The Best Things I Ate in 2015

Branzino, Maré

Los Angeles has been a phenomenal place to eat for the duration of 2015. In fact, it’s been really hard to keep up with everything going on in all parts of the city, but what a great problem to have. Better food is available in more neighborhoods, helping raise the standard of dining out in all parts. Hopefully all parts, anyway. We do have our native Roy Choi, doing what he can to make sure such positive change reaches otherwise forgotten neighborhoods, with his and Daniel Patterson’s project, LocaL.

But for all the Fig & Olives of the see-and-be-seen L.A. dining scene, there have been some indisputable favorites of mine to rise to the top. I see 2015 as the year we’ve surpassed the huffing and puffing about authenticity and what that even means for all the history and diversity we have in this city. It’s been exciting to taste how we’ve moved beyond all that to a place and time where chefs can confidently make their mark using flavors from all over the world as their paintbrushes.

So read on, and get to it. 2016 is just around the corner:

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My First Taste: Rad Na Kee Mow at Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle

Rad Na Kee Mow ($7.49)

I’m somewhat new to the area, but I’ve finally hopped on the Wat Dong Moon Lek bandwagon. The Thai noodle house is one of the rarely-disputed mainstay gems nearby. Its humble enclave in that Silver Lake strip mall on Fountain Avenue exudes more personality than a n00b like me might ever expect from a noodle house on her initial visit.

Like Thai Town to the northwest, its blue interior doesn’t escape Hollywood influences. But what you won’t find here are the pages and pages of countless soup-dry-noodle-curry combinations; instead, there’s a manageable, well-executed menu that comes in pamphlet size should you not want to read the wall. You can sit at the counter, one of the high-tops or low-. The curry list is simple – just choose amongst red, green, yellow, panang or jungle. I’m also intrigued by what the rice dishes and blackboard menu have to offer

The drawback to dining alone, no matter how peaceful the experience, is the lack of companions’ dishes to scalp bites from.

My rad na kee mow (gravy boat drunken noodles) with tender slices of chicken was as delicious as it was beautiful. Those green beans were little bursts in the sea of gravy (yeah, that’s a bubble in there), with an island of delicious, soft rice noodles even having a subtle pan-fried crisp.

The Thai iced tea was good, too.

Next up: Pa Ord. And Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle, again. Now if both places could get a 3 AM close time…

Mon – Sun

11 AM – 10 PM

Cash only

Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle
4356 Fountain Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Harvard & Stone Makes Bunker Drinking Beautiful

Main Bar at Harvard & Stone

If you were to hear that the guys behind La Descarga are opening up a new bar, it’s high time to put the opening of said bar on your calendar. So, that’s what I did. I was happy to find out in the process that Harvard & Stone is the next-best thing to walking distance from my digs; it’s two Metro stops and a skip away. And when I visited the WWII-esque bar last night for the opening, I found out it’s actually across the street from Sanamluang – that Thai establishment holding remnants of college nostalgia and my go-to place for Pad Kee Mow. It’s also open until 3 AM.

Mia Sarazen says, "You Can Do It!"

I see cocktails and late-night Thai food in my near future.

Back to Harvard & Stone, so-named after the intersection of Harvard and its stone exterior on Hollywood Boulevard: It’s a beautiful space. Though Steve Livigni corrected me about the decor: “Oh, it’s contrived,” I offered that it did a great job pretending that it wasn’t (it’s all in the incandescent lighting). He finally agreed. The distressed walls with exposed brick frame a centralized, rectangular front bar lined with old, hanging metal shelves suspended by chain links. Liquor bottles artfully sit atop them while glasswares hang below. Antique pieces like obsolete, rusty machinery and light bulbs are scattered along the bar and in display cases on the inside wall. High-top, metal tables with rusty rivets line those cases, should cocktailers want to be near the action but not right in it. By the door is a stage on which Livigni welcomes bands to perform should the “impromptu show” mood strike. Keep an eye on this place for any post-show after-parties. Before Harvard & Stone, industrial never seemed so hip.

Back Bar

In the back corner is an old, rustic fireplace where guests can crowd around and across the way, a private room partitioned off by antiqued, double sliding doors. And I can’t wait to peep the balcony, which wasn’t ready for the opening, but which also extends into the back “Test Kitchen” bar area which is half-open and coded for smoking. (Fortunately, there’s also a dedicated, narrow outdoor smoking patio, Eastside bar-style, for the committed smokers.)

But, oh…that Test Kitchen bar in the back! Every month, a certain spirit (February: Whiskey, March: Gin) will be featured in the cocktails on its unique menu, which is to change daily. Whatever the spirit, American distillates are the focus. According to Caroline on Crack in her LA Weekly Squid Ink article, this bar will also “stock a small menu of tequila, cognac and rum as well as recognizable brands.” For now, you can count on Elijah Craig, Fighting Cock and Evan Williams Bourbon to be stocked here.

Pablo Moix

The cocktail menu earns its Eastside cred with an Appletini Apple Martini made with Original Moonshine (apple syrup, lemon juice, whiskey barrel bitters). If using Moonshine to formulate a normally fru-fru, girly cocktail isn’t hipster, I don’t know what is (try: being a block away from Jumbo’s Clown Room). You also have a lot of other cocktails to look forward to if you go in the near future – not discounting their inevitably delicious successors, of course. Steve also said that the menu will likely double in size once they get the opening kinks out.

Baby’s First Bourbon: Bulleit Bourbon, St. Vincents Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, dash of Angostura bitters

Scaffa No. 1: Aviation Gin, Benedictine, Angostura bitters (neat)

Trinidad Sour: Angostura bitters, St. Vincents Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, root liqueur

Fernet Cocktail: Fernet Branca, Canton Ginger, Carpano Antica, lime juice, Begatta ginger beer

The cocktails are all $8-11 each, which, for the ingredients and labor involved, is a steal once you taste your drink (all delicious on opening night). I’m hard-pressed to name another mixology bar that charges less than $12 per cocktail off their regular menu.

So Eastsiders: Rejoice! Harvard & Stone is open for business. You never know what cocktails are in store for you on the back bar menu nor if a band will drop by and play a surprise show. It’s just the place to enjoy a great cocktail in an industrial-chic setting, without the attitude. I cannot wait to make this my neighborhood spot.

Harvard & Stone
5221 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

The Unwritten Dress And Sex Code

You can find this look at
but don’t expect to be able to wear it at Booby Trap

I’m telling you, the Open Bar website is a gem. With such important words like “booze,” “free” and “no cover” juxtoposed in each entry on the site – do you really have cause to complain?

They just don’t always know all of the ins and outs of the spots they broadcast. Like maybe that Booby Trap at Temporary Spaces (Normandie and Fountain), while offering a 2-for-1 Siku Vodka drinks from 10pm – 11pm on Wednesdays, is actually a night dedicated to the ladies and only the ladies. C’mon now – was I the dumb one for not figuring or reading into “Booby Trap?”

I’m not complaining. I mean, okay – we had a guy with us – but that’s always hot, right? Oh yeah – maybe for him, but certainly not for the lesbians. I forgot.

We unwittingly got there 5 minutes early like band groupies lining up for a stage front row spot. Of course, alcohol – not live music - was involved. “No of course we’re not alcoholics,” we joked. We chatted it up with the finely-dressed doorman – complete with tight jeans, slim-fitting sport jacket and spiky hair (spiked up and back, not out – to keep in line with the skinny profile). And then he asked me and my girlfriend’s sole male accomplice (@jmb_recommends), “You coming in, too? I’m gonna have to check if it’s okay to let you in.”

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