Banchan, Burgers, & Banh Mi

Banchan

My latest foodie adventures at some LA restaurants are brought to you by the letter B.

Lets start with Korean food. This is my new favorite food territory to explore. Sure, I have cooked galbi short ribs, had lots of delicious kimchi, and I’ve eaten some Korean fusion at Roy Choi’s restaurants, but I had never eaten a full Korean BBQ before. I live in Los Angeles, shame on me. My friend recently took me to Genwa, located in the mid-Wilshire area. It was a crazy good Korean smorgasbord. We had galbi, bulgogi, and seafood pa jyun. The galbi was meaty and rich. The bulgogi is sliced so thin it just makes it so easy to go back for more. The seafood pa jyun was a pancake filled with scallions and tender squid accompanied by a spicy dipping sauce – this sounds so simple, yet the flavors were so complex that I couldn’t stop eating it. And then there was the Banchan! It was so much fun to try all the different flavors and textures: lots of pickled vegetables, fish cakes, and little crunchy fish that I loved. I cannot believe I waited this long to try all this delicious goodness. Can’t wait to introduce my kids to this – I know they’re going to love it. Next stop, Honey Pig in Koreatown, where they make fried rice with your leftover banchan that you can have as a late night snack. How cool is that?! I highly recommend you seek out some Korean food wherever you live.

burger

Next are Burgers and Breakfast from Hinano Café in Venice. Hinano Café is one of the last divey places around Venice. With Abbot Kinney nearby, full of overpriced, overhyped restaurants that are too cool to put a sign up with their name (a pet peeve of mine), Hinano is a gem. You can get a great burger with their special seasoning blend, along with chips, for 6 bucks. You can also get huge, satisfying breakfasts for 5 bucks (the Western Omelet with hashbrowns and sourdough toast = yum). And you can get beer, because it’s not only a café, it’s also a bar!   The burgers are good, the beer is cold, and the staff is friendly. One of the owners, Andy, recently coordinated donations of burgers and all the fixin’s to my kids’ elementary school for a fundraising carnival we were having. Their donation was so generous, down to every detail, and because we had Hinano Café headlining the food, swarms of people bought food and we raised more money than we’ve ever raised before! These are good people. If you live in the area, go and support them and eat some good food.   *You have to be 21 to enter, but if you want the kids to join you for some good grub, just get some food to go and walk to the beach for a picnic. They are located at the end of Washington Blvd., near the beach.

Banh2

Aptly named, Banh Mi, this new restaurant serves, you guessed it, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. There’s not much Vietnamese food ‘round these parts, so this new place is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I tried the Oink Mi: caramelized pork belly, golden-browned shallots, garlic country pate spread, pickled daikon/carrots/cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno, and chili mayo on a freshly baked baguette. The pickled veggies balanced the succulent pork perfectly. The sandwich wasn’t cheap at $13, but it was large. I should mention that I don’t really like sandwiches, mainly because I’m pretty picky about bread, and I think a lot of sandwiches are boring – with the exception of banh mis. The pickled vegetables, cilantro, and heat make them so interesting to my taste buds. Banh Mi has so many other versions of the classic – braised short rib, turmeric chicken, cod, and more. They also have savory coconut pancakes with prawn and mung beans and fresh spring rolls. Check them out next time you’re at the infamous Venice Whole Foods(if you haven’t seen this video, click on it if you want to laugh); they’re right across the street.

Banh

A visit to Stefan’s at LA Farm

stefan

I am a big fan of the show Top Chef on Bravo.  One of the contestants, Stefan, was on the show for 2 seasons – most recently this past season that just ended.  He has a restaurant in Santa Monica called Stefan’s at LA Farm and we decided to go there with some friends.  Here’s my review.

The Menu

Menu needed more focus. It was kind of all over the place with things like corn dogs and mini burgers and sashimi.  I have a theory that places that offer too many things on the menu can’t do everything well, and his starter menu was extensive.  Let’s talk nightly specials.  Or lack thereof.  I don’t know how any artist can make (or in Stefan’s case, promote) the same creation over and over again and not get bored.  I was disappointed in the fact that there were no specials.

Apps and Starters

We shared three appetizers: 1) Sashimi with a yuzu vinaigrette – good, nothing earth shattering.  Teeny tiny portion.  We each got one tiny bite.  2) Meatballs in a mushroom sauce.  3 tiny meatballs, to be exact.  They kind of tasted like my mom’s Swedish meatballs, but with a richer gravy.  Tasty but tiny. 3) Gefilte fish with smoked salmon and horseradish.  To my surprise, this was my favorite thing I ate all night.  I thought the flavors were bold and the texture was perfect, soft, but not mushy.  The smoked salmon and horseradish complimented each other perfectly.

My entrée

I was looking forward to ordering the squid ink risotto, but it wasn’t on the menu anymore!  I panicked and went for the duck and pork cheek risotto just because I wanted to try a unique protein.  The dish was full of flavor.  However, the rice was slightly undercooked and it was sitting in a very thin sauce.  Kind of wish I’d went for the goulash and spaetzle.

My husband’s entrée

He ordered the Linguini Cacio Peppe.  The hubs tends to go for simple things and I knew he was going to pick this.  It was very tasty – pasta with cheese, butter, and pepper.  Portion was very small for the price.

Dessert

We ordered 2 apple beignets.  Basically they were apple fritters. It was fine, but it seemed very pedestrian to me – something that could easily be made at home.

Service

I’m pretty sure our waiter was stoned the entire time we were there.  And we were there for 3 ½ hours.  He was really laid back with not the most positive attitude.  Our apps took awhile to get to us.  Then our entrees took awhile to get to us.  Then, 3 of us got served our entrees, but one was missing because it went to the wrong table.  Dessert seemed like it was never coming, and when it finally did they told us it was on the house because it was so late.

At some point I asked if we could meet Stefan, who was working the room the entire time we were there. Stefan sat at the table with us and we were able to chat about the show.  I told him that he came across as a much nicer guy this past season he was on.  He said it was all in the editing and that during the first season he was bawling like a baby at one point and they didn’t show any of it.  It was fun to chat it up with him.

*I apologize for the lack of pictures.  It was very dark in the restaurant and we were starving because we had to wait so long for our food, so we just dove right in.

To sum it up:  Bad service.  Small portions for the price.  Good flavor, but nothing earth shattering.  I think Stefan could have been much more creative and more focused with his menu.  Perhaps the food would have been better if Stefan was in the kitchen and not working the room.  If I go back, I’d probably just stick with the apps and starters and not get an entrée, just so that I could have tried more things.  The food is only as good or bad as the company you’re with and we had a wonderful time with our friends, Edie and Ken!  And our waiter and Stefan were actually very entertaining!

Ken’s Review – self described, No Cook Medium Appetite 

Our visit to Stefan’s at LA Farm started with a bit of a surprise, as I was fully expecting a pretty farm-like setting.  Instead it was in an office complex off Olympic Blvd.    We shared a few appetizers including the yellowtail and salmon sashimi that I needed a microscope to see.  It was really well prepared, but only suitable for someone with Karen Carpenter’s appetite.  We also got the Gefilte Fish, which was also pretty interesting and good – though I definitely exceeded my weekly salt intake with that dish alone.   The third appetizer (meatballs) was, also very good.

I had the West Coast Halibut for my main course.  I am very much a Biggie (as compared to a Tupac) person, so I probably would have preferred East Coast Halibut.  Still, this dish was on the money.   I could not taste the Brik Dough it was supposed to be wrapped in, nor do I even know what Brik Dough is.  But that did not matter, as it had smoked salmon expertly wrapped in the mix, and the entire dish was worth the east coast/west coast halibut war that is about to break out.

We shared the beignets, which were fantastic but could probably kill a diabetic.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the service got a negative 8.   And Stefan owes me at least $15 towards the babysitter, as no meal outside of Melisse in LA should take almost 4 hours.  In conclusion, the best parts of the night were watching Stefan work the room, and of course the company of Tiny Cook, her husband and of course my wife.    The food was solid, but I was expecting more after hearing and reading so many excellent reviews.

Edie’s Review

Let me first say this: I have never watched an episode of Top Chef.  In fact, before Tracy mentioned the restaurant, I had never even heard of Stefan.  I came into things with large expectations.  And that is a good thing.  For first impressions, it was a tie between the bizarre inadequate parking, perplexing name change and weird office park exterior.  It kind of felt like we’d hit the Bermuda Triangle.  Our waiter proved that theory true … At several points of the evening, he seemed to mysteriously disappear.  Probably more likely due to a great strain of weed than the Triangle itself though.

So, enough about all that.  Let’s dish on the food!  For starters, we shared the gefilte fish, duet of Cali crudo [Tracy, is this right?] and the meatballs.  I’m Jewish and have been eating gefilte fish at Passover and assorted other Jewish holidays my whole life.  It is a pretty huge statement for a gourmet to put gefilte fish anywhere near his restaurant, let alone his menu.  I must take pause now and give credit to our otherwise stoned waiter because he did warn us not to get this new menu item.  We were curious though — I for how this German-raised chef felt he could improve upon gefilte, and Tracy for conquering her gefilte virginity.  I’d say Tracy left that plate more satisfied than I.  Other than the overpowering horseradish, it didn’t feel like that much of a step up from what I’m used to.  The sushi crudo was fine, nothing to write home about, but basically good.  The meatballs were good, and these were especially popular with the men.

I decided to leave my entree fate in the hands of our waiter, and I’m actually happy to report this worked out in my favor.  I was debating between the scallops and the tafel spitz, and he recommended the scallops.  They were, as Tiny Cook pointed out, perfectly seared.  They were a delicate consistency served with a corn purée and pumpkin seed oil.  They honestly melted in your mouth.  While we’re on the subject of the main course, I’d like to point out that one of our four entrees did not arrive with the other three.  The waiter let us know – after an uncomfortable wait, all four of us anxiously glancing around for the fourth plate, that Peter’s dish had been served to the wrong table.  And around that time, Stefan popped over to meet his big fan- tiny cook!  He did a fine job of ironing out the awkwardly of the dish gone missing by guzzling his cocktail and chumming it up.  That is until he had to move on to the table with the Good Day LA anchor!

For dessert, we chose the apple fritters, basically beignets.  For the length of time our waiter was gone, it is entirely possible that he flew directly to the French Quarter for these puppies — also possible given how delicious they were!  Still, it was entirely odd that once again, we had incomplete course service; only one of the two desserts was served for a pretty good length of time.

All in all, I’d say that Stefan’s at LA Farm was an eventful night filled with great company, interesting stories and pretty good food, just not quite enough stars to match the price tags in my humble opinion.

Celebrating Mardi Gras with Po’ Boys!

In honor of Mardi Gras a couple of weeks ago, we decided to check out Uncle Darrow’s Cajun Creole Eatery – twice in one week!  This was easy to do because it was delicious and it happens to be right around the corner from our house.  I don’t have any good pics from our first night’s feast because we were hungry and we ate before I could snap any pics.  On Fat Tuesday we had File Gumbo (with seafood, sausage, and chicken in a perfect dark roux), Fried Chicken Wings (with amazing hush puppies), Jambalaya, and an Oyster Po’ Boy (with homemade bread).  Everything was flavorful and a little spicy, but my favorite was the po’ boy: the bread was delicious, the oysters were succulent with a crunchy cornmeal coating, and the sandwich was dressed well with just enough mayo and lettuce and some pickles that added the perfect balance to the sandwich.  On our second trip to Uncle Darrow’s we had a Crawfish boil and a Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boy (both specials that were not on the regular menu).

I’ve never had crawfish before and it was really fun eating them.  I twisted the tail off and sucked the head (which was spicy since they were boiled in lots of spices)……yum. The Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boy was so satisfying – great bread, sweet crab, lettuce, mayo, and pickles.  I will be back again and again and again for those Po’ Boys.

Rattlesnake and Rabbit Sausage?

My good friend had a 2 hour layover at LAX last night and so we went out for some late night grub at Wurstkuche, a new place in Venice with exotic sausages and lots of German and Austrian beers on tap.  We are both foodies so went for 2 of their very exotic sausages: Rattlesnake, Rabbit, & Jalapeno (described as butter and mildly spicy), and Duck & Bacon with Jalapeno Peppers (described as juicy and packed with flavor), along with the double dipped Belgian fries with chipotle aioli and tzatziki dipping sauces.  We got peppers and caramelized onions to go with the sausages, but didn’t really use those toppings since we wanted to taste the flavors of the sausages.  The Rattlesnake, Rabbit, & Jalapeno sausage was my favorite, mild, juicy, and flavorful.  It didn’t taste exactly like chicken, but that’s the closest comparison I can think of, as trite as that is!  The bread really surprised me (and I’m picky about bread) – it was soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, thanks to a minute on the grill.  The Duck & Bacon with Jalapeno sausage I found a little disappointing.  It was drier and the smokiness of the bacon just overpowered the whole thing.  I didn’t taste any jalapeno whatsoever, so I added my own spicy peppers, which helped the whole thing along.  The double dipped fries are definitely not for the faint of heart.  These fries are dark, some of them maybe a little too dark, but boy did I enjoy them.  I switched back and forth between the spicy chipotle aioli and the cooling tzatziki  and my mouth was very happy.  I didn’t get to try any of the beers since I was driving…..but there’s always next time.  As far as the ambience goes, it’s very dark and a bit loud with a dj playing music.  A lot of the tables are big communal tables making it a great place for a large group.  I will be back!