived at our table with a handsome young Chinese man. “This is the owner, Michael Kwan,” announced Aaron. Kwan joined us at our table. Born near Canton, China, Michael shared with us how he moved to the United States with his family when he was 16. He attended Alhambra High School, but didn’t like school, so instead of going to college, he worked at a restaurant in Chinatown.

“We opened a family Chinese restaurant, The Islands in 1995,” shared Michael. Located on Third Street it was a 1400 sq. ft. space and sat about 60 guests. “We had three employees at the time. My brother Marcus and I did everything,” said Michael.

In 2002, the brothers thought the Chinese restaurant was getting “boring” and decided to change the concept of the restaurant to include more of an Asian-fusion twist by combining Chinese with Japanese. “We built our first sushi bar,” said Michael, “and changed the name to Wokcano.”

In just over 10 years, Michael and Marcus have opened 6 more Wokcano restaurants. The locations include Burbank, downtown Los IMG_1295Angeles, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Long Beach and Valencia. The brothers now have 700 employees.

Michael wanted us to try the new Vegan Kung Pao chicken. Its protein is made from tofu and served with sliced asparagus, onions and crunchy peanuts. The dish is not too spicy. “We also prepare a Vegan chicken low mein,”shared Michael. My friend and I remarked that it looked and tasted just like chicken.

Flash fried Brussels sprouts and asparagus topped with crispy garlic, pepper, and sea salt arrived with my favorite dish of the day; Peking duck rolled in a thin and translucent rice wrapper with scallions, cucumber, avocado and cilantro. In the center of the plate was a dish of slightly sweet plum hoisin sauce.

IMG_1303Michael handed us the dinner menu to glance over. A few items caught my attention, such as monkey brain? It’s a tempura avocado stuffed with spicy tuna, crabmeat and topped with a spicy eel sauce. I liked the sound of a Peacock roll, red Dragon roll and Late Night Party Roll with crabmeat, avocado topped with baked lobster, scallops and green onion covered with a creamy sauce.

When the creative Maki rolls filled with spicy tuna arrived my stomach was saying “no,” yet my eyes said, “Just try one or two more bites.” I got smart. I took a bite and then asked for box to take the leftovers home.

My friend Gerry liked the spicy salmon on crispy rice. It reminded me a little of lox on top of slightly crunchy hash browns. The crispy rice was terrific.

A sushi plate arrived with fresh tuna, albacore and yellow tail. They already had such great flavors, that we didn’t need to dip them into soy sauce. In fact, the soy sauce dish remained full during our lunch.

The last to arrive were steamed wontons filled with chicken and shrimp. They were lightly dressed with sesame oil and soy sauce.IMG_1307 Fortunately, they were light, so I ate two.

Michael told us he loves to cook. He takes Sundays off to cook for his family. Each week it’s a surprise dish. Afterwards, the family gathers in another room to play Mahjong.

This Wokcano offers delivery service. Come during Happy Hour from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily, a California roll is only $3.50. Monkey Brain is $7. The grilled asparagus with white truffle sauce and crispy garlic is only $2.50. Many of the selected sushi is under $3. Enjoy these dishes with reasonably priced wine, beer and sake.

The restaurant offers one-hour free valet parking during lunch. 8408 W. Third St. (323)951-1122.

This article was published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on March 21, 2013.

To learn about the other Wokcano locations, go to: www.wokcanorestaurant.com Continue reading “Wokcano has a Wow Factor”

Sexy Katana Robata and Sushi Bar

As I turned into an underground parking structure and left my keys with a valet, the sexy Katana experience begins at the elevator. Riding up to the restaurant, the door opened, and I was greeted by three attractive hostesses dressed in black.  I made a mental note; one must be beautiful to be hired at Katana. Looking good in a black mini skirt helps too.

My group was seated on the front patio facing the energetic Sunset Blvd.

The restaurant is located in a beautiful 1920s building that shares space with Miramax Films. Originally built as an apartment building for the entertainment elite, you never know who you might see while sitting in comfortable chairs next to heaters and flaming tiki torches.

The restaurant is dark and cozy allowing guests to snuggle up while sharing sushi and sake together.

Katana is different than most Japanese restaurants with its open robata grill. A robata is an ancient style of Japanese cooking with skewers.

To continue reading my review, click on this link http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2012/07/sexy-katana-robata-and-sushi-bar/ courtesy of the Beverly Press. Published on July 5, 2012.

Mandarette

In 1975, Mandarin restaurant opened in Beverly Hills serving exotic Chinese food in an elegant atmosphere for dining and special occasions. Since it was a huge success, the owner, Cecilia Chaing and her son Philip Chiang opened another restaurant on Beverly Blvd. – Mandarette (little orange), a smaller and more relaxed eatery.

Today, Mandarette is still going strong after 25-years thanks to Ken Yang’s family. “My father was a chef at Mandarette Café in the 80s,” Yang said. “Philip Chiang sold the restaurant to my father and then went on to open his first P.F. Changs.”

After some research, I discovered that Chiang dropped the “i” in his last name. He teamed up with Paul Fleming (P.F.) and incorporated both of their names into the mega-successful Chinese Bistro style-restaurant.

Yang’s sister ran Mandarette for years and recently turned the responsibility over to her brother, Ken. “I was born in Taiwan, lived in Japan and graduated from Boston University,” Yang said. As an aerospace engineer for years designing radar enhancement devices, he always had a pulse in the restaurant business due to his family’s involvement in Mandarette. “I took over in April 2011, when my sister was ready to retire,” he said. “Our methodology is not to serve traditional Chinese food with heavy sauces, starches and MSG. Instead, we cook in a more healthy way. We focus on the quality of food and use more California flavors,” Yang said. “Also, we only have Chinese chefs in our kitchen.”

Eager to try some of his dishes, my friends and I asked our server, Nesia, which are some of the most popular dishes. Without hesitation, Nesia announced, “The strawberry shrimp.” The shrimp is adorned with sweet ruby-red strawberries and broccoli. It’s addictive and a first-rate dish.

Click on this link to read the rest of my review http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2012/05/mandarette-cafe-california-chinese-still-delights-after-25-years/. Courtesy of the Beverly Press and published on 5/ 17/ 12.

Ikemen: The Dipping Ramen

While dining with another restaurant reviewer last week, she told me about her new favorite restaurant, Ikemen. “It isn’t fancy, but the dip ramen is so delicious, that my boyfriend and I eat there twice a week now,” she said. Wow, that piqued my interest. Since it’s located right on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and La Brea, I thought I better give it a try to let our readers know about this new find.

In the middle of a dense mini-mall is an unassuming Dip Ramen House. If you can find a coveted (there are only ten spots for six businesses) parking spot, you should consider yourself lucky.

Ikemen had a line of four people already waiting for the noontime opening. It’s the type of place you can comfortably dine alone, because it is small and the servers are friendly. There are only two tables. One that seats four and the other seats two. The rest of the patrons sit at tiled counter tops with bar stools. Not only is it tiny, but it’s dark and cool inside. Not temperature cold, but in attitude.

Courtesy of the Beverly Press – Park La Brea Newspaper. Published on Jan. 5, 2012. To finish my review click on this link via Ikemen: The Dipping Ramen.

Japanese Food with an American Flair

Gazing out a window facing Third St. near the Beverly Center, I watched various people walking by, while waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. A server inside The Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya, welcomed me and handed a packaged pre-moistened terry cotton towelette and two menus. Hungry patrons entered and took seats at the sushi bar and various tables.

An Izakaya in Japan is a popular sake spot. People come in and sip sake and other drinks while enjoying small-bites after work. Here in Los Angeles, The Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya is a neighborhood place where people flock for sushi, sashimi and other Japanese specialties.

This is one of five restaurants Katsuya Uechi owns in the Los Angeles area.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, he arrived to the U.S. in the mid 1980s and worked in a few restaurants. Then in 1997, Katsuya opened his first restaurant in Studio City. What made his restaurant a success, was that Chef Katsuya studied the eating habits of his American guests and mixed California-style into his traditional Japanese dishes.

Read the rest of my review courtesy of the Beverly Press/Park La Brea News, published on Dec. 29, 2011. Click on this link via The Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya: Japanese Food with an American Flair.

Sushi Roku on Third

Walking into Sushi Roku on Third Street, I noticed cords of rope hanging from the ceiling, called “nawa-noren” which are symbols indicating the establishment is a traditional Japanese restaurant. The lighting enhances the Japanese theme and the long sushi bar.

“We have the longest sushi bar of all the Sushi Roku restaurants,” said Joe Ando, assistant Manager of the Hollywood location. “We also have an incredible Sushi Master, Juri. He has been here since the restaurant opened in 1997. The most popular seats in the restaurant are the two at the sushi bar in front of Juri,” Ando said.

Juri was born and raised in Los Angeles. After he finished high school, he went to Japan and apprenticed with some of Japan’s greatest sushi masters for four years to become a sushi chef back here with Innovative Dining Group. Juri found his home at Sushi Roku, where he weaves elements of cuisine from all over Japan.

Read the rest of my review by clicking on this link via Sushi Roku. Courtesy of the Beverly Press newspaper.

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