Tag Archives: la times

Leftovers: Shawarma Palace

A step-up for L.A. shawarma in the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MICHAEL CHAVEZ ROBINSON / L.A. TIMES

Among food-obsessed Angelenos, shawarma isn’t as much a point of contention as, say, ramen orcarne asada. At too many of the city’s Levantine restaurants, flaccid, flavorless strands of meat pass as properly shaved shawarma almost without protest.

But there are few pleasures as hypnotic as flame-licked shawarma. Behold the spit stacked with lamb or beef or chicken spinning in slow, mesmerizing circles, flecks of caramelized fat basting the meat below. In deft hands, even the bluntest knife will shear the meat as if carving clay.

Shawarma Palace delivers an Israeli interpretation.

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Leftovers: Habuya

Okinawan cuisine’s entry into Orange County for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GLENN KOENIG / L.A. TIMES

A skein of flat, linguine-like noodles and shards of ginger are so fine they all but dissolve in the broth. There are pork ribs, with brawny slabs of meat thick as a Little Leaguer’s baseball bat. But the soki soba is all about the bones, marrow-filled ribs stewed until they can be eaten.

If there’s one thing Mayumi Vargas wants everyone to know about her native Okinawa, it’s the island chain’s affinity for pork. And at Habuya, Vargas’ new Okinawan restaurant in a hidden corner of a Tustin mini-mall, pork is a uniting force.

Okinawa is a Japanese prefecture apart. Although the subtropical islands have been absorbed nominally into Japan’s national identity, they remain culturally individualistic. Habuya reflects that in its humble cooking, which is less like that of a refined seaside restaurant and more like that of a salt-licked coastal pub.

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Leftovers: Guisados

The wonderful stews and braises of Guisados for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by ANNE CUSACK / L.A. TIMES

Ricardo Diaz is on his way to building a culinary empire with Mexican restaurants that innately reflect the attitudes and fluctuations of the Angeleno appetite.

Three years ago, Diaz and his in-laws opened Cook’s Tortas in Monterey Park. There, sturdy, rustic rolls are baked on-site, everyone sips pineapple-celery and watermelon-mint aguas frescas and dessert brings soft corn cakes and biscuits smeared with loquat marmalade. For every diner who longs for thetorta of grilled chicken, salsa, avocado and fried sage, another loves grilled skirt steak, dry-aged chorizo, nopales and guacamole. The restaurant is the all-inclusive ideal of what a modern Mexican cafe should be in Los Angeles.

Guisados, Diaz and business partner Armando De La Torre’s new Boyle Heights taquería, shares a similar universality. Here, guisados achieve ascendancy; these are humble stews and braises that you’d otherwise most likely find simmering atop a home stove.

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Leftovers: Chili Chutney

Afghan cuisine arrives in Orange County. For the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MARK BOSTER / L.A. TIMES

There’s chutney everywhere: streaked across piles of rice, dabbed on crisp flatbreads, blotted up by grilled kebabs. Jars of the stuff — gleaming containers of pure verdant green and sticky maraschino red — are on display. At Chili Chutney, a months-old Afghan restaurant in Lake Forest, the condiment is elevated to a cornerstone.

Owner Shalah Wadood’s cilantro and jalapeño chutney stings with herbal heat, its texture like that of a pesto pounded just to the point of cohesion. But it’s the bell pepper chutney that inspires addiction. The alluring balance of capsaicin-spiked sweetness wouldn’t be out of place on a carefully composed cheese plate. Both are already being sold at the restaurant, but soon, Wadood says, they’ll be stocked on the shelves of local Middle Eastern markets.

The restaurant operates under Wadood’s ambassadorial vision, one that helped introduce Orange County to Afghan cuisine at her family’s shuttered Stanton restaurant, Arya. Chili Chutney is a scaling back in scope — the six-table space doesn’t approach gilded opulence — but its ambitions are grand nonetheless.

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Leftovers: Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress

Manakeesh‘s Orange County moment for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

There’s a moment in a cuisine’s acculturation when a dish morphs into a movement. In Orange County, that moment belongs now to a multinational influx of Middle Eastern flatbreads.

Like banh mi before them, manakeesh have here become the accepted ambassadors of an entire region, pizza-like flatbreads thin as gauzy sheets of vellum. At Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress, restaurants already in the purview of the county’s most seasoned eaters, they’re an herb-rubbed and meat-smeared gateway to the eastern Mediterranean.

Anaheim’s Zait & Za’atar is a big step toward manakeesh modernity. The city’s Little Arabia is already crowded with similarly specialized Lebanese bakeries, but Zait & Za’atar may be the most accessible. It’s a case of aesthetics — brick-red walls and a counter set in stone — but, more important, one of clarity, as the restaurant plainly details every dish.

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A Taste of Red Medicine

As proudly announced on their blog, recent Beverly Hills addition Red Medicine took some joy in not only throwing out but also publicly unmasking L.A. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. According to that post, the managing staff took issue with Virbila’s “unnecessarily cruel” and “irrational” reviews as well as her lack of “understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.”

But given that Sam Sifton and Jonathan Gold haven’t run any restaurants lately, was there something more to the boot? Consider Virbila’s 2009 review of Michael Mina’s XIV in which she had this to say of former XIV pastry chef and current Red Medicine chef/partner Jordan Kahn’s desserts:

By dessert, you’re longing for a couple of delicious bites to cap off the evening. But the pastry chef, Jordan Kahn, is trying too hard to top what came before. Witness the baby block-sized white chocolate cube filled with seven layers of various red fruits and such. It makes quite a visual statement until you break into it with a fork and it collapses into an unappetizing mess. There’s no way you can taste the layers the chef has so laboriously prepared: It’s all mush.

And a glass of what’s described as hazelnut milk with frosted flakes is served with a sugar “barrel” with whiskey at the bottom. With its cacophony of flavors, this may be one of the worst desserts I’ve tasted.

According to Food Editor Russ Parsons, the Times will continue with its plans to review Red Medicine.

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Leftovers: Bruxie

The emerging world of waffle sandwiches for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GINA FERAZZI / L.A. TIMES

Some culinary trends come with promises concocted in the vague argot of marketing executives and brand managers. But a few rare ideas spring from something universal. They’re the restaurants and recipes that tap into unknown pleasures, manifestations of all our unconscious cravings.

Such is the case at Bruxie, a weeks-old stand in Old Towne Orange whose s’mores-stuffed and prosciutto-packed Belgian waffle sandwiches are fulfilling the fantasies of every syrup-soaked childhood and late-night binge.

Bruxie is a sweetly nostalgic place. Rather than load up a Twitter-equipped food truck, the waffle shop sought out history among downtown Orange’s innocent Americana. It found just that in the former home of Dairy Treet, an aging burger and shake shack that had been in operation for more than 60 years. Still, Bruxie is modern, self-aware and already crawling with students from nearby Chapman University. The novelty of it all is so precisely calibrated to the surroundings that some customers have been wondering aloud whether Bruxie is part of a fledgling franchise.

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