Los Angeles Area rss

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

An Oasis of Spice in Orange County

Tropika seems like a mirage in the middle of Orange County: white linen, full bar, and authentically spicy Malaysian food. And did we mention that it’s in Orange County? elmomonster checked it out and confirmed its culinary cred.

Start with roti prata (also known as roti canai), a classic snack with Indian roots. “Similar to naan, but stretched impossibly thin, the texture of roti is flour tortilla meets phyllo dough–crisp and crackly at its periphery, paper-thin and chewy throughout.” Dip it in the aromatic red curry with chicken and potato.

Tropika does a spot-on version of nasi lemak, rice cooked with coconut milk, so richly flavored you could eat it alone. But you don’t have to, since it comes with chunks of deep-fried chicken steeped in spicy red curry, fried anchovies with peanuts in sambal (chile paste), and hard-boiled egg and cucumbers to balance out the heat.

Rendang beef, a dish beloved in Indonesia as well as Malaysia, is braised in coconut milk with ginger, garlic, coriander and lemongrass. Tropika’s rendang is properly falling-apart tender, the sauce reduced to a sticky brown paste. The spices are as sharp as a hot blade, sharper than even the mellower Indonesian style.

Seafood hor fun is more subtle and nuanced, flat rice noodles stir-fried and sluiced with a velvety gravy, with shrimp, squid, scallops and baby bok choy mixed in.

At lunch, soup (a tangy broth stocked with vegetables) and salad come with all dishes. For less adventurous dining companions, there’s also pad Thai (the restaurant bills itself as Malaysian and Thai cuisine), and it’s pretty tasty.

Roti prata is $3.25, nasi lemak is $8, beef rendang is $13, and hor fun is $9.

Tropika [South OC]
17460 E. 17th St., Yorba/Enderle, Tustin
714-505-9908

http://www.tropika.com

Map

Board Links: Tropika in Tustin–New Malaysian Restaurant for O.C.–Review with PHOTOS

Peri Peri Gives Everything Sizzle

Vegetable napoleon might not sound like a native African dish, but it’s tasty stuff–a tower of grilled vegetables layered with gooey mozzarella and fresh spinach, topped with tomatoes, onions, and a pomegranate dressing.

A salad featuring peppadrops (a hybrid of teardrop tomatoes and bell peppers) includes field greens and red cabbage, drizzled with a simple dressing of oil, vinegar and peri peri, a Mozambican chile pepper that’s also used in a classic hot sauce. The peppadrops are slightly spicy but exceptionally sweet–like candy.

Durban curry is a fabulous red stew with lamb and vegetables that comes with two chutneys, one hot and one sweet. Also on the side is a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and banana to cool your mouth if it gets overheated (although the curry is only medium spicy).

Rib-eye steak (18 oz, bone in) gets coated with peri peri sauce and grilled medium rare, and the kick of the pepper enhances the meat.

For dessert, white chocolate and banana bread pudding is a beautiful mixture of the pudding, fresh berries, whipped cream, and chopped macadamia nuts.

Dinner for two runs $125 with tax. Durban curry is $24, rib-eye steak $36, vegetable napoleon $8.50, salad $12 and bread pudding $8.50.

It’s a stylish place, dark and clubby inside. An interesting drink selection (there’s a full bar) includes the Drunken Elephant (vodka, Amarula fruit liqueur, and Frangelico) and the cocktails tend to be strong.

Tip: Use the valet and save yourself the stress that is trying to park in Laguna Beach. Valet is only $5.

Mozambique Restaurant [OC Beaches]
1740 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Agate, Laguna Beach
949-715-7777
Map

Board Links: Road Trip Review: Mozambique–Laguna Beach, CA

Cozying Up to an Italian

When it comes to romantic, cozy Italian restaurants, Pasadena dwellers are lucky enough to have two top-notch choices. Trattoria Tre Venezie is intimate and candlelit, with handmade food of the Veneto region. However–romance and regional cuisine ain’t cheap, at least here.

Celestino boasts gnocchi that haunts the dreams of ipse dixit, they’re’s so rich and creamy. But it’s the rapini pasta with sausage that’s out of this world, says petra: a creamy, vibrant green sauce with tiny morsels of pork on strozzapreti. Not a dish you’ll find often, if anywhere in this town.

Chowhound fave La Buca is small (VERY small) and romantic–if you don’t need a lot of elbow or leg room.

La Luna is consistently tasty as well as romantic and very comfortable, says JJ, who’s never had a bad meal there.

Il Buco has a real Italian feel about it, and offers a good selection of pastas, gnocchi, and mains.

Less romantic, but a great neighborhood place, is Il Forno. There are some duds on the menu, but when you get the good stuff it’s like hitting a home run. Start with the tomato-garlic bruschetta–the bread is nothing special, but the crazy garlicky-vinegary flavor really makes it.

Radicchio-romaine salad with pecans, balsamic vinegar and a stellar dry-aged ricotta is lovely, and the house Caesar (with anchovies) is super. Minestrone soup is just okay.

If you spot veal ravioli with creamy tomato sauce on the specials menu, pounce. It’s too good to get away. Spinach-ricotta ravioli are fluffy and delectable; so are gnocchi with pesto and vegetables. But rigatoni with tomato-meat sauce is good-not-great, and capellini with scampi is an outright dud–puny shrimp and not much flavor.

Note to wine lovers and bargain hunters: if you buy a bottle of wine at Wine Expo, there’s no corkage at Il Forno.

Trattoria Tre Venezie [Pasadena-ish]
119 W. Green St., DeLacey Ave., Pasadena
626-795-4455
Map

Celestino [Pasadena-ish]
141 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
626-795-4006
Map

La Buca [Hollywood]
5210 1/2 Melrose Ave., West of Wilton, Los Angeles
323-462-1900
Map

La Luna Ristorante [Larchmont Village]
113 N. Larchmont Blvd., 1st St., Los Angeles
323-962-2130
Map

Il Buco Pizzeria Restaurant [Beverly Hills]
107 N. Robertson Blvd., Wilshire, Beverly Hills
310-657-1345
Map

Il Forno Caffe & Pizzeria [Beaches]
2901 Ocean Park Blvd. #109, 29th St., Santa Monica
310-450-1241
Map

Board Links: La Buca.
Celestino–PK’s Review

New Dumpling Contenders

Having eaten xiao long bau (also known as soup dumplings) all over China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, Eric Stone agrees with the hounds who love those at Din Tai Fung. But the xlb at Q Noodle House, a Taiwanese place in San Gabriel Square, he says, are his new favorite. The key: an excellent balance of dough, filling and juice.

Sadly, other stuff isn’t as good–noodle soup with shredded pork and preserved vegetable is good-not-great, and the potstickers “can’t make up their mind if they want to be gyoza or Shanghainese fried dumplings.” And if you want vegetables with your xlb, nothing compares to Din Tai Fung’s green beans.

A new place inside the San Gabriel Superstore offers excellent chicken potstickers, usually native to the Americanized Chinese restaurants of the Westside or San Fernando Valley. “Up to this point in time the designation of best chicken potstickers and fried dumplings in Los Angeles is akin to winning the title of the tallest midget in the circus,” says Chandavkl. The ones at Yum Cha, though, have super-tasty filling, good wrappers and come four for $1.50.

For regular potstickers (and very good xlb), Mei Long Village is a good spot.

Q Noodle House [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Blvd., in 99 Ranch Market plaza, San Gabriel
626-288-1948
Map

Q Noodle House [Inland of LA]
18930 Gale Ave., Rowland Heights
626-810-5108
Map

Q Noodle House [Pasadena-ish]
148 E. Duarte Rd., Arcadia
626-447-8866
Map

Yum Cha [San Gabriel Valley]
inside San Gabriel Superstore
1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel
Map

Mei Long Village Restaurant
301 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel
626-284 4769
Map

Board Links: Dumpling Contender
Best Chicken Potstickers

Q Up for Chicken and Kabobs

Inside Q Market are two meat departments, kosher and halal, and a tempting kabob stand. The halal side’s chicken is the best Smiling Ed says he’s found. They’ve also got lamb brains. In general, it’s a Persian market (stock up on saffron from Iran), and worth exploring.

Q Market & Produce Market [East San Fernando Valley]
17259 Vanowen St., between Balboa and White Oak, Van Nuys
818-345-4251
Map

Board Links: Q Market

Jumpin’ Fresh Sweet Shrimp

The Hump often pops up on best-sushi-restaurant lists, and The Oracle’s review definitely makes it sound deserving.

Let’s skip over the melt-in-your-mouth nigiri for a sec and go to the live sweet shrimp. Yes, many sushi restaurants have sweet shrimp, and you figure it was alive pretty recently because the sweet white flesh is nice and gooey. But at the Hump, they’re actually pulled, flopping madly, from a tank and their heads whacked off (to be deep-fried separately). It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

For the rest of the sushi, albacore is like butter, yellowtail dabbed with just the right amount of wasabi. Everything is presented strikingly, with just the right accompaniments.

Service is on top of its game, pleasant and efficient, and the airport location can’t be beat. The room itself isn’t the most romantic, but it has nice clean lines and for once you don’t have a glass case to peer over if you’re sitting at the sushi bar.

The prices, though, can kill you. Although two can eat well (non-omakase) for $200 after tax (including $60 of sake), one couple was spotted with a bill of $660. JL says that with four people, $1,000+ meals are all too possible. Caveat emptor…

The Hump [Beaches]
3221 Donald Douglas Loop S., Dewey, Santa Monica
310-313-0977
Map

Board Links: The Hump (Santa Monica)–Review (long)

Perfect New York Slices of Chicken Pizza

There are two rules for eating at Giovanni’s Pizza, a nondescript strip mall pizza joint. First, go on weekdays, not weekends. Turnover is really low on weekends, and the slices are just mediocre. But on weekdays, when the place is packed, it’s the best New York-style slice in Silicon Valley, says mdg.

Second rule: get the Giovanni’s Rustica slice, which comes topped with chicken breasts, basil, tomatoes, and lots of garlic. Chicken doesn’t always work on pizza, but it works like gangbusters here. It’s good enough to keep intrepid explorer katya coming back every three or four days. Pepperoni slices and cheese slices are, on the other hand, greasy and average.

Giovanni’s [South Bay]
1127 N. Lawrence Expy., Sunnyvale
408-734-4221
Map

Board Links: Giovanni’s in Sunnyvale: You Got Chicken on My Pizza! No, You Got Pizza on My Chicken!

Bin 8945 Worth Looking Into

An American wine bar and bistro, the new Bin 8945 may actually fill the void of a French bistro with deliciously straight-ahead food. Steak with frites ($29) is peppery and sweet, the fries cooked in duck fat for fantastic flavor. Duck leg confit ($27) is succulent and tender, arriving on a bed of flageolets, cavalo nero, and pancetta. Steamed mussels in coconut curry broth with homemade Italian sausage sounds like fusion gone overboard, but it actually works really well. And it’s easy to overlook the salt cod brandade, but it’s good stuff.

The star of the show, though, is the wine, and at the moment there’s a far bigger selection of vino than vittles (though the food side is scheduled to do some catch-up). To give you an idea: more than 60 wines by the glass. You might catch manager and wine director David Haskell bussing tables, decanting wine or greeting people–try to chat him up about wine.

Service is polished and professional, even opening week, and still friendly.

8945 Wine Bar and Bistro [West Hollywood]
8945 Santa Monica Blvd., Robertson, West Hollywood
310-550-8945
Map

Board Links: Zelo’s and Bin 8945
Bin 8945

Box It Up: Sushi to Go

You can get boxed sushi almost anywhere these days, but some otherwise reliable markets can trip up here. Always great when it comes to fish: Fish King. The versatile Japanese-run fish market (also a fine choice for fish and chips) has a huge and tasty spicy tuna roll for only $6. You can even call ahead and order fresh filets of your choice to be cut into sashimi.

Plain tuna is kind of dull, but yellowtail, salmon and albacore are all good. Sometimes you can even get something exotic like mirugai (giant clam) in small quantities.

Japanese markets like Nijiya are a great place to pick up sushi bento. The futomaki rolls are huge and generous, notes pinkshch, and the tempura shrimp rolls are very good as well.

PayorPlay adds that their selection has broadened lately to include dim sum items like cha shu bao (BBQ pork buns), shiu mai and har gow. They might also have Osaka-style battered sushi or salmon eggs with bits of tamago, cucumber and tuna over rice.

Mitsuwa and Marukai are good sources–Dommy loves Mitsuwa’s spicy crab roll, with real crab.

Davina recommends Farm Boy in Sherman Oaks.

Famima stores are popping up like mushrooms. At the one in Pasadena, mr mouther reports the fish is excellent and stands up even without the rice. But whynot had a totally different experience at an unidentified Famima, with way too much rice and tasteless fish.

Surprisingly, Trader Joe’s sushi–gummy, inedible monstrosities–is among the worst out there.

Fish King Seafood & Poultry [East San Fernando Valley]
722 N. Glendale Ave., North of 134 Fwy., Glendale
818-244-2161
Map

Nijiya Market [Sawtelle Strip]
2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #105, Los Angeles
310-575-3300
Map

Nijiya Market [Little Tokyo]
124 Japanese Village Plz. Mall, Los Angeles
213-680-3280
Map

Nijiya Market [South Bay]
2121 W. 182nd St., Torrance
310-366-7200
Map

Nijiya Market [South Bay]
2533 Pacific Coast Hwy., Torrance
310-534-3000
Map

Nijiya Market [Inland of LA]
17869 Colima Rd., City Of Industry
626-913-9994
Map

Mitsuwa Market in Yoahan Plaza [Little Tokyo]
333 S. Alameda St. #100, Los Angeles
213-687-6699
Map

Mitsuwa Marketplace [Beaches]
3760 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles
310-398-2113
Map

Mitsuwa Marketplace [South Bay]
21515 Western Ave
Torrance 90501
310-782-0335
Map

Mitsuwa Marketplace [San Gabriel Valley]
515 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel
626-457-2899
Map

Mitsuwa Marketplace [South OC]
665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa
714-557-6699
Map

Marukai Market [South Bay]
1740 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena
310-660-6300
Map

Marukai Pacific Market [South Bay]
1620 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena
310-464-8888
Map

Marukai Market [Little Tokyo]
123 S. Onizuka St., Suite 101, Los Angeles
213-893-7200
Map

Marukai Corp [Inland of LA]
1420 S. Azusa Ave., West Covina
626-918-0825
Map

Farm Boy [East San Fernando Valley]
14107 Riverside Dr., Hazeltine, Sherman Oaks
818-501-5567
Map

Famima [Pasadena-ish]
25 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena
626-578-0545
Map

Famima [South Bay]
22529 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance
310-378-1984
Map

Famima [Beaches]
1348 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica
310-393-2486
Map

Famima [West Hollywood]
8525 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
310-659-2684
Map

Famima [Wealthy Westlands]
1465 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles
310-231-3432
Map

Board Links: famima … alot of rice
rank the boxed sushi choices

A Dim Sum Steal

The best siu mai in Chinatown, declares K, can be found at Family Pastry: huge suckers filled with chopped, not ground pork, for only 40 cents each.

Family Pastry [Chinatown]
715 N. Spring St., Ord, Los Angeles
213-680-4584
Map

Board Links: A sad day for dim sum in LA….