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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.

Excellent Northern Indian Buffet

Das Ubergeek tends to be pretty wary of Indian buffets: lukewarm, unfresh food slopped over older, unfresh food. But Haveli’s lunch buffet is nothing but good: The food’s absolutely fresh, and steaming hot. “I think it’s the best Indian restaurant in the Tustin / Irvine area,” says Professor Salt. It’s high-quality Punjabi fare.

Spinach is delicious. Vegetable korma is “the best I’ve ever had in the US.” As for stuffed karela (bitter melon), Professor Salt says: “If you LIKE karela, you are going to go insane for their stuffed karela.”

Adds Das Ubergeek: “The sign that this was excellent northern Indian food was that when we were done, there was no oil left on the plate. So many Indian restaurants load up their food with ghee to the point where the food is exuding fat as it cools; Haveli does not do this, yet their food tastes rich enough.”

The buffet is $8.99 per person, all you can eat, and $3 for a bottomless cup of tea. It’s a nice-looking place, too, with linen napkins and everything. Buffet is every lunch, and Tuesday and Wednesday dinner. Other nights, it’s menu time.

Haveli Fine Indian Cuisine [Orange County]
13882 Newport Avenue, Tustin
714-669-1011

Board Link: REVIEW: Haveli, Tustin

Real Moroccan at Simon’s Café

For a real Moroccan culinary experience, go to Simon’s Café. “If you want great food rather than the show and Hollywood-meets-North Africa décor, this is the place,” says FoodObsessive. “It is truly the best tasting Moroccan food I have had,” says Diana, who adds that the place doesn’t have belly dancers.

Chowhounds have been recommending the spot for years. howard81 praised the lamb tagine and Israeli salad a couple of years ago. lil mikey agreed about the tagines and added couscous to his list of “jewels” in the menu, a sentiment echoed by other hounds who have recommended the couscous royale (served with skewers of grilled chicken, lamb, and merguez sausage) and lamb tagine (a lamb stew, spiced with apples, cinnamon, and raisins, and served with saffron rice) in particular.

Simon’s Café [San Fernando Valley–West]
4515 Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles
818-783-6698

Board Links: Authentic Moroccan restaurant in Los Angeles?
Couscous at Simon’s Cafe in Sherman Oaks
Simon’s Cafe Moroccan
great meal at Simon’s Cafe in Sherman Oaks

Japanese Small Bites in Irvine

Sagami has reincarnated itself a few times, says exilekiss. It started as a typical Japanese takeout joint in a strip mall, then expanded and started serving traditional Japanese udon and soba dishes, along with the usual American crazy-roll-type dishes. Now, it has revamped again, with an izakaya small-plates menu served at lunch and dinner.

The wafu ban ban jii is a “really tasty” sesame- and peanut-infused chicken and cucumber salad, reports exilekiss. The agedashi tofu (fried tofu with dashi sauce) has a slightly crisp outer texture, which combines perfectly with raw green onions and the bit of broth. Then there’s ebi shinjyou, which is a shrimp ball, though the name really doesn’t do it justice, says exilekiss: Chunks of shrimp are mixed with shiso leaf, deep-fried, then served with a side of yuzu salt. The whole thing is “wonderfully fragrant and excellent with a bowl of rice.”

Gindara saikyo yaki (black cod miso) has a “perfect lightly browned exterior and extremely buttery, mouth-watering goodness within.” And the miso kushi katsu (cuts of pork topped with special miso sauce) is “very nice,” with crispy pork bits and fragrant, lightly sweet miso flavors.

There’s also kisu no tempura (sillago fish, nicely battered and well-fried), which exilekiss has never seen before on a SoCal menu. The fish itself is very tender and rich. Buta kimuchi (an izakaya classic: fatty slices of pork, sautéed with kimchee) is tasty and a little lighter than the usual version. And the hokke ichiyaboshi (sun-dried mackerel, baked, and served with ponzu sauce and fresh-grated daikon) is extremely salty and pungent. It’s almost too intense to enjoy on its own, but cut with the ponzu and a beer, it’s goes down quite well, says exilekiss. It’s definitely meant to be eaten with alcohol, explained an assistant at the restaurant.

The main weak point is that some ingredients don’t match the freshness of LA’s top sushi restaurants. Avoid items that depend on extremely fresh seafood, like sea urchin tempura or sautéed scallops, advises exilekiss. Elsewhere, the soba noodles are decent, as are the traditional Japanese box lunches.

Sagami [Orange County]
3850 Barranca Parkway, Suite B, Irvine
949-857-8030

Board Link: Sagami–Lunchtime Izakaya in Irvine?! [Review] w/ Pics

Slow-Roasted Carnitas in Santa Monica

Jeff Werlwas loves carnitas. “I’ve lived in Boyle Heights and have tried the best of the best. So I was surprised when I ordered the carnitas in a coffee shop, in Santa Monica of all places, and found them amazingly juicy and remarkably flavorful.”

The coffee shop is Cora’s, and the cook explained to Jeff that “the flavor and texture came from slow roasting the spiced pork on a rotisserie for about four hours. This allows a natural crust to form versus the traditional deep fried approach.” This place, says Jeff, is a must-try for all carnitas-lovers.

Cora’s Coffee Shoppe [Westside–Beaches]
1802 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica
310-451-9562

Board Link: Carnitas in Santa Monica?

The Steak House’s A5 Wagyu

So you know Wagyu from Black Angus. Did you know that the Japanese have 15 ratings levels for beef, with the highest being A5? Each cut is assessed for marbling, color/brightness, firmness/texture, and luster/quality of fat. The highest quality in the United States is probably more like an A1 or A2; the best of the best in Japan is Wagyu A5.

A tiny Japanese restaurant in the South Bay offers this superdeluxe dining experience, says exilekiss, though driving up to the Steak House
in a strip mall near a Ralphs supermarket, you’d never guess it.

Inside, it’s dim, quiet, and fairly casual. The menu is a simple selection of steaks, but the main reason to go is for the Wagyu, flown in from a particular farm in Japan. There’s a five-ounce Wagyu New York steak for $58 and a four-ounce filet mignon for $59. Those portions may seem small, but for steak this richly marbled, it’s quite enough. The same Wagyu filet mignon is included in the $79 tasting menu.

A5 carpaccio, served on a bed of marinated white onions, melds deliciously with a tosazu vinaigrette that includes red and black peppercorns and chives.

The tasting menu one evening started with A5 Wagyu beef sushi: lightly seared with a blowtorch, placed over Koshihikari rice, and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction.

The nonsteak courses don’t shine (the aforementioned beef sushi is actually called “bamboo shoots with salmon marine,” but the coleslawlike concoction of fresh bamboo shoots, chunks of salmon sashimi, and avocado is kind of beside the point).

The filet mignon is rich, tender, and lightly sweet, like the beef equivalent of toro. You don’t need the house-made steak sauce, but it’s all right for a change.

Desserts include chocolate tart, cheesecake, and sorbet.

The Steak House [South Bay]
2933 Rolling Hills Road, Torrance
310-891-2333

Board Link: Amazing Grade A5 Japanese Wagyu Beef! The Steak House [Review] w/ Pics!

Doner G Discovered

Finding Turkish food in the LA area is a tough assignment, so Das Ubergeek was startled to walk into Doner G and find himself the only person not speaking Turkish.

It’s not a full-fledged Turkish restaurant: not a lot of meze, and just a few stews augment the many varieties of shish kebab.

Doner kebab is well-spiced and tasty, though it comes wrapped in a rather generic lavash. The sauce is the “donair sauce” that Canadians know so well.

The hummus is terrible.

Order at the counter; prices are mostly $5 to $9.

Doner G [Orange County]
2139 E. Ball Road, Anaheim
714-956-0123

Board Link: REVIEW: Doner-G, Anaheim

BonChon and Beyond

BonChon, the Korean fried chicken purveyor, has settled in Koreatown, and the twice-fried, garlic-and-soy-seasoned chicken is wonderful. The parking sucks, though—and don’t even think about asking for a doggy bag.

Drumsticks and wings are a good size, and juicier than those at competitor Kyochon. The original flavor is sweeter than Kyochon’s, and the spicy iteration is subtler and more complex. And BonChon offers salad as well as radish pickle on the side, with the radish pickle being much better than Kyochon’s medicinal version.

But in K-town, both places have been surpassed, says TonyC. Chicken Day has better sauce, and TonyC’s new favorite is the “sickeningly addicting charcoal grilled chicken” at TBBC Barbecue.

BonChon Chicken [Koreatown]
3407 W. Sixth Street, Los Angeles
213-487-7878

Kyochon Chicken [Koreatown]
3833 W. Sixth Street, Los Angeles
213-739-9292

Kyochon Chicken [South Bay]
2515 Torrance Boulevard, Torrance
310-320-9299

Chicken Day [Koreatown]
301 S. Western Avenue, Los Angeles
213-387-9933

Chicken Day [San Fernando Valley–East]
2383 Foothill Boulevard, La Cañada Flintridge
818-957-9933

TBBC Barbecue [Koreatown]
In Wilshire Center
206 N. Western Avenue, Los Angeles
323-466-7334

Board Links: BONCHON CHICKEN KOREATOWN
Bon Chon K-fried chicken to hit LA?

Lot 1 in Echo Park

Chef Josef Centeno of Opus has opened a new restaurant in Echo Park, Lot 1 Café. Although the new place may aim to be more like a neighborhood hangout than the dark, sleek Opus, with $22 entrées, it clearly has ambitions.

The menu looks brilliant, with unexpected touches like a confit of beet gazpacho with crème fraîche and chicharrón—smooth and rich, spiked with crisp bits of fried pork belly. There’s a beautiful presentation of yellowtail (hamachi) sashimi with charred leek oil, pickled serrano chile, and a radish salad. Marrow-lovers will appreciate the bone marrow toast that comes with the rib-eye steak. There’s a really nice cheese plate with Cowgirl Creamery cheeses and sides including candied kumquat.

Not surprisingly in the first days, execution is uneven. Clare K found the hand-torn pasta with brown butter, pecorino, and herbs topped with a soft fried egg to be delicate and fresh, perfectly showcasing the herbs. Centeno fan LuluBleu, though, says it was underseasoned and blah.

Portion size is an issue, especially in a neighborhood where the standard is set by Barragan’s. An entrée alone, in most cases, is not a filling meal—one table laughed when they saw their tiny order of ravioli.

Bäcos—those “global tacos” Centeno pioneered at Opus—are available only at lunch, although slacker had the breakfast bäco of Mexican chorizo, guanciale, fried egg, and salmorejo on the weekend (presumably for lunch) and blissed out.

No alcohol yet, and they don’t allow BYOB (technically illegal when you don’t have a liquor license) as they wait for the paperwork to go through.

Lot 1 Café [East of Hollywood]
1533 W. Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park
213-481-8400

Board Links: Lot 1–Are you open?
Lot 1–Echo Park, Review with photos

Stellar Soup and Fish Dumplings

Dean Sin World, in Monterey Park, offers a new option for lovers of xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, confirms Chandavkl. The modest former bakery space (look for the sign for Tastio Bakery) has been divided in half, and you can watch a woman making the dumplings and noodles through a window, à la Din Tai Fung.

“Not being a connoisseur of XLB, I’m not qualified to rate the product here, except to say that the XLB had the sweetest broth (‘hem’ in Toishanese) I’ve encountered and was extra juicy,” says Chandavkl.

There are only about four tables and a dozen chairs.

Nearby Giang Nan Inc also has great XLB; and Qingdao Bread Food, across the street, has excellent steamed fish dumplings.

The best fish dumplings, however, may be the pan-fried beauties at Delicious Delicious, says Chandavkl. Their jing do rou bing (meat-stuffed fried pancake), number 58 on the takeout menu, is also amazing, says TonyC, and the ma-la stir-fried peanuts that you get automatically are downright addictive.

Dean Sin World [San Gabriel Valley]
306 N. Garfield Avenue #2, Monterey Park
No phone available

Giang Nan Inc [San Gabriel Valley]
306 N. Garfield Avenue, Monterey Park
626-573-3421

Qingdao Bread Food [San Gabriel Valley]
301 N. Garfield Avenue, Monterey Park
626-312-6978

Delicious Delicious [San Gabriel Valley]
728 S. Atlantic Boulevard #103, Monterey Park
No phone available

Board Links: There IS a New XLB House In Monterey Park Dumpling Central
Possible New Spot for XLB?

Chefs Collaborate at Providence

Providence kicked off its second annual 5×5 Chefs Collaborative on May 19 with five local chefs—Michael Cimarusti of Providence; Josiah Citrin of Mélisse; David LeFevre of Water Grill; Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide; and Gino Angelini of La Terza and Angelini Osteria—plus a guest chef, David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, up north. Each chef prepares one course.

“I enjoyed this meal more than my last meal at French Laundry,” says sassille, citing Kinch’s crispy mussels perfumed with nasturtium, and vegetables in exotic spices.

Cimarusti’s amuse-bouches trio also made a good impression, including the shot glass of ceviche with lemon, sweet-and-sour plum, and shiso granité.

The next scheduled dinner, June 17 at Bastide (guest chef Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern, New York), has reportedly been canceled due to Manzke’s departure from that restaurant. It’s not clear whether he’ll be participating in the other dinners.

The rest:
Monday, July 7: guest chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus (Healdsburg, California), at Mélisse
Sunday, August 31: guest chef Giuseppe Tentori of Boka (Chicago), at Water Grill
Monday, September 22: guest chef Alain Giraud of Anisette (Los Angeles), at La Terza

Providence [Hollywood]
5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

323-460-4170

Board Link: In Photos: 2008 5×5 Chef’s Collaborative at Providence