Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Lunch

Bon Marché Bistro charts new territory

Bistro3

As soon as you enter Bon Marché Bistro in Monterey Park, you realize it’s not the quaint French café that its name evokes.

Stacks of dishes that look like small sawed-off barrels sit on a counter in front of the open kitchen. Earthenware pots and boxes of fresh produce occupy a ledge in front of the restaurant’s heavy iron stove.

The arrangement may seem haphazard, yet it typifies the traditional farm family kitchens in Hong Kong’s once-rural New Territories, an area wedged between Kowloon and the borderland with mainland China. And Joseph Li, the man at the stove, is giving many Angelenos their first taste of this little-explored region.

Read more about The Find here.

Photo credit: Christina House / For The Times

Man Bites World -- and lives to tell about it

After eating out 102 days in a row, sometimes multiple times in one day, Noah Galuten had just one craving left: A home-cooked meal.

Galuten is the Culver City-based blogger behind www.manbitesworld.com, who gained a following when he endeavored to sample a different nationality’s cuisine every day, for as many consecutive days as he could.

A self-described “hugely passionate food person,” Galuten, 26, figured blogging would help him keep his mind off his unemployment woes.

“It was an incredibly emasculating feeling of trying to find a job and not be able to find anything,” said Galuten, a playwright who was looking for a job, any job, in the arts. “I needed something to get my juices flowing.”

Like any good scheme, the plan was hatched with friends over Mexican food, a cuisine that Galuten

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Just where is Clifton's cafeteria?

Cliftons We've  heard from many readers about our story on Clifton's Brookdale, people who remember going to Clifton's on trips downtown to shop or go to the theater.

A Clifton's fan from Orange County wrote: "I've been going to Clifton's for years and believe that it is a real gem the community needs to hold on to."

Take a look at Clifton's here.

A musician who now lives in Northern California remembers eating at Clifton's as a child. "I do recall the canaries’ singing and I remember a treasure chest or prize of some sort that I would get when leaving Clifton's. That wasn’t mentioned in your article but it is in my mind along with a wooden spoon that had a dyed-red tip on it; both those things I associate with Clifton’s."

That treasure chest held toys for diners who got the child's tray. And the wooden spoon was actually a flag on the trays with a red tip. The tip gave children the right to choose a toy from the chest.

A reader asked for the hours and address: 648 S. Broadway (near 7th Street), Los Angeles. It's open 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day, later on Fridays and Saturdays for now; (213) 627-1673.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Restaurant Spotting: Sauce on Hampton opens in Venice

Photo_3 About a month ago, Sauce on Hampton opened in the former Jimmy's on Hampton space, just off Rose Avenue in Venice. Unless you're a local or a regular at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, where 25-year-old chef-owner Sassan Rostamian (right) gets much of his produce -- or you spend a lot of time at Max Muscle, which is next door -- you might not have noticed. That's because Sauce doesn't have a sign or a website or even an awning yet. 

The menu is simple, with no dish more than $11. For breakfast, there are frittatas and omelets made with organic eggs, and steel-cut oatmeal with flax meal and blueberries. The lunch and dinner menu features salads, tapas (caramelized mushrooms and shallots over polenta cakes), sandwiches (grilled cheese with applewood bacon, tomatoes, red onions and aioli) and burgers.  Among the bigger plates: "Charleston char shiu" pulled pork. The sides are vegetable-oriented, such as sauteed shaved fennel, and quinoa with seasonal vegetables. And for dessert, there's baked quince with saffron-rosewater sauce and yogurt.

Rostamian, who is from Los Angeles and holds a degree in chemistry from UCLA, recently spent 10 months at Rustic Canyon, where he was the lunch chef. Before that, he cooked his way across Europe, doing stints in kitchens in Amsterdam, Rome and Florence. He just hung the pictures he took of Dutch tulips on Friday, in the tiny (15- by 12-foot) dining room. You can sit outside too, if you don't mind sharing the sidewalk with parked skateboards. The little restaurant does a lot of takeout business, and this is Venice, after all.

Sauce on Hampton, 259 Hampton Drive, Venice. (310) 399-5400. (Website under construction.) Open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

-- Amy Scattergood

Photo of Sassan Rostamian in front of Sauce on Hampton, by Amy Scattergood.

Eight great three-hour dates on a $25 budget

MalibuseafoodOur Business section shows you how to wine and dine your sweetie -- and still stick to your budget. Business editor Sallie Hofmeister tells you what's on the menu:

"My partner, David, and I had missed celebrating the New Year with a couple of our friends, so we made plans to meet them at the Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market and Patio Cafe a few Sundays later to satisfy our craving for raw oysters and champagne.

"I packed a little cooler with a couple of bottles of Blason de Bourgogne's Cremant de Bourgogne, a delicious French sparkling wine sold at Trader Joe's for $9.99. I dug out a box of cheap champagne flutes and tucked an oyster knife into my pocket. Off we went at about 2 in the afternoon, giving us enough time to enjoy the day and take in the sunset."

Read the full story on cheap dates here:

Photo: Nate Bressler / For The Times

Chronic Tacos to light up West L.A. -- in a gas station [UPDATED]

Orangelocation2

For the better part of this decade, Orange County residents have been able to eat a “fatty taco” or two at one of many Chronic Taco locations (the first outpost opened in Newport Beach seven years ago).

Starting next month, Westside lovers of quality fast food won’t have to make the drive south to "cop some Chronic."

A joint venture (no pun intended) between Chronic Tacos and the folks behind the famed West Coast Customs car remodeling shop (the auto-customization business known worldwide thanks to the “Pimp My Ride” and "Street Customs" reality TV series) will debut in West L.A. by March.

So where will L.A.'s first lunchtime-accessible Chronic reside? In a gas station

No kidding. 

A Chevron station (at 11261 Santa Monica Blvd.) will sell Chronic tacos on site, no doubt pleasing L.A. residents who appreciate the chain with cult-like reverence. We were told they will have seats inside, but a nice lady who answered the phone there Wednesday said it would be more of a "takeout situation."

But fear not: More franchises are on the way, according to Bryan Harrington, who works with the fledging chain.

A lot more.

“Our plan is to open 200 stores over the next five years,” said Harrington via phone Wednesday from Costa Mesa.

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Bento boxes for kids' lunches

Photo A few weeks ago, I wrote a lunchbox story about ways to jazz up your packed meal. One thing I didn't mention was something I've discovered while packing lunches for my two kids: bento boxes. Lunch in a bento box is a Japanese tradition (both at home and in restaurants), and depending on the time you spend and the kind of bento box you have -- some are very ornate -- it can be a real art form.  But what I like the most about bento boxes, aside from how pretty they make things look with relatively little effort, is that they're green. No product packaging, no Baggies, no tin foil. (Okay, so I wrapped the chocolate-dipped madeleines, but I ran out of room!)

I pack very simple bento boxes, with plain containers I found at Mitsuwa Marketplace. They're dishwasher and microwave safe, and -- most important -- they come with secure lids that clip down to prevent spilling. These have dividers too; more elaborate bento boxes have even more compartments. I use cupcake papers to keep things organized (most kids do not appreciate their food migrating) and try and use as little of those as possible. I pack little chopsticks, and pick up the free soy sauce packets at the Japanese market. The sushi I make myself, since Sophie only wants rice in hers, but you can buy inexpensive vegetable sushi (and even precooked rice) in the market coolers if you're in a hurry. For kids who aren't Japanese food fans, the boxes are great for housing bread and cheese, fruit, little sandwiches or anything else you can think of. And they stack very nicely into most lunchboxes or bags. Best of all, my kids think the boxes are so much fun that they often volunteer to make their lunches themselves. 

Bento boxes, about $6 at Mitsuwa Marketplace; 3760 Centinela Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 398-2113, and five other Los Angeles and Orange County locations. Note that the Little Tokyo store is closing Sunday. Bento boxes are also widely available at other Japanese groceries and shops. 

-- Amy Scattergood

Photo by Amy Scattergood

Mai Mexican gets a makeover

Maismexicanb1 Downtown's hungry hordes have probably walked by Mai Mexican Kitchen a hundred times without thinking about stopping in. This year, new owners are attempting to change that. 

Husband-and-wife team Darius and Mirna Tahmasebni took over the tiny restaurant (at 30 by 18 feet, Mai’s is smaller than most studio apartments) from her uncle earlier this month and have already started making some changes, starting with a paint job.

A colorful new mural on the side of the brick building that sports the restaurant's name is the first indication that the couple are stepping up their game to woo residents of the area, many of them newly arrived loft-leasers. Bright yellow paint and new tile now greet those just discovering Mai (a.k.a. Mai Super Tacos), along with the dedicated fans who have been coming for more than a decade.

Nothing on the menu is over $8, and the meat-centric fare is exactly the kind of Mexican home cooking many are seeking for a quick lunch or early dinner downtown.

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Pulled pork in downtown L.A.*

Pulleys1 While looking for an elusive falafel purveyor near 5th and Main Street yesterday at lunch, I stumbled upon pulled pork sandwiches being sold from a cart tucked into a doorway of the Crocker Bank Building (home to the upcoming Crocker Club). Blink and you'll miss it, but Pulley's is worth a stop.

Touting "world famous" pulled pork sandwiches, the cart is a one-man operation that is both staffed and marketed by Charles "Captain Chuckie" Hsieh. It had just opened that day, and I was one of the first customers.

Hsieh, 28, who emigrated from Taiwan at age 7 and grew up in San Marino, developed a love for pulled pork while stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The former army medic who served for a year with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan says, "They had these pulled pork sandwiches down there. You would find them at drive-throughs and it was so convenient. When I came back, I was looking for them here, but they were only available at sit-down restaurants and they cost $9, so I decided to make them in my own style."

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.