5i Indochine Cuisine – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

We are proud to live in our beloved City of Angels, surrounded by amazing food from cuisines the world over. But despite the many ethnic enclaves that make up the Westside, it is darn near impossible to find good Vietnamese food here. Martin hails from the San Gabriel Valley and I was born and raised in Orange County, so those 24-hour pho restaurants with kitschy names just don’t do it for us. That is, until we found 5i. At first glance, the menu seemed a bit scattered with Singaporean noodles, har gow and shu mai dim sum dumplings, and pad thai. But after paging through, we noticed that the bulk of the menu was made of familiar dishes that encompass more than just the infamous beef noodle soup that everyone thinks of. For example…

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

SO GOOD. More on this later. 5i Indochine Cuisine just opened earlier this year. The restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall nestled in a Culver City strip mall, right between a karaoke bar and a dive bar. Fear not — once you slide into a parking space and navigate around the unsavory characters loitering about, entering 5i is like stepping into another world. A trendy-looking, IKEA-decorated world.

The Decor

The Decor

Our server quickly seated us and brought us the menus. While perusing our options, we overheard that they were giving a discount to the police officers sitting next to us as a small token of appreciation for the work they do. I thought it was a nice gesture. The expectations continued to rise when she came over to check in on us and discovered that we could communicate in Vietnamese. That definitely swayed me toward the Bún / Cơm (vermicelli rice noodles and rice plates, respectively) pages of the menu.

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Martin had a huge craving for phở so he decided to go with that. Sadly, his favorite type of meat, the tripe (sách), was not available (it is on the menu but it seems they had run out that day). Instead, he selected the phở tái with rare slices of beef. First, of course, comes the plate of herbs — rau quê (Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices.

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Despite the initial disappointment at the lack of tripe, Martin seemed to enjoy his steaming bowl of pho. The broth was actually pretty impressive in its fragrance and flavor. Not quite Pho 79, but definitely better than the others I’ve had in LA. Lots of beefy flavor, the aroma of star anise and charred onion, and plenty of fresh scallions and white onion. I would go into the nitty gritty details, but I only got one bite and a few sips of broth.

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

I am usually a fiend for noodle soup, but I could not pass up the opportunity for a big bowl of vermicelli so I got the bun thit nuong. Rice noodles, chopped lettuce, cucumber strips, and fresh bean sprouts form a refreshing bed for the hot-off-the-grill (or flat-top?) slices of juicy, smoky pork. Pour on the fish sauce and dig in. It’s like a warm salad, in the very best way imaginable. One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, especially in the summertime… or this unusually warm winter.

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

I had a feeling I would be satisfied with my bowl of bún, but as I was closing up the menu, my eyes took notice of an item on the appetizers list. Crispy shrimp patty — ground shrimp patty wrapped in a crispy tofu skin. Wait… isn’t that tau hu ky (tàu hũ ky)? I had to ask our server but she confirmed my suspicion. It’s one of my all-time favorite add-ons for cold Vietnamese dishes, so I ordered a plate of these as well. These were hot hot hot, fresh from the fryer, and the layers of bean curd crunched satisfyingly with each bite. The center was well-seasoned minced shrimp, which was only accentuated by the sweet & sour dipping sauce (a bit unconventional, but still delicious). The tau hu ky at 5i rivaled that of our established favorites in the SGV and OC. Spectacular!

If you’re in or near the Westside and looking for pho (or to expand your Vietnamese food eating repertoire beyond it), cruise on over to 5i Indochine Cuisine. We can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but the Vietnamese dishes are pretty darn stellar.

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Check out 5i Indochine Cuisine: 5ipho.net

5407 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here – though to be honest, I disagree with many of the reviews. To address a few: 5i is NOT Asian fusion. Most of the menu features Vietnamese dishes, so don’t order the Thai food and expect it to outdo “authentic” places. Yes, the parking lot can be a bit shady but that’s no reason to penalize the restaurant. And lastly, sparse and curt customer service is just how it is at many Asian restaurants… don’t come here expecting Michelin star treatment (although when we went, we found the staff to be pretty friendly).

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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!

Gizzard

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.

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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.

Welcome to Pasadena, Real Food Daily!

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Restaurant openings are always newsworthy in the food-loving community, but when you get the rare opportunity to visit a restaurant during its soft opening events, it feels like there is an extra-special, electrifying sense of excitement in the air. I work with a few of the investors so news of this opening has been a-buzzing for a while now, and we were very excited to be invited to celebrate the grand opening a day early. Tomorrow (May 22nd), Real Food Daily will be opening to the public its third storefront, bringing fresh and healthy vegan cuisine to Pasadena in addition to the current locations in Santa Monica and West Hollywood. The Pasadena RFD is simply beautiful with its indoor and outdoor dining areas, wood finishes, vibrant green walls, open kitchen, and inviting bar counter. We were welcomed by hearty handshakes from Rob Jacobs and radiating smiles from Ann Gentry, the founder of RFD who has developed quite a following in Los Angeles for her focus on seasonal ingredients and 100% vegan menu.

We saw many familiar faces and of course, we couldn’t help but first admire the shiny, brand-new kitchen!

While mingling, we partook in the passed hor d’oeurves, featuring small bites that offered tastes of their impressive repertoire of all-vegan dishes. Some of our favorites included:

SEA CAKE Butternut squash, yam and sea vegetable croquette, pesto, sweet chili aioli. A wonderfully seared vegan “crab” cake, served with a smile. :)

(Left) NORI MAKI Sweet brown rice, shiso, tempeh, avocado, carrot, collard greens, umeboshi, tamari dipping sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger

(Right) WABI SABI ROLLS Cabbage, cucumber, carrot, mint, cilantro, rice noodles, rice paper, wasabi dressing

(Left) RFD Burger with cashew “cheese” – I’m sure it’s a great burger as an entree, but I especially loved the teeny tiny one-bite hors d’oeurves version.

(Right) Kale & Cuke (kale and cucumber lemonade) – it was so popular that they ran out of the kale puree sometime during the event!

(Left) All of the newly trained staff are friendly and genuinely excited for the new RFD!

(Right) Açai Berry Iced Tea – another delicious and refreshing drink option!

Of course, we HAD to try the desserts! There was an incredible selection; I think we were gawking at the display case for a few solid minutes before finally making our selections.

We wanted to try them all!

Mixed berry cheesecake – vegan and gluten-free, made with a tofu “cream cheese” and swirled with berry flavor!

(Left) Penny, one of the oh-so-friendly staff members, also hooked us up with the Apple and Raspberry Kanten – apple sauce thickened with agar agar and layered with dried cranberries and raspberries. For those with nut allergies, that crumbly topping is toasted walnuts.

(Right) Chocolate coconut squares and walnut truffle. The coconut squares are wonderful, and I don’t even like coconut! Martin tried the walnut truffle and enjoyed the soft center.

Our friends Cassandra and Brian surprised us with plates of more desserts that they were able to track down!

(Left) Moist chocolate cupcakes, one with thick “cream cheese” frosting and the other dusted with cute little sprinkles.
(Right) Assorted cookies.

It was a fun event and a fantastic opportunity to experience firsthand the passion that the RFD team feels for their product. We managed to track down Ann and all in all, we got the impression that she feels optimistic that vegan cuisine will be warmly received in Pasadena. We agree and think they’ll be very successful with this third location! If you’re in the area, be sure to check them out!

Left to right: Duncan Lemmon, investor and passionate vegan, Ann Gentry, Rob Jacobs, and us!

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Check out Real Food Daily on the web at realfood.com!

899 East Del Mar Blvd

Pasadena, CA 91101

Even though it’s a new location, visit their Yelp reviews!