Monday, May 30, 2005

Chung King

Chung King (206 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 280-7430), the third in my list of mind-blowing Szechwan restaurants in the "Gaber-hood". It's essentially impossible for me to separate Yungui Garden, Best Szechwan and Chung King. Some dishes are unique to each place, best I can do is report highlights from a meal with chowhounds Thi, Sarah and Jim:

Fried spare ribs with Szechwan peppercorns. Comes with keropok/Indonesian shrimp chips. Amazing deep-fried crispiness but still moist inside.
Fish-flavour eggplant. In hot pot. None too "fishy" to my taste but a tremendous dish. Spicy eggplant is juicy and stays hot in claypot.
Dry-fried soy beans. Dry-frying makes more of a difference with string beans it appears. These are nutty and good though.
Beef with jellied tofu in hot pepper sauce [water-boiled style]. Not quite the equal of the similar dish at Yungui Garden when I tried it. However, the soft tofu is exemplary.
Quick-fried potato shreds. Subtle Szechwan peppercorn flavour. A good non-incendiary option.

Cold dishes from the display $3-4 for three?
fuqi feipian
inevitable appetizer at Szechwan place, a "delight" for couples and others
peanuts and small fish (my favourite of these three)
seaweed and Szechwan peppercorns

Shockingly, Thi and Sarah said this wasn't close to their best meal at Chung King. As if one needed an excuse to return...

Monday, May 09, 2005

Uncle Darrow's

Uncle Darrow's (2560 S Lincoln Blvd Marina del Rey, (310) 306-4862) is the friendliest restaurant I've ever been to. Newcomers are generally offered samples of most everything on the menu and returning customers are received like long lost cousins. It helps that the food is exceptional, there are plenty of Cajun places in Los Angeles but at this quality level it's easy to understand why Uncle Darrow's is packed with black, brown, beige and white peeps on the weekends.

- Po'boys are the bedrock meal at Uncle Darrow's. Crispy fried seafood with soft roll for textural contrast. My favourites are the delicious oyster loaf, of course (Fri-Sun) followed by the catfish. Shrimp is OK but a little plainer, while the zeek po'boy containing catfish, shrimp and potato salad could use a little greens.

- Jambalaya and its cousin bean-balaya are tremendous, the red beans don't detract from the latter dish and I think even increase its tastiness.

- Crawfish etouffee was liked by my part-Cajun friend Alison, though the differences between Uncle Darrow's and her grandmothers became the subject of some dispute with the owner Richard. I thought it was great.

- Gumbo is consistently fine, its the file kind not okra. Alison and her husband Charlie thoroughly approved of this and their standards are very high based on past Louisiana sojourns. I prefer Stevie's and the Gumbo Pot but it's pretty much down to personal preference.

- Cajun pups are the classical hush puppies for unhealthy fried goodness.

Give Uncle Darrow's a try, the hearty welcome and fine fare make it one of my favourite restaurants for taking out-of-towners.


Raku (11678 Olympic Boulevard, 310-478-3090 West LA) has been mentioned three times in my ChowNews, so the mastery of its Korean-Japanese chef is no surprise. However, it's generally useful to know more about the menu in a restaurant where the metier is small dishes, and lots of 'em. I recently revisited Raku with a group of 5 including a vegetarian so my selections are partially skewed towards non-meat items:

- Korean tofu steak. Fried like Cantonese doufu pok, but these thin squares are very delicate and clearly very fresh. We ordered another round of these.

- Soft shell crab. Excellent of course but more of a fried thing than a real seafood delicacy ala ankimo.

- Zucchini flowers tempura-fried with shrimp and enoki. The house classic now on the menu instead of a down-low request. One of my favourite dishes in Los Angeles! Juicy flower, crispy exterior, flavourful filling.

- Shiokara. Squid legs served in a sauce made from the innards. I've enjoyed this at several restaurants including Torafuku on Pico, but it's not for the faint of heart (strong seafoody flavour). Raku's version was great, especially seeing as my companions left it all to me.

- Shishito peppers. Small thinnish green peppers with a delightful flavour reminiscent of the pimientos de padron I sampled in Barcelona - similarly variable hotness, tambien. Fried until some are slightly charred from the pan.

- Oyster mushrooms in butter.
- Eggplant in ponzu sauce.
- Lotus root sauteed with sesame seed.
- Eggplant dumplings (minced eggplant in eggplant shell if I recall correctly).
Fine examples of Raku's flair for simple vegetarian dishes using high quality ingredients. Uniformly delicious.

- Kimchi fried rice. Tasty comfort food in the vegetarian vein.

- A lovely green tea pudding to finish.

I'll certainly be returning to Raku in future, even with the competition of L.A.'s fine izaka-ya. Raku does have the edge in Korean fare (who can resist a seafood pancake), and I look forward to comparing and contrasting with K'town recs I've collected from my blog - too many L.A. food choices!

Sunday, May 08, 2005


I recently had a meal at Shahrezad (1442 Westwood Blvd. 310 470-3242) with a large crew of Persian peeps [congratulations Kathy!], and have reconsidered its position in the hierarchy of kebab houses. Shahrezad is fancier than the others on Westwood but steps up with extra goodness to match the glitzy setting. For starters, the bread is tremendous, cooked in a clay oven like naan. Try it with masto'khiar, chopped cucumbers and yoghurt like Indian raita for a wonderful appetizer. Add some kash'k bademjan, or eggplant mush topped with soulful caramelized onions, because this is probably my favourite version of this in town, really deep flavour.

Kebabs are fine, but for these I go to Raffi's Place. I think the best thing on the menu at Shahrezad is tah chin, a rectangular block of Persian rice filled with lamb and cooked until the edges are slightly dried out, kind of like the bottom-of-the-pan crispy rice tah dig. It's delicious and not found at other Persian spots I've been to (must try Javan soon...). Which brings me to the biggest complaint about Shahrezad. Not once, but twice I have been there when they've sold out of tah dig! This is like a Cuban spot running short of moros y christianos, or a Vietnamese deli sans baguettes.

At my recent dinner I branched out into the polo section of the menu. Polo (poh-LOW) isn't pollo (POY-o) but the Persian pilaf, rice cooked with some delectable fruits, nuts and spices and served at Shahrezad with a tender lamb shank or chicken on the side. I chose the shirin polo cooked with saffron, pistachios, orange peel and rosewater. The unusual ingredients were a delicate combination and the result was quite dissimilar to the adass polo (lentils and dates) and zereshk polo (sourish barberries, excellent) that I normally order. Better yet I received props from the Persian end of the table, some of whom hail from Shiraz and informed me that their hometown is the birthplace of shirin polo.

The biggest surprise of the night came during dessert. We all had tea and the painfully sweet honey confections zoolbia/zoolbiya (extruded flat spiral thing) and bamieh (ridged sweet dough balls). Then several orders of faloodeh arrived. These sweet noodles are served with Persian pistachio ice cream and fittingly were frozen into a block of crushed ice for a crunchy cold sensory treat. Faloodeh at Shahrezad is served in the Shirazi style with a fresh lime to squeeze on top. The sour, frozen flavour is amazing, this is a unique and essential dessert to add to one's Los Angeles repertoire. If you want the authentic flavour don't use the little cup of pomegranate syrup that comes on the side. Strong Persian tea is the perfect way to complete this type of leisurely meal. The old school method is to put a sugar cube in one's mouth, sip some tea and savour a dissolving mouthful of relaxation.

Simpang Asia

I love Simpang Asia [10433 National Blvd, Palms, (310) 815-9075] for so many reasons. It's Indonesian, food-inside-a-grocery-store, family-run, dirt cheap, and extremely delicious. Not least, it's a place to get excellent vaguely-Chinese food on the extremely Chinese food-challenged Westside. The old Simpang Asia was mostly supermarket, with a deep selection of Malay/Indonesian ingredients (candlenuts anyone?), Dutch colonial treats such as Droste cocoa, and crazy Indo instant noodles with 5 (!) different spice packets inside. Now they have expanded into the next door shop, painting it green, adding extra menu items and knocking out the wall to make a pleasant room with plenty of space. Good thing too, because ravenous Indonesian food-lovers fill the restaurant. Here's what I like to eat there:

Nasi rames

The basic meal at Simpang Asia, rice with a little bit of several dishes. The beef rendang is excellent, as is the chicken curry, and the keropok (shrimp crackers) served on the side are a crunchy contrast. Good sambal/chilli sauce in a little plastic pottle. Go early or they will run out of tempeh and tofu.

Lontong cap gomeh
The soupy vegetable curry beloved of my childhood years is served with a bunch of the aforementioned rendang and kari ayam/chicken - the combo nature of the menu is great for variety but forces a purist to keep things separate on one's plate. Bits of the weird pressed rice cake to keep Atkins at bay and fill you up.

Nasi rames padang
Another tasty combo platter featuring jackfruit curry and a tasty hard-boiled egg with curry sauce.

Nasi bungkus
Emerging like its spiritual homologue - the Cantonese glutinous rice dish called lor mai kai - this banana-leaf parcel encloses several of the delicious curries from other combos plus the spicy egg. Worth the extra coin for steamed-in flavour.

Chicken satay
Not quite as skinny and thoroughly marinaded as those I recall from family barbecues, this is still very good satay with tasty peanut sauce. West Sumatra style satay awaits another visit.

Kwe tiau goreng sapi
Fried fat rice noodles/fun cooked over very high heat in the style of Malay char kueh teow and Thai kee maw. I really wanted this to be the canonical char kueh teow I've dreamed about since moving to the U.S. but they didn't use enough lard in the frying plus the other ingredients were different (no Chinese sausage, shrimps or squid). This could be the Indonesian regional variant, it's still a delicious plate of noodles.

Other combos I haven't tried are generally rice variations such as nasi uduk with coconut, and the turmeric-yellowed nasi kuning. I am keen to try the ayam kalasan, crispy fried chicken. Lastly, I must mention two spectacular drinks.

Es cendol (chen-doll) is filled with little green worms made from mung bean flour. The drink is flavoured with dusky brown palm sugar for that Southeast Asian touch.

Es alpokat is even more amazing, an improbably delicious avocado and crushed ice concoction marbled with palm sugar and blended to the perfect milkshakey consistency. I think this is my favourite drink in L.A.!