Monday, September 05, 2005

Guatemalteca Bakery

After a cheerful stroll through Pico-Union today (two "green card" vendor solicitations, one lost car of French tourists), Ian and I ended up at this tremendous Guatemalan bakery/restaurant/grocery store some ways away on Beverly [4032 Beverly Blvd, Downtown LA, 213-382-9451, 6am-9pm]. Lunchtime line is about ten deep, testifying to high quality of the baked goods and steam table fare, as well as the overwhelming Central American nature of the 'hood.

As Gold documents, there is a parallel universe of antojitos, but we didn't try the enchiladas (actually like a miniature clayuda), tostadas (crispy tortilla smeared with sauce) or tacos-that-looked-like-flautas. Instead, we opted for comidas, lunch plates with the hearty stew called carne guisada or in my case a kidney/intestine concoction, revolcado. These were awesome, big servings of tomato-ey goodness with excellent arroz and the pureed kind of black beans, go for the crusty roll instead of tortillas. Also on the menu are a frijoles blanco or white bean/beef stew, and the tasty looking sausage longaniza among others. Not bad for $4.50! The locals were bringing in their own plastic containers and filling them to the brim, now that's service. Woman in front of me spent $47 which can only mean she was feeding about 15 people for a week.

We also sampled a chuchito or tamale which was more in the Mexican style than full-on Nicaraguan/Honduran goodness. Guatemalteca dishes up the pan/roll with assorted fillings, and we scored a pan con chile to go - eggy chile relleno in a crusty tapered-at-the-ends pan. Judiciously reheated, this was terrific later at night. I love sandwiches made with stuffed items, and the relleno contained shredded beef, peas and carrots; a lusty whole when combined with crusty roll, mayonesa and lettuce. Lastly, the quesadilla here is not grilled tortillas and cheese, but a fabulously rich cake bread made with sour cream and sprinkled with sesame seeds (sold at the bakery counter). A small round one is 50 cents, and a giant slab $2. I foolishly went for the slab and will have to ration it carefully for the sake of my arteries.

Having sampled the higher-end at Paseo Chapin I can say that the more utilitarian Guatemalan fare is also a winner. The peeps are here and once again the quality is unmistakable, give it a try if you haven't had an authentically Los Angeles Centro-American meal before.


Many Koreatown pleasures are centred on the one-dish restaurant, and even the more sophistimicated barbeque emporia feature copious quantities of grilled meat at the heart of one's meal. Thus Yongsusan [950 S. Vermont Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90005 (213) 388-3042] is a most unusual Korean restaurant, serving a "Royal Kaesong" banquet style in which individual dishes are brought to one's table; the focus is on smaller portions of great delicacy and multiple course set menus. My friends and I tried the $28 set menu, which proved to be outstanding value:

Pumpkin porridge
. Possibly the gluiest thing I've eaten all year, but with a sweet and rich pumpkin flavour. I finished every drop.
Mung bean jelly. A sesame oil-rich preparation of jelly strips.
Bean sprouts. With a chilli touch and even apricot slivers.
Jellyfish. Served with shredded cucumber, halved shrimp and the preserved eggs called peih dan in Cantonese. This trio of cold dishes were very good, a nice way to begin a large and filling banquet.
Steamed pork. Awesome fatty pork cut, cooked very simply.
Grilled sea scallops. On a skewer with mushroom and broccoli. This was perfectly grilled, just browned outside but still moist. Delectable.
Bosam kimchi. Something of a house specialty, this is a whole small cabbage head stuffed and pickled with the addition of Asian pears, onions and other things. I loved it, particularly with the thrill of discovering unusual things inside.
Beef stew. With radish and carrot, this was meltingly soft with a pure intensely beefy flavour. A great dish superior to the best niku jaga I have had in Japanese restaurants.
Anchovy, seaweed, radish panchan
Soup with rice balls. A really nice clear broth with small rice balls, deceptively delicious and a suitable plain dish to finish a meal of great extravagance.
Ginger and cinnamon soup with ginger cookie. A soup that might have been painfully sweet if not for it's powerful blast of ginger and spice. Ginger cookie is many-layered and crunchy, surprisingly delicious (where can I buy these?) and definitely not an afterthought - waitress pointed out that it is good for one's digestion.

I've waited a long time to try Yongsusan, and it was truly exceptional. I don't know of any restaurant to compare in LA, and unlike Umenohana it doesn't show any signs of closing soon. For this price the attentive service, beautifully presented food and refined flavours are worth a try for any kind of celebration, however minor.

P.S. Yong Su San is literally Dragon Water Mountain, the latter two surprisingly similar to Cantonese.
P.P.S. During our meal we enjoyed the spectacle of some amazing balloon decorations being assembled for festivities later that night. $250 buys two palm trees, several monkeys, and multiple fish/octopi for some lucky child. Happy Birthday Andrew!