DineLA – Chaya Brasserie (Summer 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles


With each passing season, dineLA manages to make its Restaurant “Week” longer and longer. This summer, hundreds of restaurants across Los Angeles are participating in the 14-day event (July 14-27) featuring prix fixe menus that showcase their best offerings. dineLA feels quite a bit different for me this year, working among the chaos on the other side, but on our shared day off, we just had to participate as diners! To celebrate Martin’s mom’s birthday on our double-date, we selected Chaya Brasserie, just off the main hustle and bustle of Beverly Hills.

Chaya Beverly Hills is a tiny hole-in-the-wall with a gorgeously decorated interior that includes (real!) bamboo plants reaching to the sky. A print of Van Gogh’s portrait hangs on the wall opposite a series of large framed mirrors, opening up the small space and making it seem much less claustrophobic than it would have otherwise been. The white tablecloth-clad tables and attentive but friendly service let us know we were in for a special treat. For just $45, Chaya offers a three course dinner and a wine pairing for an additional $20. Martin opted for it and we shared the 3-ounce tasting pours (a white cotes du rhone for the first course, a red blend for the second, and a sweet riesling for dessert).

Table Bread

Table Bread

Even the table bread was a delicious start — freshly warmed, the crunch of rustic bread with a warm fluffy center, slathered with softened butter. I always appreciate places that take the time to warm their bread, so Chaya was already getting brownie points from me.

Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro.

Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro.

Appetizer (M): Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro. As food lovers we are well aware that it is currently soft shell crab season! I could not believe that Chaya had it on their dineLA menu, and Martin snatched it up, though I made him promise to share. Dipped in a tempura batter, deep fried, and served over a bed of zucchini and yellow squash, the soft shell crab was absolutely succulent with its sweet meat and an oh-so-edible shell.

Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly.

Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly.

Appetizer (A): Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly. I’ll be honest, I think twice about ordering the same menu item as someone else when dining out in a group. Though it was inevitable with a party of four and three menu options from which to choose, I noticed that no one was getting the sashimi. I’m so glad I did because I love yuzukosho and its presence in the ooba (shiso) pesto totally made the dish, aside from the sexy plating of course. Crunchy watermelon radishes, tart yuzu jelly, and an assortment of microgreens were excellent garnishes to the fresh raw fish.

Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus.

Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus.

Main Course (M): Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus. Martin immediately gravitated to this dish and I could see why — the risotto was perfectly cooked (not too dry, not too runny, with al dente rice) and the plating was a show stopper with a massive lobster claw adorning the center of the plate. Don’t worry though — it’s already peeled and ready to extract for easy eating! I stole a bite or two and though I would not call it “spicy” it was full of spices and had a bit of a kick.

Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri.

Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri.

Main Course (A): Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri. We just celebrated Bastille Day with homemade steak frites last week, but spotting it on the menu, I wanted to try that wasabi chimichurri. The steak arrived just the right temperature (rare as requested), tender, and absolutely flavorful. The frites were crispy and a generous portion, plenty to share with my snacking companions.

Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet.

Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet.

Dessert (M): Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet. It was Martin’s turn to be “different” and he opted for the strawberry mochi. Sticky rice flour wrapped around a whole strawberry, it would be more accurate described as daifuku. The coconut sorbet on the side was refreshing and reminiscent of the milk and pulp straight from a young coconut. Despite the “girly” plating (as he put it), Martin really enjoyed this dessert, especially the flakes of strawberry-flavored white chocolate which reminded him of his favorite Pocky.

Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts.

Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts.

Dessert (A & M’s Mom): Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts. The presentation was stunning, and the first thing I did was grab one of the bits of hazelnut brittle. So good! The cake itself was rich with a thin layer of ganache (?) holding it together. I particularly enjoyed the ice cream as I am a big fan of the chocolate-banana combination. A great way to end the meal!

Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream.

Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream.

Dessert (M’s Dad): Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream. I was glad he ordered this as I wanted to see how Chaya’s interpretation of this British classic holds up. The sticky toffee pudding here (as our server had warned us) is more like a dense banana bread and is drizzled with a light bourbon sauce. I liked that it wasn’t too sweet or heavy but it was not quite what I think of when I think of sticky toffee pudding. Not a bad thing, just different.

There is still a week left of dineLA, so if you’re looking for a great deal and a beautiful venue for date night, consider Chaya Brasserie!

We also have plenty of write-ups for previous dineLA restaurant weeks, though the menu may vary:

– Piccolo Venice (Venice)

– Catch American Seafood (Santa Monica)

– Blue Stove (Santa Monica)

– Stefan’s at LA Farm (Santa Monica)

So get out there and enjoy the many awesome restaurants in our City of Angels!


Check out Chaya Brasserie: thechaya.com/beverlyhills

8741 Alden Drive
Los AngelesCA 90048

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA Summer 2014 – $$$ ($45/person) dinner

Parking: $6.50 for valet.

Soy Sauce Chicken and Sticky Rice Stuffing [Thanksgiving 2012]

Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I are both only children of Vietnamese parents who immigrated to America around the 1970s. I never had a so-called “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings (and neither has he) but I remember that as I was growing up, I would pester my mom about it. Her compromise? A roast chicken. Looks the same, tastes better, and size-appropriate for our humble family of three. Now that we’ve become a combined family unit of 6, a turkey still doesn’t feel quite right, so this year, we decided to do a roast chicken using one of my favorite recipes from Martin Yan’s cookbook. Yup, that’s right – I grew up watching Yan Can Cook. And if Yan can cook, so can you! (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

Voila -- roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing

Voila — roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing!

All of the credit goes to my mom, and to Martin Yan for the inspiration. After a few years of following the recipe, then tweaking and tweaking again, she finally settled on a fantastic marinade this year that blew me away. It was really that good. No, I’m not biased at all – why would you say that?

Without further ado, here goes the recipe for preparing your own soy sauce and garlic marinated roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing, a Nom Nom Cat Thanksgiving.


1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)


4 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons thick soy sauce (it comes in a jar, not the liquid-y kind in the bottle)

5-7 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Sticky Rice Stuffing

1 tablespoon oil

2 links of lap xuong (Chinese sausage), diced

1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms, diced

3 tablespoons dried shrimp, whole

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or more, to taste)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

3/4 cup glutinous rice (gạo nếp)

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

1) Game plan – the night before you plan to serve the meal: prepare the marinade, let the chicken do its thing, and soak the sticky rice. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade. Muddle the garlic a bit with the back of your spoon to really get the flavors out. Evenly drizzle over your cleaned and prepped chicken. I like to peel back the skin on the breasts and make sure some marinade soaks into the meat underneath. Let the marinade work its magic overnight in the refrigerator. In a large bowl, soak the sticky rice in enough warm water to cover the rice by at least an inch.

Marinated and ready for the oven!

Marinated and ready for the oven!

2) Game plan – 4 hours before dinner time: Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of warm water and the dried shrimp in a separate bowl of warm water. Let soak for 1 hour.

3) Game plan – 3 hours before dinner time: Prep the sticky rice stuffing. Drain the soaked mushrooms and shrimp; chop the mushrooms. In a large sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat. Toss in the garlic and Chinese sausage. Fry until the cubes look toasty. Then add the mushrooms, shrimp, and seasonings. Stir to combine and add pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the rice will “dilute” the overall flavor. Drain the rice and add to the pan, cooking until the rice starts to turn brown and roasty-toasty. Mix in the green onions. At this stage, add one tablespoon of water and continue to cook on low heat until the rice becomes somewhat softened. Take the stuffing off the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Sticky rice stuffing

Sticky rice stuffing

4) Game plan – 2 hours before dinner time: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. A 4.5 lb chicken will take at least 1.5 hours to cook, possibly 2 hours. Stuff the sticky rice stuffing into the chicken’s cavity. Truss the cavity closed using long skewers, turkey trussing skewers, or put your arts & crafts skills to work with a little twine and stitching. Drizzle the remaining marinade over the top of the chicken.

If you don't have fancy trussing tools, you could try toothpicks and hope it doesn't explode too much!

If you don’t have fancy trussing tools, you could try toothpicks and hope it doesn’t explode too much!

Bake at 375 degrees for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the dark meat juices run clear. Keep a watchful eye on the chicken and if it starts to darken too quickly, create a foil “tent” and loosely cover.

Cookie keeping a watchful eye on the chicken.

Cookie keeping a watchful eye on the chicken.

We hope you’ll enjoy our recipe for an Asian fusion holiday dinner. You can easily scale down the marinade (or follow the recipe and save the leftovers in a jar or reduce in a saucepan to drizzle over as a glaze) to accommodate smaller chickens, chicken parts (like boneless skinless chicken breast, if that’s your thing), cornish hens, etc. This meal always reminds me of Thanksgiving but the hearty, family-style nature of the roasted poultry is appropriate for any of the winter holidays (hint: just 5 days until Christmas!) or any time of the year really!

Our humble family

Our humble family

From our home to yours, we want to wish you all a very happy holiday and many good things to come in 2013!

Ennar Calasian Grill – Fountain Valley, CA

Food Adventures, Orange County

My parents don’t claim to be foodies, but I’m convinced they are because they always seem to catch wind of new restaurants opening up in Orange County. A few months ago, it just so happened that a family friend opened up a Vietnamese-Japanese fusion yakitori place and my parents came to visit within weeks of their opening. Having enjoyed their visit, they invited us to check it out this happenin’ hot spot – Ennar Calasian Grill – for Happy Hour. (Yes, it’s an interesting experience going out for HH with one’s parents, in case anyone was wondering…)

Ennar Calasian Grill – Fountain Valley, CA

To them, Happy Hour isn’t about cheap drinks (although we did start with a round of discounted Sapporo) — it’s about cheap food! The HH menu at Ennar is full of assorted yakitori-style skewers and izakaya-like starters. I’ll be honest, I was caught a little off-guard trying to order yakitori with a menu that only had English and Vietnamese on it (like asking for lưỡi when I would usually order gyutan). We spotted a few items that seemed a little out of place (roma tomato bruschetta?)  so we steered clear of those. Still, we ordered a good variety of what the menu had to offer so without further ado, we present everyone’s favorite part… the food.

I love checklists!

Cabbage Salad

Crispy cabbage and julienne strips of carrot tossed in a sesame vinaigrette, this was a great refreshing starter for a meal of grilled meat and fried foods.

Squid tentacles (râu mực) x 4

Tender and flavorful, the squid tentacles charred nicely on the grill, making these the perfect morsels to accompany a cold glass of beer. A must-have skewer when my dad goes out for yakitori!

Edamame with Garlic Sauce

Edamame appetizers are pretty standard in these types of restaurants, but Ennar makes theirs a little extra special by tossing them in a garlicky sauce and sprinkling with sesame seeds before serving. The sauce was tasty but a bit oily. It reminded me of eating flavored roasted sunflower seeds, where all the flavor is on the shell so you end up sucking on those before extracting the bland seeds in the middle…

Crispy Rice with Pork Belly

This was probably the best example of Japanese & Vietnamese fusion at work – a thin yakionigiri-like patty topped with a saucy pork belly that had the flavor profile of mom’s homemade thit kho.

Okra (not the bacon-wrapped kind)

I know, I know… bacon makes everything better. But I love plain ol’ grilled okra so I couldn’t resist. Grilling is a great way to prepare okra to minimize its sliminess, and this crispy green offers a welcomed break from all of the meats.

Gyutan (beef tongue, or luoi)

Mmm this is my must-have when going out for yakitori, yakiniku, really any place that offers it on the menu (I will also order lengua when given the opportunity). The gyutan here was a great texture – not too tender, not too chewy.

Pork belly, pork cheek, and bacon-wrapped quail eggs

I remember a conversation I once had with foodie friend Irene about food “buzz words” that automatically entice us to order items off any given menu. One of those buzz words is definitely pork belly. Seriously, who could resist that? The pork belly here was not as charred or caramelized as I would like, but each morsel melted like butter. The pork cheek was a bit fatty but a great cut of meat. We did get the uzura (quail eggs, trứng cút), Martin’s favorite, wrapped in bacon… and yes, bacon did make it better although the pork fat was a little too rich when paired with the boiled egg yolk.

Octopus Salad

I saw that the octopus salad got mixed reviews from diners on Yelp, but the owners of Ennar said that this was one of their signature menu items so we had to try it. I enjoyed the octopus, which (I believe) was parboiled and still a bit chewy. The salad had a light vinaigrette that complemented the octopus well.

Chicken Hearts

There is no shortage of offal when it comes to yakitori. The chicken hearts here are tender, perfectly charred, and served hot off the grill. Definitely try this one!


This was actually my first time having gizzard. It’s not that commonly found in the yakitori places in LA (and if you’ve tracked it down, please let me know where I can get me some!), but my dad spotted it on this menu and had to have it. The flavor was similar to the chicken hearts, but the texture is a bit chewier (in a good way).

Fried Tofu

Crispy on the outside, silky on the inside, and dusted with togarashi — this one’s a winner!

Lamb Chops

I enjoyed these chops, which were cooked perfectly to temperature (we ordered 3 rare and 1 medium) and coated in a fragrant herb marinade. They were served with a mustard sauce but I didn’t think the gamey lamb needed any condiments.

Tempura Soft Shell Crab

Martin and I agree that this was our favorite dish of the evening. The crab was succulent and perfectly fried with a light, crispy coating of the tempura batter.

Oyster Mushrooms

Mushrooms are so wonderful when they’re grilled, especially when you have hearty, flavorful ones like these hiratake or even shiitake.

Beef Tenderloin

Can’t go wrong with grilled tender cubes of filet, especially when they’re cooked perfectly to temperature!

Bacon-wrapped Enoki Mushrooms

This too came highly recommended by the owners, and I was very curious to see how such a stringy mushroom could be put on the grill. These smoky, juicy, decadent bacon-wrapped bundles were delicious!

Grilled Shrimp

These were pretty awesome. Salty, succulent prawns served whole.. just twist off the heads, suck out the juices, and peel & eat. So good!

Salt & Pepper Grilled Rice Ball (yakionigiri)

Yakitori isn’t just about meat… Martin and I love our carbs so we always look forward to some crispy charred yakionigiri. The rice at Ennar is seasoned with salt and black pepper, so much so that it has a bit of a spicy kick. Very nicely done.

Grilled Half Quail

Quails are small, bony birds but Ennar serves their quail more or less boneless (of course, they leave the fun parts like the wing and “drumstick”). The only thing that would have made it better is if the skin were crispier but isn’t that golden brown skin just gorgeous?

Baked Mussels topped with Caviar

I’m not the biggest fan of cheesy baked mussels, but these are hot and fresh and when they were placed on our table, the wafting aroma tempted me to dive right in. The green onion garnish (and the cheese) overpowered the caviar, but the overall flavor was good. It was definitely the most attractively plated dish of the evening and a nice way to end the meal.

The chefs at work

I love the open kitchen with the transparent panels to let visitors see the goings-on in the back of the house. The food was prepared well; my only gripe is that everything (and I mean everything!) was covered in togarashi. When I inquired about it, I was told that these “red sprinklers” are their signature touch. I still found it a bit unusual until I revisited another yakitori favorite and realized that they too have togarashi but set out little shakers for patrons to help themselves. Personally, I prefer having the option to take it or leave it. The togarashi was good on the first few skewers but then the flavor just got redundant and overpowered the natural goodness of the grilled meat. That could be just me.

All in all, the meal was very enjoyable as a “California” (and Vietnamese-fusion) rendition of yakitori. They don’t claim to be authentically Japanese and that’s perfectly OK. The staff was friendly and Ennar really seems like an up and coming hangout, especially during their Happy Hour! If you’re in the OC, be sure to stop by, grab an ice cold beer, and check out a skewer or two or three. They are situated in the far corner of a strip mall, so if you blink, you just might miss them. Just look for the bright neon script adjacent to the Saigon Performing Arts Center.


Check out Ennar Calasian Grill: ennarcg.com

16161 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

See their Yelp reviews here!

PS: They’re closed on Tuesdays.

WP24 and MVolt

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Downtown LA was abuzz last week thanks to LA Film Fest. I love indie films as much as the next Angeleno, but my Awesome Friend Irene pointed out a particularly interesting event – a screening of Dinner Rush along with a conversation with the artist in residence Michael Voltaggio. Since this one was at LA Live, Irene and I decided to have a pre-movie dinner across the street at WP24 on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carlton.

WP24 (WP = Wolfgang Puck, 24 = 24th floor) is a snazzy restaurant with a dining room and a bar/lounge, both boasting a beautiful view of the Downtown LA cityscape. The upscale Asian cuisine-based menu is generally on the expensive side, but they are currently running a special called Four for $24 — a rotating menu of their “Asian tapas” selections — as well as a $24 three-course tasting menu, both from 5-7pm daily. It initially drew us in but because of traffic, we arrived a bit too late to partake. No matter! We ordered several small plates to share and they were simply delectable.

Baby Pork Belly “Bao Buns” / Chinese Honey-Garlic Glaze

Baby Pork Belly “Bao Buns” / Chinese Honey-Garlic Glaze

The first thought that crossed both of our minds simultaneously was, more or less, “There are two pork belly dishes on the menu. Let’s get both!” This one turned out to be my favorite dish. The bao was perfectly fluffy and warm, the pork belly were succulent and coated in a delicious glaze, and the mini “sandwich” was topped with housemade pickles and a nice crispy julienne of scallion. It tasted wonderful as assembled, but once I dipped a bite into the hoisin-sriracha dollop, my taste buds were  immediately transported to the full sides of roast pork hanging in the windows of Chinese barbecue joints back home.

Tiny Dumplings / Pork Belly / Black Vinegar / Chili Oil

Tiny Dumplings / Pork Belly / Black Vinegar / Chili Oil

When I saw the words “tiny dumplings” alongside “black vinegar”, I assumed they would look like a cousin of xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings). I was a little thrown off when I saw they more closely resembled gyoza (Japanese potstickers), but they were absolutely delicious nonetheless. The filling was juicy and glistening with the fat from the pork belly, and the dumpling wrappers were a bit crispy from the pan searing.

Chicken “Dan Dan” Dumplings / Ground Peanuts /Chili

Chicken “Dan Dan” Dumplings / Ground Peanuts /Chili

These round spheres of dumplings arrived swimming in a flavorful peanut sauce that reminded me of Vietnamese satay soup (not to be confused with satay the grilled meat skewer dish). The chicken filling was very juicy and melded well with the strong flavor of the sauce.

Peking Duck Roll / House Special Hoisin Glace

Peking Duck Roll / House Special Hoisin Glace

Irene was quick to point out that these rolls left out the very best part about eating peking duck… the crispy skin! That was quite sad and a bit disappointing. The duck, however, was moist and well seasoned and the rolls themselves were crunchy without being too greasy. I’m not a huge fan of fancified egg rolls, but these were pretty good and went well with the hoisin sauce.

They recently added some summer cocktails to their lounge menu as well — if we weren’t in a rush to catch the screening, we would have stayed longer to try some of them. I spotted some refreshing buzzwords like cucumber, lemonade, and verbena. The service was just attentive enough and they brought out the food quickly since they knew we were pressed for time. Our server even closed out our tab and had the check ready in her hand right when we were asking for it. Props!

Many people mentioned that WP24 is dressy, but the lounge area is relatively casual since many patrons come straight from work in the nearby DTLA buildings. But then again, it is in the Ritz Carlton, so I don’t know about you, but I’d go a bit nicer than t-shirts and jeans. I will definitely be back sometime between 5-7 to try the Four for $24 menu! It’s a great alternative to regular ol’ happy hour specials.

Off we went to see the movie Dinner Rush, which was an interesting portrayal of the restaurant industry through a “day in the life” sort of perspective. Plus violence. But I don’t want to give away any spoilers. And grand finale we had been waiting for – a Q&A with the artist in residence Michael Voltaggio.

Michael Voltaggio at LA Film Fest

All in all it was a great evening and very much an “LA” thing to do. If you’re in Downtown or near LA Live, I’d definitely recommend swinging by WP24 for a pre-event meal. As someone who grew up watching the Food Network, I’m borrowing the closing words from Wolfgang Puck himself — live, love and eat!


Check out WP24: www.ritzcarlton.com

900 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90015

See their Yelp reviews here!