Monday, November 11, 2019

Fish For Days

Finding places that serve fresh properly prepared fish is like catching a prize; the light touch required to preserve the best flavors and textures must match with seasonings that compliment without overpowering the freshness of the fish. Thankfully there are a few places around Los Angeles that do a good job. 

Today's post focuses on three, Sonny's Bistro in San Pedro, Coni Seafood in Mar Vista, and Smitty's Fish in Culver City. 

Sonny's Bistro offers an incredible crunchy ahi salad for lunch for $14 using organic greens and topped with a generous serving of seared Ahi. 
One of my favorite fish is sand dabs, and they have them on their dinner menu for $24 with vegetables done in the old school style of capers and butter sauce.
Old school fish place Smitty's Fish and Chicken fries everything. All you have to do is choose what fish you prefer and if you want french fries, greens, and if you want to use one of the bottles of hot sauce on your meal. I chose the red snapper which came with tartar sauce (which I did not use), and
my friend got the mix of fried shrimp and fish, also served with tartar sauce and some more greens. Thankfully they did not overcook with the fry, but I found everything under seasoned. You get a good meal for under $20 in a fast food clean brightly lit atmosphere and brusque service if you can eat in, but if you live close by, I would recommend you take it home to enjoy in a more relaxed setting, perhaps with a nice glass of wine.
I've driven by Coni Seafood more times than I can count, but I'd never stopped by for their food until recently. Their service is fantastic, and their portions are so copious, I suggest you bring friends or be prepared to take some food home. Their ceviche may be ordered with raw or cooked seafood, so up to you how your prefer it. Their ceviche marinero has the addition of mango to the usual cucumber, tomato and onion. The serving is easily enough for four to share as an appetizer or 2 to share as a meal, so order accordingly! 
The smoked marlin tacos can be a hearty meal for one or an appetizer for three. If you have never eaten marlin before (I had not) this is a very hearty smoked fish, like smoked trout or smoked tuna. As you can see their tortillas are grilled flour and absolutely fresh!
If you only order one thing here, order the snook. It takes 30 minutes, and usually weighs around 2 lbs, so plenty to share or take home. It is insanely delicious with just a few bones, so be careful when eating it! It's served with some very salty caramelized onions, fresh flour tortillas, and fresh cucumbers. 

It's the priciest thing on the menu at around $35, but as you can see, it is great value and flavor for the price, so don't hesitate to go for it! For those who have never eaten snook, do not try to eat the skin of the fish, just scoop out the flesh and you can make your own fabulous fish tacos with the tortillas.
It's great to have several good options for fish besides the ubiquitous farmed salmon as the only fish option on so many menus!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Simpang Asia

I've never been to Indonesia, so Simpang Asia in Los Angeles was my journey  there by palate rather than by plane. 

Fried calamari for $10.50 are an easy choice for a starter, especially for a group who has never ventured into Indonesian cuisine. Nicely fried and not greasy, it was a good way to start the journey abroad.

Uduk Jakarta for $14.95 is Indonesian version fried chicken with crispy tofu, coconut rice, Simpang Sambal, and vegetables (that is raw cabbage in the picture). There was a crispy sprinkling of fried garlic and an addictive crunchy topping on the fried chicken that made it addictive.
When this dish arrived, we had to ask our waiter what it was...it is the dumplings we ordered! Cut up and smothered in a sauce atop cut up cabbage, this was not at all what we anticipated. It was my least favorite dish of the evening; a bit bland and soft, with nothing that made my taste buds say, "Hmmm".
Rice noodles are always a favorite, and if you are already familiar with Thai or Chinese dishes that use rice noodles, try the Indonesian version Kwetiaw Goreng for $11.95 with bean sprouts, Chinese greens and egg. The flavors are similar but vary just enough to let you know it is neither Thai nor Chinese, just simply delicious.
Nasi Bungkus is sampler of many flavors wrapped up in a gift wrap of a banana leaf. For $15.50, you get chicken curry, coconut beef steak, sambal egg, vegetable curry and rice wrapped in a banana leaf. It's easily enough for 2 people and the fragrant aromas when you unwrap your gift will be a present in and of itself!
Salted fish fried rice $12.50 was the surprise hit of the evening! I wanted it but thought that no one else at the table would be interested, so I was hesitant to even suggest it. Of course my food loving friends said, "Let's get it!" and everyone loved it so much we nearly ordered a second order! It had just enough of the comforting salty flavor in the rice that it was not overbearing, so it was a perfect compliment to the the more fragrant dishes on the menu.
They offer delivery, so if you are not coming in with a large group to share many dishes as I did, you can do the sharing at home (or not). The service is very efficient and friendly, and although the place is in a mini mall at a very busy corner intersection, they do offer valet parking. Simpang definitely whet my appetite for more Indonesian cuisine.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ela Greek Eats

Seeing photos from friends who were in Santorini made me miss Greek food, so I searched for a place that didn't require hours of travel (which in Los Angeles could mean going anywhere more than a few blocks away in traffic). Ela Greek Eats was a reasonable distance away and even if there is terrible traffic, you have the option of delivery via Caviar

This very modest eatery has beautifully simple decor with marble tables, large windows, and a decent amount of parking for a small mini mall at a busy intersection. Many people where getting their orders to go, but I opted to sit and enjoy the hot fresh food there since I snagged one of the primo parking places at lunch time.

When I saw Moussaka for $14 on the menu, it was an automatic choice, and this eggplant, zucchini, and beef classic was redolent in warm spices and savory flavors. Their version was one of the best I've eaten outside of Greece, and I highly recommend it, especially if you've never tried moussaka before. The portion is very large, so either share it or take your leftovers home for later:)
I've never tried chicken exohiko before, for $14, filo is stuffed with celery, mushrooms, chicken, and feta, creating an almost chicken pot pie filling in a crispy wrapping. If you don't know what to order and don't like beef or lamb, order this dish! This is a hearty portion, enough for a large appetite or for leftovers to take home.

There was a special cod dish for $17 the day I went. It had a light lemon flavor over beautiful slightly mashed potatoes that I would order again if it is offered as a special. I was very impressed by the freshness of the fish and the light handed cooking of this dish in a fast casual place!
Soutzoukakia, or the lamb meatballs with orzo for $14, is a delicious way to enjoy lamb with comfort food flavors.
The side dishes are worth ordering for $5, whether you choose the cauliflower with capers and anchovy (tastes much better than it may sound),
or the fabulous gigantes beans cooked with celery and carrots in a tomato dill sauce.
The baked falafel gyro for $10 with tzatziki, fresh greens, tomatoes, and red onions was just about the perfect Californian version, using farmer's market fresh ingredients, and classic preparation, and it is a perfect choice for vegetarians.
All the ingredients are marvelously fresh, well prepared, and brightly seasoned without overpowering any dish. Everything is served in compostable containers and they use compostable utensils and cups, so if you can't finish a meal, you simply take it home in the same container (with a lid).

The portions are large and the prices are very reasonable, so eat in or order in some Greek food from Ela unless your yearning to make the 30 hour flight to Greece is stronger than your desire to drive in Los Angeles traffic :)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ali'i Fish Co

Thanks to Yelp for the Elite invitation to try one of the poke bowls at Ali'i Fish Co in El Segundo gratis. Once I went in and tasted their poke, I went back with friends to taste some of their other choices. Their blackboard shows the extensive choices you have whether you stick to Hawaiian classics or want something a bit more Californian. If you prefer chicken to fish, they have options for that as well, and they have vegan options using tofu, so you may eat here with your non pescatarian friends. 



They will give you samples if you are undecided about which poke flavor you want, but for me the classic onion lomi was an easy choice. I added seaweed for an extra $1, and was pleased with the flavors and freshness. 
A non poke lover ordered the Huli Chicken for $11 that came with a choice of brown or white rice, as well as a salad. The char on the chicken was perfect, and it was so flavorful and moist that I stole a few bites.
For a return trip I ordered the blackened ahi salad for $15 that came with sides of soy and ponzu, but the fish was great with just a squeeze of lemon, and was such a large portion that I could have easily saved half for another meal, but I ate the whole thing :)
Whether you opt for the patio or inside, the service is friendly, the food is fresh and well prepared, and the prices are reasonable, so if you are passing by on your way to or from LAX, this is a great place to grab non airport food. They have a tiny lot that gets filled quickly, so park in the large lot across the street or on the street if you are going during popular meal times; for a new spot they are already on the local radar.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Elephante View

Some places have wonderful views and terrible food, some places have wonderful food and no view. There is a story told of a few places have that unique combination of both wonderful views and wonderful food. Like a unicorn, the existence of the ultimate view and food combination is a mythical fairy tale that I wish to believe is true, so I keep looking for it...

Elephante was rumored to be one of those places. So on one of the many sunny warm Sundays in Southern California, I went with my neighbors, two of whom had been there before and told me that they enjoyed it. 

We were one of the few tables with a child, and because we had reservations, we got one of the premiere view tables on the patio overlooking the Pacific. The vibe on a Sunday early afternoon was definitely a see and be seen. Younger crowd (at my age that translates to 20-30's) all dressed and groomed to the hilt, and everyone had roving eyes to see who had just arrived and who was to be the center of attention. It was a telling sign of the clientele that the private elevator to the top had a security guard who had just kicked out a young woman with a fake ID because he said she had the same name and birthday as the ID of another woman in her group! Ahhh to be that eager to be part of the "in crowd" and to be that careless in trying to pass off a fake ID!

Our view was spectacular!
One of our group is vegetarian, so our choices veered towards the meatless. The brussel sprouts with a mountain of pecorino for $13 was a fresh but not perky salad. The dressing was lemon and white balsamic, but we could taste neither.

The fried calamari for $14 with balsamic aioli was perfectly fried and tender, and we appreciated that the tentacles were included in the serving.
The whipped eggplant for $12 had a pleasant smooth texture, but gave none of us any desire to order it again aside from the warm soft puff of bread that came with it to be torn apart for dipping.

The mushroom wood-fired pizzas for $20 each were decent with a nice assortment of cremini, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, lemon cream and parmigiano reggiano were decent but not noteworthy. 
This is a good choice for a few bites but do not expect the be awed; 
that is why there is a view :)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Hai Di Lao Hot Pot

Many people have tried Chinese Hot Pot, but it's usually a communal pot where everyone dips whatever they wish into the common broth and then everyone personalizes their dipping sauces to their taste. Hai Di Lao gives everyone an opportunity to choose their own personal broth in heated stations at the table, ranging from mushroom, to miso spicy, to spicy. There are many ways to customize each soup base ranging from level of spice to kind of spice, and in some cases adding double umami to the mushroom base. 

Their location in Arcadia is in the Santa Anita Mall and has lines on par with Din Tai Fung, so either go very early or very late. The ordering system is nearly completely automated, so you will be ordering from an iPad (with pictures) at the table, as servers bring you any drinks, extras, or perform the special custom noodle dance for you! There are aprons/bibs for everyone and they are meant to be so soft and cute that you will want to buy one...like hotel robes that are extra fluffy :) They sell several of their items both online and in the restaurant, so if you want to try making your own at home you can.

This is a high end, high quality ingredient place, so expect to pay around $50 per person. The value is good for the choices, which range from wild Mexican Shrimp to kurobuta pork on the protein side, to yam noodles and assorted exotic mushrooms.

My choice of spicy soup base (I chose MEDIUM) was so spicy I had to have it changed out the mushroom. The smart waiter saw me suffering and said, "This is your first time here?" I learned after the fact that most people never order this hot pot base and only a few use it as an extra soup base. Even after rinsing off my meat in the mushroom base later, I was still tearing up from the spice :(
One of my friends ordered the miso spicy soup which was what I would do if I wanted spice. It was hot enough for a spie lover, but still edible.
The meat was incredible! The quality was evident in every bite; we got both the pork and New Zealand Lamb
This is the full spread for 3 of us, including from the top, the assorted vegetables, egg noodles, rice cakes, New Zealand lamb, exotic mushroom assortment, Mexican Wild Shrimp, and the kurobuta pork in the center.
We also had 2 glasses of decent wine, a non alcoholic drink, and we gorged on the sauce and dessert bar, which featured everything from macaroni salad and rambutan fruit, to mini fried sesame balls. 

It was a very fun evening out, with a noodle man pulling acrobatic noodles for nearby tables (you may order him for your table), then a dragon parade and magician giving the restaurant a festive show for young and old alike. For a celebration, this is a fun place with high quality food and presentations than most hot pot places. I would not come here alone or for a quiet meal, but definitely will be back with a group for more fun and food (and we will order the noodle man)!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Heroic Deli and Wine Bar

Yelp held an Elite Event event at Heroic Deli and Wine Bar a few months ago, and after tasting nearly the entire menu, I had to go back with a friend who loves authentic Italian food as much as I do (she speaks Italian and lived in Italy). The chef, Barbara Pollastrini, is one of only 40 Ambasciatori del Gusto (Ambassador of Taste), and the only one based in the US. Marry this kind of expertise with a wine list of bottles rated 90+ points  that exemplifies the best of Italy and California, and you have a destination worth visiting even if you are not a local. 

We got there early enough to begin with the Happy Hour menu and their cacio y pepe arancini for $8. It was a crisp peppery bite to start our taste buds salivating.
I love artichokes so next happy hour appetizer were the fried artichokes for $8, served with an aioli for those who like some creaminess to dip into. 
My friend and i had been sadly disappointed by the octopus we had ordered at another meal in a well known large restaurant downtown, but we were thrilled with the Polpo Croccante with potatoes for $24 here. The octopus was perfectly tender on the inside and crispy on the edges, with garlicky russet potatoes that were so good we nearly attacked the waiter who tried to take the plate away before we had eaten the last bite:)
One of the highlights was the fresh live Santa Barbara prawn and live uni on blue ocean pasta with crispy prawn head for $36. Thankfully we are good friends or we might have fought to eat this entire dish!
Because the chef makes her own guanciale, we finished our savory courses with the amatriciana for $22 with slow roasted tomatoes that showcased the quality of great ingredients expertly handled.
The owner Jeffrey Merrihue was there and remembered me from the Yelp event, so he offered us the torta di mele, a deconstructed apple pie ($10) with salt caramel, bufala ricotta, lemon zest and vanilla gratis and suggested that we try the Soave as a slight change from the Italian Chardonnay. Since I had only tried the Italian Chardonnay because of his suggestion at the Yelp Event, we tried the Soave and once again learned that there are many exceptions to a rule. Both wines were nicely balanced, the Chardonnay had no oak, and the Soave was not at all sweet! Bravo! Also bravo to our waiter who managed to exactly evenly split the last glass of wine we ordered into two equal servings :)
Heroic is a beautiful environment with excellent service, quality ingredients, and a talented chef, and has become one of my favorite places to eat in Santa Monica.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Bee Taqueria

When the owner of Pikoh said they were going to open a new place with a new chef Alex Carrasco from Mexico City (but who has worked in many prestigious places around town) in the West Adams neighborhood called Bee Taqueria, I filed it into my "To Be Tried" list, and I am glad I did! 

It is a welcome and very colorful addition to this up and coming neighborhood. Very casual, very unique, and very personable since the chef was both cooking and serving during the weekday afternoon.

The back patio portion is big enough to host a large function or be filled with food lovers on a sultry Southern California evening. They are beginning to host some taco omakase evenings, so I'm sure the place will be packed on those occasions.
I had to get a sampler of the tacos, which came with side beans, pickles, and consommé on hand made blue corn tortillas. Nothing on the menu is over $8 and they offer vegetarian options like beet for those who don't want to partake of the beef, lamb, or pork that were all distinctly delicious in different ways. I'm hard pressed to choose a favorite, but because I am a lamb fan, I slightly preferred the Cordero BBQ.
They were out of the ceviche, but not the fried ceviche made with Sea Bass :) The mix of the crunchy roasted corn nuts, sweet potato, and the acidic squeeze of lime juice, made this a lick the bowl kind of dish.
You order and pay at the window, and they *buzz* you when your order is ready for pickup. Come by before the buzz for this place created lines that will have people swarming!