Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Linda Burum

Talesai on Sunset Boulevard to open Night Market next door


Just next door to Talesai on Sunset Boulevard, owner Kris Yenbamroong is busily assembling communal tables, hanging art and installing a bar for his new venture, Night Market. Set to soft-open on Thursday, "Night Market's menu won't be anything like Talesai's," says the young chef. Along with a large selection of craft brews and wine, he'll be giving an upmarket spin to the street foods that many say offer the most delicious tastes in Thailand.

The stars aligned for the new project earlier this year when Yenbamroong acquired the vacant space adjacent to Talesai. The opening menu will include Chiang Mai-style sausages, fried chicken wings with northern-style chile dip nam prik noom, and pork toro -- grilled pig's collar with jaew, an Isaan (eastern Thai) condiment. Yenbamroong says he used to scour Bangkok's open markets and street stalls while living there as a teenager. "I would ride scooter taxis home after school and I'd get tips by questioning the drivers who eat all over and know the best vendors and cooks." 

Thai night markets are where itinerant specialty chefs can shine, offering a single item that they've perfected with years of practice and feeding everyone from housewives and laborers to clubgoers. Yenbamroong is perhaps hoping to attract the latter at some point. The restaurant's limited opening hours are Thursday to Sunday, 6 p.m. to midnight, but eventually may be extended to at least 2 a.m.

9041 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (enter through Talesai, at 9043 Sunset), (310) 275-9724, www.talesai.com.

-– Linda Burum

Photo: Thai sausages. Credit: Talesai 

Mayan tasting dinners at Chichen Itza restaurant


Mexican cuisine goes wild at Chichen Itza’s Mayan tasting dinners. It may be nearly impossible to imagine Mexican food without cheese enchiladas, pork carnitas and other items made with ingredients that the Spanish introduced to the New World.  But the Mayans of the Yucatan had a sophisticated cuisine using wild game, fish, chocolate, tomatoes and other pre-Colombian foods.

Based on these alone, chef Gilberto Cetina, of the Yucatecan restaurant Chichen Itza, has created a multi-course tasting dinner menu of Mayan dishes that he’ll be offering tonight and next Friday night in his family’s Mercado La Paloma restaurant.

Such creations as sikil’pac (a toasted pumpkin seed and tomato dip), pato pibil (duck roasted in banana leaves), venison in pipian and wild boar with black beans are among the offerings--all unavailable elsewhere in the Southland.

The cost for the menu of hors d’oeuvres, soup, two entrée choices and dessert is $35 without tax or gratuity. Seatings are available at 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m. and require reservations available by calling (213) 741-1075 or e-mailing: gcetina@chichenitzarestaurant.com. See the menu at: www.chichenitzarestaurant.com.

Chichen Itza at Mercado La Paloma is at 3655 S. Grand Avenue #C6, Los Angeles.

-- Linda Burum

Photo: View of the Kukulcan Temple at the Chichen Itza archaeological site in Yucatan, Mexico. Credit: Marte Rebollar / AFP/Getty Images.


Thien An Bo Bay Mon in Rosemead: Get your seven-course all-beef dinner fix

When Vietnamese food lovers spot the neon sign of Thien An Bo Bay Mon, they know exactly what to expect at the Rosemead restaurant. Bo bay mon (often spelled bo 7 mon) denotes the famous Saigon-style all-beef dinners of seven courses, brought to the table one by one, each dish cooked by a different method.

Since the earliest days of Little Saigon, the fame of a seven-course beef specialty house such as Pagolac or Anh Hong has risen and fallen on its mam nem, a pungent dipping sauce that for some is an essential part of the meal. Based on aged, fermented anchovies (think Limburger cheese to the 10th power), it can be shockingly intense to the untrained palate. We would always request the more familiar sauce nuoc cham chua ngot.

At Thien An, the mam nem sauce is a world apart from those trés funky versions. "It's the southern style," says co-owner Lien Pham. "In the northern and central regions, people prefer stronger, saltier flavors."

To read the rest of Linda S. Burum's story, click here.

Photo: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

If chefs really like you, they really, really like you: Celebrating the ultimate patrons at Melisse


For Tinseltown, Sunday may have been all about the Golden Globe Awards, but for 20 of L.A.’s most prominent chefs and restaurateurs it was about the surprise party they had been planning for months in honor of two extraordinary patrons.

Neal Fraser of Grace, Joe Miller of Joe’s, Mako Tanaka of Mako and David Le Fevre of the Water Grill were among the dozen chefs preparing hors d’ oeuvres for the event at Mélisse in Santa Monica. Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Walter Manzke of Church & State and  Alain Giraud of Anisette would join four other chefs to prepare the five entrees. This was to be the dinner of all dinners -- “a big thank you from the Los Angeles restaurant community” is how Donato Poto, maitre d' of Providence, explained the gathering in honor of Leo and Ivy Chu.

“I call them godmother and godfather of L.A. restaurants,” says Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard, who made their favorite dessert, kaiserschmarrn. Poto has nicknamed them “Divine Diners.” They’re not investors but simply supportive friends, say many chefs. “Its not only because they’re good patrons who dine out nightly and fill several tables with their friends and business associates,” says Yard. “They have a way of bringing people together that somehow makes them feel like part of a family. Sometimes we’ll go to a Japanese barbecue or a hole in the wall with other chefs.”

In the 30 years the Shanghai-born couple have lived in L.A., the dinner table has been their medium for connecting people. “Before LinkedIn, there was Ivy and Leo,” quipped one party attendee. Whether it’s finding specialists and funding sources for the Huntington Library’s opulent Chinese Garden project, Flowing Fragrance, or helping to organize exploratory trips to China (and its restaurants) for a group of USC students and trustees or acting as a host to speakers from Chinese universities to lecture on the history of Shanghai Jews, entertaining at the table for the Chus is about forging links.


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J.R. Bistro brings a taste of the San Gabriel Valley to Chinatown

"This broth is surprisingly good," admitted my friend the fastidious Sinophile, swishing an abalone mushroom through the roiling, scarlet liquid in our hot pot at J.R. Bistro in Chinatown. At around 10 p.m. nearly every surface of our table was covered with plates and platters of raw ingredients: glistening shrimp and rosy beef slices, a tangle of emerald-green pea tendrils, Chinese greens and the combination plate of wild and fresh mushrooms -- half a dozen varieties arranged like a bouquet, each ready to soak up the simmering liquid in the pot.

Earlier, there had been a heated discussion about where to go for the hot-pot dinner we were craving. "Chinatown?" he wailed. He had long ago joined the legions who'd written off the neighborhood for the splendors of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley -- the crowd for whom no drive is ever too long, no traffic too snarled, no decor too spartan, if a taste of the best Taiwanese stinky fermented tofu or the most perfect Shanghainese river moss-enrobed fish in America were on offer.

But after he'd polished off nearly half a plate of crackly fried calamari with spicy garlic salt and a glass of Chardonnay, he settled in to the cozy dining room, tossed a chunk of pork kidney into the simmering pot and murmured something about the restaurant "not serving chop suey, at least."

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

ZIP Code of winter soup dreams: 9021Pho

The grilled prawn and green papaya salad at 9021Pho rests under a stack of crackly ramen-thin fried yam shreds that jut up from the bowl like flames. Its pristine freshness and modern garnish speak volumes about chef-owner Kimmy Tang's individualist approach to the food she grew up eating in Vietnam.

Tang closed her much-admired nouvelle Vietnamese bistro, Michelia on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles, early last year, but the vibrant flavors of her cooking still linger in the minds of fans. Now they're thrilled that she's set up shop in a vacated Beverly Hills pizzeria where she offers a simplified version of her former menu along with her rendition of the northern Vietnamese noodle soup, pho.

She's edited the lengthy list of soup choices so familiar in traditional noodleterias in favor of just four wholly different versions: rare beef, chicken, tuna and tofu.

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

'EAT: Los Angeles 2010' hits the shelves soon


Finding not just good food but the right food for the moment in this sprawling multicultural city can be enough work to make me stay home and eat oatmeal for dinner. Or go to the same spot over and over. So I, for one, am happy that "EAT:Los Angeles 2010" is scheduled to hit stores Dec. 1.

The second edition of the guide has more than 1,200 listings, from food trucks to fancy restaurants, all over the city, with 250 new listings. "I really was surprised that we had more new places than had closed," says editor Colleen Dunn Bates.

The 2010 guide also has a new section of a dozen tours of top food-loving neighborhoods such as Little India, Abbott Kinney Boulevard and Boyle Heights. The book was written by a group of food writers, including Linda Burum, an expert on international foods who writes for The Times; Amelia Saltsman, author of the "Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook"; and Pat Saperstein of Eating L.A.

Bates says there's been an increase in neighborhood gourmet markets such as the Larchmont Larder and the Oaks in Hollywood. She also took note of the food trucks trolling the city, found via blogs and tweets. While "EAT: Los Angeles" includes some of them, she says they're not so easy to keep track of.

-- Mary MacVean

The Find: Mantee in Studio City, Lebanese-Armenian fare done right


Like a classic storybook bistro, with smart burgundy awnings, lacy curtains and flower boxes at the windows, Mantee exudes a warm and welcoming aura. So why is the small dining room so empty?

Because most diners at this diminutive Lebanese-Armenian restaurant are eating out back in the impossibly romantic leaf-shaded patio, where lush potted plants are massed in every corner under the golden light of Parisian-style iron street lamps. And the guests? They're partying like there's no tomorrow.

Laughter floats through the air. Tables are spread edge to edge with mezes and other small plates: the best hummus you've ever tasted scattered with sautéed pine nuts; stuffed grape leaves with garlicky yogurt sauce; muhammara, the spicy dip of crushed walnuts, pomegranate and Aleppo pepper; and plates of bubbling feta baked in tomato coulis.

It turns out Mantee has a bit of a pedigree. The proprietor's family owns several internationally known eating places in the Near East. The family's Beirut restaurant, Al Mayass (they are proud to tell you) made it onto Food & Wine magazine's prestigious "Go List" of outstanding recommended restaurants worldwide.

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: Baguette rounds are topped with thinly sliced basturma and a quail egg. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

The Find: Amalia's Restaurant in L.A.

Just north of the traffic-tangling intersection where Beverly, Temple, Virgil, Commonwealth and Silver Lake merge sits Amalia's Restaurant. Secreted away in a refurbished bungalow on a shady stretch of Virgil, it's a surprising oasis where Amalia Zuleta's longtime dream, one that began with her arrival from war-torn Guatemala in 1984, is finally being realized.

The little house has been opened up to create an airy dining room. There are fine wood tables, a modest chandelier over the long service bar and specialty herbs growing outside the kitchen. On the adjacent leaf-shaded patio, tables draped with Guatemalan weavings under glass give a hint of the cuisine's Mayan origins.

Zuleta owned a small catering company in her homeland, but here in Los Angeles, as a kitchen helper at Mi Guatemala, she made little use of her skills. Later, her talents blossomed as head cook at Rinconcito Guatemalteca. There she attracted a loyal clientele that followed her when, in 1995, she opened a simple cafe (not far from her current one), Antojitos Chapines Amalia's, which has since closed.

Those familiar with Guatemalan food won't find Amalia's menu unusual. It's Zuleta's elegant refinements, her talent for fine-tuning mole-like sauces and her selection of good ingredients that turn what is basically rustic cooking into an urbane cuisine that's a magnet for her longtime devotees.

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: A chile relleno at Amalia's Restaurant. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

The Find: Zaatar Factory in Burbank

Zaatar-for-the-Daily-Dish Sunny-side-up eggs with flowing yolks and house-made Lebanese beef sausage top the khachapuri at Zaatar Factory in Burbank.

Made to order and served warm from the bakery's oven, the boat-shaped flat bread with high-fluted edges has the look of a chalupa. Your topping choices can vary: cheese or sautéed potatoes instead of sausage, or any combination of these. However you order it, khachapuri ranks up there with eggs Benedict or a smoked salmon omelet as a luxurious morning meal (although this 8-month-old bake shop serves it any time of the day).

The tiny shop's repertoire, a mixture of flour, yeast and family baking tradition, is tightly focused on seasoned and stuffed Lebanese-style breads. Pastries, cakes and even basic breads are left to others.

"Baking is in our family's blood," Zaatar Factory co-owner Silva Haroun says as she stacks beef and mushroom-stuffed breads called burek into a sparkling new display case. "Back in Lebanon, our relatives have owned six shops like this one."

Although the Harouns have lived here since 1979, Zaatar Factory is their first foray into the food business. It took their 23-year-old daughter, Annemarie, to get the ball rolling.

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.