Sakura Japanese Restaurant – Del Rey, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

One of the best parts of living in LA is that there are just so many dining options it would be nearly impossible to eat at them all. In an effort to explore our immediate surrounding neighborhood (yes, we have lived here for over two years and still haven’t tried everything), we decided to have an impromptu date night at a local favorite – Sakura Japanese Restaurant.

A bit stunned by AP (analysis paralysis), we asked our sushi chef if he could arrange an omakase for us with a modest budget of $60. He said sure and put on his number-crunching thinking cap. Martin pointed out that he seemed relieved to see a change of pace from the many veggie rolls we had seen him assemble in just the short time we had been sitting at the counter. This is the progression he created:

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Yellowtail (hamachi) – A sushi staple, this piece of hamachi spoke volumes of the quality of the meal ahead. The neta (the slice of fish atop nigiri) was a generous portion in all its dimensions.

Blue fin tuna (maguro) – Far from the generic dull-red fish we find at cheap sushi places, the blue fin tuna here was gorgeous, tender, and just wonderful.

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Monkfish Liver (ankimo) – I love ankimo but every other time we have had it, it was served gunkanmaki-style (mashed into a paste and scooped atop a mound of rice that had been wrapped in seaweed to form an oval-shaped vessel, like uni or ikura nigiri). This was the first time we’ve ever tried it in its most pure form — large fatty morsels simply garnished with scallions and ponzu and served with a sunomono-style salad of cucumbers, seaweed, and strings of daikon. Decadent and a steal at $8!

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Albacore (shiro maguro) – Definitely not to be missed, this albacore was served in its typical style with ponzu, scallions, and a hint of garlic. The fish melted in our mouths!

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Halibut (hirame) – A mild white fish that has a firmer, slightly chewy texture, it is always interesting to have sashimi-grade versions of fish that are more frequently served cooked.

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Spanish Mackerel (aji) – The most mild mackerel I’ve ever had, not a single hint of oily fishiness that usually comes with aji or saba. Beautiful!

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Sea Urchin (uni) – Super creamy and smooth, this Santa Barbara delicacy was among the best we’ve had at any sushi restaurant.

As many others have mentioned before us, Sakura Japanese Restaurant is a hidden gem on the mini restaurant row of Centinela Avenue of our humble piece of the Westside and we’re happy to have finally tried it for ourselves.

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Check out Sakura Japanese Restaurant:

4545 South Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here!

Farsi Cafe – Westwood, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Happy 2015, dear readers! We hope one of your New Year resolutions was to keep eating good food because that’s definitely what we plan to do. One distinct advantage of living in Los Angeles is its proximity to ethnic cuisines from around the world. Here on the Westside, we’re just a stone’s throw away from Little Persia – the stretch of Westwood Boulevard that is affectionately known as Tehrangeles for its prominent Iranian immigrant population. Waking up with an inexplicable craving for crispy rice one lazy afternoon, we decided to get lunch at Farsi Cafe.

The first thing I noticed when we walked inside the dining room was that it was set up to primarily accommodate large parties; the two of us settled in at a table meant for four. Throughout our lunch, we understood why — there were families of all sizes coming in through the door to share a leisurely meal.

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Our server brought out a basket of flat bread (lavash) along with the traditional plate of butter and raw onion. (We were perplexed but a quick Google search taught us that the onion is meant to accompany the grilled meats and the butter could be either spread on lavash or melted over rice). He also surprised us with a bowl of mast-o khiar (yogurt and cucumber) compliments of the chef. Similar to Greek tzatziki or Indian raita, this cool refreshing dip was the perfect accompaniment to both the plain flat bread and to the spiced grilled meat I ordered for my entree.

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Speaking of entrees, I selected my usual Persian food go-to — the koobideh (ground beef kabob) with rice. The generous portion came with two skewers and a giant mound of rice topped with a smaller pile of saffron infused rice (my favorite!). The typical garnishes of grilled onion, tomato, and bell pepper added that extra smoky charred flavor. The beef was well seasoned, and did I mention how huge the serving was? I got three meals out of it!

2014-09-28 13.19.34Our journey to Farsi Cafe started with the desire for crispy rice so of course, Martin went with the house special tahchin. Each order is served a “slice” of a large “pie” made of crisped saffron rice and shreds of chicken. The slice is then topped with zereshk (barberries), tart little dried currants that pair excellently with chicken (think turkey and cranberry). I stole more than a few bites of his meal and just could not stop myself. It was so good — the crunchy rice, the spiced chicken, the tart berries!

If you’re trying to choose from the many delicious offerings all along Westwood Boulevard, we suggest coming in to Farsi Cafe to try their tahchin, mast-o khiar, saffron rice, and koobideh. And then wash it all down with Persian ice cream at Saffron & Rose just up the street afterward!

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Check out Farsi Cafe: farsicafela.com

1916 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

Westside Tavern – West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

When Martin and I go out, more often than not, food is the main event. We don’t plan to go anywhere afterward; we simply enjoy our dinner and each other’s company. If we have the luxury and opportunity, a tasting menu consisting of a dozen courses would be our idea of date night. But sometimes, you’re in the mood for the oldie but goodie – dinner and a movie. That’s where Westside Tavern comes in.

Foreground: Sazerac Old Overholt Rye Whiskey | Simple Syrup | Bitters | Absinthe Mist (Background: Iced Green Tea)

Foreground: Sazerac Old Overholt Rye Whiskey | Simple Syrup | Bitters | Absinthe Mist (Background: Iced Green Tea)

Situated in the heart of the Westside Pavilion, a few short miles down Westwood Boulevard from our alma mater, Westside Tavern is built to accommodate the patrons of the adjoining Landmark Theater. The service is quick, friendly, and efficient, and the food comes out with plenty of time to spare even if you’re trying to squeeze in a three-course meal before a show (guilty as charged). With my recent career trajectory, and given the personal recommendations I had received, we decided to see Chef (GREAT movie, by the way). To whet our appetites for the food-themed movie, we decided to indulge.

Appetizer: Jar of Chicken Liver Mousse - Green Apple Chutney | Grilled Sourdough

Appetizer: Jar of Chicken Liver Mousse – Green Apple Chutney | Grilled Sourdough

Appetizer: Jar of Chicken Liver Mousse – Green Apple Chutney | Grilled Sourdough

It’s no secret on this blog that we love all things charcuterie, so when a place offers chicken liver mousse, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be ordering it. The adorable glass jar of paté was topped with a wine-red gelée (I couldn’t identify the flavor as it was vaguely sweet but overpowered by the liver). I really enjoyed the crisp and tart chutney; when I had read the description on the menu, I expected a more jam-like cooked chutney but was pleasantly surprised by this fresh pickled salad of sorts. The grilled sourdough was delicious and unique “paté carrier” in lieu of regular old toast. I am incredibly biased with regard to the paté itself, however, and while it was good, it just did not live up to the hype of the many positive reviews I had read (see Yelp and other forums). The primary thing for me was the color; I could not get past the gray hue of oxidized livers.

Entree: Butter Poached Lobster Roll on Brioche

Entree: Butter Poached Lobster Roll on Brioche

Entree: Butter Poached Lobster Roll on Brioche

When we went to New England last spring, I learned that there were two competing camps of lobster rolls: Connecticut-style (tossed in hot, drawn butter) and Maine-style (served cold in a mayo-based salad). I am in food-love with the hot, buttery CT-style and jumped at the chance to have one here, despite the $19 price tag. A crispy, toasted, split-top brioche roll packed to the brim with succulent knuckle and claw meat… I was in cholesterol heaven! They say money can’t buy happiness, but Westside Tavern managed to name a price. $19. All things considered, not a bad deal for buttery bliss.

(Martin had the Wagyu Beef French Dip – Smoked Onion Vinaigrette | Horseradish Cream | Thyme Jus | French Roll. He dug in too quickly for me to snap a photo but seemed quite happy with his hot, meaty sandwich swimming in hearty jus.)

Dessert: Warm Sticky Toffee Cake - Mascarpone Cream

Dessert: Warm Sticky Toffee Cake – Mascarpone Cream

Dessert: Warm Sticky Toffee Cake – Mascarpone Cream

There’s ALWAYS room for dessert, and when at a pub with “tavern” in the name, you just can’t pass up the sticky toffee pudding! It has been said by others and I will say it again here: the sticky toffee cake at Westside Tavern is HUGE. Like “bring all of your friends and share” huge. The cake was warm and spongy, the toffee sauce sweet and syrupy, and the quenelle of mascarpone cream was the perfect light and airy touch. We regretted not being able to finish it all then and there.

So as I mentioned earlier, our server was great at timing our courses so that we could eat without feeling rushed but still get our meal served in time to run upstairs and catch the movie. We allotted an hour and a half before our scheduled movie time and it worked out perfectly (the less ambitious could probably plan for an hour flat). Overall, it was certainly the best dinner-and-a-movie experience that I can recall!

And speaking of movies, if you haven’t seen Jon Favreau’s Chef yet, I highly recommend checking it out. The kitchen humor especially is hilarious and hilariously accurate, while still being an enjoyable and relatable movie to viewers in and out of the industry alike. And for those who have seen it, I leave you with two words: hush puppies.

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Check out Westside Tavern: westsidetavernla.com

10850 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

See their Yelp reviews here!

Summer Days: Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles
Rainbow of Paletas at Mateo's Ice Cream and Fruit Bars

Rainbow of Paletas at Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars

HAPPY JUNE from us here in sunny southern California!

The days are longer, the sun is shining brighter, and the weather is just screaming for (what else?) ICE CREAM! I had had Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars bookmarked on my list of places to check out for years, all the way back when we still lived in Palms. Now we live in Del Rey, which is right around the corner from this unassuming strip mall off Sepulveda Boulevard near Lucerne. A flourescent orange length of retail with a giant laundromat anchor, you just can’t miss this spot. Mateo’s is squeezed in all the way in the corner.

The storefront is tiny but boasts brightly colored signs depicting fruits both familiar and exotic. It looks and smells like walking into a giant cornucopia, in a good way. The case of ice cream features flavors I’d never seen elsewhere like mamey, smoked milk, and horchata with walnuts. Making our way further into the store, we find the paletas — Latin American fruit-based ice pops (or popsicles). The paletas are arranged in a rainbow, with pink and red strawberry (including a halved strawberry embedded in the middle of the popsicle), golden-colored mango con chile, bright orange-hued cantaloupe, green cucumber con chile, bright alabaster coconut, copper-colored tamarind, and some more sweet-tooth-appeasing creations like chocolate dipped and shaved coconut dusted paletas to finish. It’s an amazing sight, and certainly appetizing on a warm summer day.

Best of all? Each paleta is just $2. TWO DOLLARS. An amazing deal especially for the sheer quantity and quality of fresh fruit that goes into making each paleta. They taste like the ripened fresh fruit is pureed, strained, poured into the molds, and frozen. No frills, no additives. On our first visit, I had the cucumber on chile. I love cucumber desserts, and this one was icy and refreshing with just a slightly salty kick from the chile powder. The main part of the paleta was almost too icy, with the high water content of the cucumber itself, but I definitely enjoyed the bits of diced fresh cucumber embedded throughout. Martin had a creamy, coffee-flavored bar that reminded me of a Fudgesicle in texture. Ahh nostalgia… we knew we were going to come back.

Sure enough, on our next visit I opted for the mango con chile which I enjoyed even more because of its natural sweetness, the soft chunks of ripe golden mango, and the toothsome texture, much less icy than the cucumber one. The chile powder, reminiscent of the packets sold alongside fresh cut fruit by the street vendors, was just spicy enough to feel a subtle kick. Definitely a summer favorite, I know I’ll be coming back specifically for this paleta over the next few months (and beyond — we all know how beautiful the weather is here year-round).

Martin saw the cantaloupe paleta in the display case, one of his all-time favorite fruits and a new addition for the summer season, and just had to have it. He shared only a small nibble, but I could taste how sweet yet refreshing it was. Like a frozen agua fresca, that paleta embodied the purest essence of cantaloupe. It was so freaking good.

Our only regret is not giving this place a try sooner, but now that we’re in the know, you can bet we’ll be coming back and telling all of our friends (starting with you dear readers!). Happy summer indeed.

Plenty of Paleta Love from NomNomCat!

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Check out Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars: mateosicecream.com

4929 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here!

Food Pic Friday: Sushi Central (Re-visited)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

First, a personal update for NomNomCat Readers (if you’re just looking for drool-worthy photos on this Food Porn Friday, scroll past this paragraph): WE’RE BACK! Our deepest apologies for our three month long hiatus. For those who are interested, here’s the reason for it — as you may well know, life offline can get in the way of blogging. And boy has 2014 already been a crazy adventure… With this food blog about to celebrate its third birthday, it should come as no surprise that food is a huge passion in our lives. So much so, in fact, that I decided to change my career trajectory to the culinary arts; I currently work in a professional kitchen as a line cook, having jumped head-first into Kitchen Life. Working sixty hours a week in a physically strenuous, mentally challenging, and emotionally stressful environment leaves little time to sit down and write about the latest LA hot spots three times a week like we did before. But I still love to write, and I sincerely missed this forum for communicating my (and our) love for celebrating life through eating and cooking. And so I make this promise to come back with new content once a week. The format will likely be different though; gone are the days of 1,000-word entries. Instead, the focus will likely shift to local food news and events, photos from new and new-to-us dining experiences, and, if we can manage it, make-at-home recipes now and then. Thank you all for your understanding and support these past (almost) three years! We’ll definitely have to do something fun for our blogiversary!

And now for the food.

Back in 2012, my bff S and I celebrated her birthday with affordable but delicious omakase at a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Palms (West Los Angeles): Sushi Central. The sheer variety and quality of the fish and the expertise of Chef Phillip Yi behind the counter blew away all of my preconceived notions about strip mall sushi. Recently, Martin had a sudden and insatiable sushi craving and we decided to pay a visit to this neighborhood gem.

Maguro (Tuna) Sashimi

Maguro (Tuna) Sashimi

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IMG_0705Forgive me, I generally pride myself on being able to remember details about my dishes, but this dinner took place back in March and I have since forgotten which fish above is which. I believe they were halibut, snapper, and sea bream (not necessarily in that order) but please let me know if YOU happen to know and I will happily edit this entry.

Ono (Escolar)

Ono (Escolar), super juicy with a smoky char from being oh-so-briefly torched.

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Liver(?) from the Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Liver(?) from the Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Live Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Live Sweet Shrimp)

Broth made from the shells of the amaebi

Broth made from the shells of the amaebi

Crispy Fried Amaebi Heads

Crispy Fried Amaebi Heads

Sushi Central offers my all-time favorite amaebi preparation and I say that with full confidence. Where else could you get a tasty shooter, an umami-rich broth, a well-seasoned piece of nigiri, and a crispy fried head all from one little shrimp? Chef Phillip puts forth a great deal of effort to showcase the beauty that is amaebi and it is certainly appreciated.

Salmon Belly

Salmon Belly

Live Scallop (and the crew - Chef Phillip on the right and Seiji on the left)

Live Scallop (and the crew – Chef Phillip on the right and Seiji on the left)

Live Scallop Nigiri Sushi and Sashimi

Live Scallop Nigiri Sushi and Sashimi

An Artist at Work

An Artist at Work

"Dirty Rice" made from the hinge muscle and innards of the scallop

“Dirty Rice” made from the hinge muscle and innards of the scallop

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver) - my personal favorite

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver) – my personal favorite

Spanish Mackerel - a fishy, oily bite to end our meal

Spanish Mackerel – a wonderfully fishy, oily bite to end our meal

At $100 a head (we originally aimed closer to $50 but added on the live amaebi, live scallop, AND ankimo), it was a splurge for a weeknight meal but definitely well worth the expense. Chef Phillip had even stayed overtime by a full hour just to show off more of his freshest and most interesting fish. Don’t dismiss this place if you’re deterred by the online menu full of California Rolls and Dragon Rolls. Bypass all of those run-of-the-mill offerings, pull up a seat at the counter, and let Chef Phillip do what he does best. You won’t be disappointed.