Top Ten Picks For L.A. Beer Week: September 20 – 30, 2012

Photo credit to djdphotos on Flickr

Beer cocktails. Beer floats. Sour beers. All-you-can-drink beer. Beer crawl set to music. Crappy-for-happy beer trades. Prickly pear beers from all over town. Los Angeles is comin’ up beer. And in its 4th year, not only is LA Beer Week bigger and better than ever, it’s also more unified. The camaraderie around the LA beer community is unmistakable – so get ready to drink some tasty brews while learning a lot and meeting some cool people along the way.

After perusing the 10-day schedule, I’ve come up with a few events I’d personally want to attend. With the LA beer scene at the strongest it has ever been, there’s bound to be some (or a lot of) conflicts during this extravaganza, but all we can do is do our best, right? While you’re at it, you might as well check off the four quandrants of this LA Beer Week Bucket List. Then, bring your four stickers to the LA Beer Week Festival on September 30th and get a free bottle of the official beer of the week, Unity, from Eagle Rock Brewery – a play on a traditional Berliner Weiss, yet jazzed up with a touch of rye as well as red and green prickly pear. You’ll also get to enter a drawing for tickets to the BAM Fest on October 6th in Santa Monica.

(If you don’t complete the bucket list, never fear – it’ll be on draft at select retailers throughout Los Angeles and Orange county as well as at the LA Beer Week Festival itself.)

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten of LA Beer Week:

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Aburiya Toranoko Adds a Lively, Playful Vibe to Little Tokyo

Yanagita Seafarms Uni Goma Tofu

Over the past year, Lazy Ox Canteen has been one of my favorite spots to drop in and dally at the bar with a glass of wine and a couple small plates. I very much enjoy the energy of the place, though I prefer to not be in the middle of it – or the dining room as part of a 6 top, for example. So when Michael Cardenas talked of his upcoming project immediately next door that would be a Japanese eatery, I was instantly curious. I could sense that he also wanted a lot of energy pulsing through this adjacent space, and I can now vouch that he’s successfully achieved this element.

Cocktail bar and flatscreen

There are not one but two bars at Aburiya Toranoko. One, of the spirits variety, rests opposite the restaurant’s trademark brick wall mural – complete with an oversized, looming mirror so diners and drinkers not be deprived of its view. This is where the flatscreen is should you want to keep updated on the Laker game. The other bar, of the sushi variety, is along the back wall. You’ll receive multiple laudatory and exuberant greetings in Japanese on your way back there, or wherever your seat may be - and enjoy it. It’s an induction into this restaurant and a tone-setter for your meal.

You may find yourself having a hard time narrowing down which izakaya dishes to order. The courteous and knowledgable waitstaff are an important resource to aid you in doing so. When we ordered uni sushi, our helpful server instead suggested the Yanagita Farms Uni Goma Tofu. I’m glad she did, because it was a perfect starter and a great little dish of savory topped with fresh uni to kick things off. 

Hakata-Style Tripe

The New Union Farms Sizzling Mushrooms with Tobanyaki is a must-order. Sizzle, those mushrooms did. You’ll find yourself licking the broth out of the bowl before it’s bussed away. Another one of my favorites happened to be off the special menu: Hakata-style tripe. It had a ton of flavor and I was only used to experiencing this profile with ramen noodles. But the tripe just soaked it all up with its extra soft texture. Its savoriness made me forget that I used to consider tripe as one of those weird things my parents ate…along with chicken feet.

Another favorite was on the regular menu, the braised Colorado Black Pork Kukuni, which came with a couple broth-soaked daikon slices and was so tender the cut fell apart at the…chopstick. Though you would have to try pretty hard to screw up braised pork, I loved that it wasn’t too sweet with very little fat and came with a little sliver of extra-potent mustard that broke up the richness with its kick. (I also saw it garnishing other dishes.)

Oysters on the half-shell with caviar, uni, ponzu & ceviche

Besides the izakaya, Toranoko also offers kukuni – or yakitori. That is, vegetables and/or meat on skewers. Those of you in the foie gras cult can appreciate the Duck with Foie Gras in White Balsamic Soy Sauce Reduction…on a stick! There’s also a selection of oden, or objects in broth, as our server explained. This was new to me, and we got a tofu purse bundle with mochi inside. It was good yet unsurprising and struck me a bit as a novelty, but I clearly have more to learn about oden. For those more bowl-inclined, there’s a “rice/noodle/soup” section for that home feel. I hope to try something from this section next time on maybe a cold (for LA) day – perhaps a bowl of porridge. 

On my visit, we also ordered a delicious sushi roll but I can’t confidently comment on Aburiya Toranoko’s raw fish without a whole meal of it, and the focus was on the small plates for the night. The outlook on their sushi is auspicious, though, since – for starters – the sushi chefs are indeed Japanese.

While they tout their hand-crafted cocktail menu made only with fresh juices and no added sugar, I still found the recipes themselves to err on the sweet side. A good bet would be to stay with the sake. My dining companion and I actually discovered a really delicious, unpasteurized one that was pleasantly at the bottom of the price range: Rin “Organic” out of Fukushima.

Aburiya Toranoko is one of those places that you have to go back to try all the different dimensions of their playbook. If you come with a group, I guess you could play all sections of the field by ordering a little bit of everything. But one thing’s for sure, the place continues to carry out Cardenas’ insistance on playing with his food. Since everyone in partnership, management and the heads of kitchen are Nobu alumni, however, it tends to give the food a more refined take.

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

Lunch

Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Sun – Thur: 5 – 11 PM

Dinner

Fri – Sat 5 PM – Midnight

Happy Hour: 5 – 7 PM (Food items: $5, Well drinks: $5, Drink items: $3)

Aburiya Toranoko
243 S. San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213.621.9500

The Spice Table: Not For The Faint of Palate

Kon Loh Mee ($12)

As Fiona and I finished our small plates and resumed breathing – but realized we were breathing fire – we weren’t quite sure, exactly, where we were, anymore. We cajoled, “Is this restaurant called, ‘The Spicy Table’?”

Bird Cages - Caw!

The Little Tokyo spot has a shrewdly stylish, if still minimal, ambiance with bird cage accents surrounding light bulbs incandescent. The front bar area seems like the perfect place at which to perch around the central wood-fired oven and enjoy a dish or two with the desired size pour of beer or glass of wine. I did wonder if the faces of those who sat at the bar, directly in front of the oven, were burning off or not (I caught a good amount of heat simply from walking by); then again, Downtown LA benefits from any spot proffering warmth to their customers, no matter how literal. Just choose your proximity, I guess, and they’ll just make sure to leave some brick exposed so you’re reminded that you’re downtown and cozy.

Black Pepper Crab Toast ($17)

Though cost and variety was the reason were the reasons I chose suds (4 oz. beer pours are available for $2; glasses of wine are upwards of $14), light, cold and carbonated was, in retrospect, the perfect thing to wash down all those bold flavors. My Craftsman Hef was a great choice, and you’ll be glad to know that The Bruery’s Orchard White, Abita’s Amber Lager and North Coast’s La Merle Saison – and, true-to-form, the Singaporean Tiger Beer – are all available in 12- and 16-oz. pours as well.

The starting lamb belly skewers ($10), or satay, were singed perfectly while revealing fully flavorful, slightly gelatinous centers. The piquant yet indulgent spread in the Black Pepper Crab Toast didn’t have me thinking that one piece of bread between the two of us wasn’t enough; I simply piled that crab paste onto my toasted triangle about an inch thick.

Charred Squid Stuffed With Sticky Rice, Chinese Sausage, Black Mushrooms ($12) - Special

We were almost to the noodles, by then, but not before the squid special came out. And though we sat in the dining room, this was where I fully appreciated that oven situated behind the bar. The deliciously charred, squid shell was not rubbery but as tender as its sticky rice center, with bits of familiarly rich Chinese sausage and just-as-meaty black mushrooms filling out the tubular vessels. The vinaigrette we spooned on top added the bitter-sweet note we didn’t even know was missing. You may end up wishing that this was a regular menu item.

But then came our fiery hot noodles. The first, the Kon Loh Mee, featured springy, thin egg noodles topped with ground pork, char siu (because one kind of pork is never enough), sambal and choy sum – the lattest of which were, I realized later, the only vegetables short of the garnishes we had consumed the entire night. The egg noodles were superbly cooked; I’m wondering if they were made in-house and regret that I didn’t ask. The entire dish, however, were some of the most punishingly delicious dry noodles I’ve had in some time.

Laksa ($12)

The Laksa, a coconut curry broth enveloping rice flour noodles, mussels and fish cakes and topped with coriander and a slice of soft-boiled egg, was almost as punishing. The creaminess of the coconut recanted some of that direct sting. It was enough of a break to entice us to press on, breathing in and out, while admiring that the restaurant didn’t pull any punches for The Stereotypicallly Weak White Man’s Palate. (Or, gave our Stereotypically Tough Asian Woman’s Palates their fair treatment – either way.) It even came with a hefty portion of sambal, which is allegedly traditional but something we had no intention of actually adding! The soup was thankfully delicious as it stood. I loved all the textures of the rice noodles and fish cakes while the mussels – let’s face it, I love shellfish – were that extra kick in the flavor pants.

If they brought out the spicy dishes last for a reason, I have an inkling on what that reason is: Dessert.

It worked. Well done. (Okay, and, there’s always a valid argument for palate fatigue, right? Anyway.)

Our Kaffir Lime Custard was a refreshing, fluffy yet tart reprieve. The perfect, thematic ending to an adventurous meal by a former Mozza chef featuring Vietnamese and Singaporean flavors in a Japanese district called Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles. That is all.

Love this town.

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

Mon – Wed: 5:30 – 11 PM
Thur – Sat: 5:30 – Midnight

Reservations available online, only.

The Spice Table
114 S. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213.620.1840

Inspired Sustenance At Lazy Ox Canteen

Beef tartare with juniper berry, fried quail egg & olive oil toasted bread
Beef tartare with juniper berry, fried quail egg & olive oil toasted bread

It can’t be the easiest time to open a restaurant. While everyone else downsizes, Josef Centeno and Michael Cardenas take the opportunity to fill a niche in Little Tokyo. The aim would be to create a neighborhood canteen. That is, a watering hole with inventive yet casual plates at which you could count on to be there during all stages of your night’s indulgences. They have a permit in the works that will grant them operating hours that stretch until 3 AM.

Charred octopus with pickled shallots, lima beans & calamansi vinaigrette
Charred octopus with pickled shallots, lima beans & calamansi vinaigrette

Lazy Ox Canteen opens today. With previews going on the past two nights, I was lucky enough (with special thanks to Dawson) to be invited to occupy a spot last night along with Caroline on Crack, Shawn of Blog Downtown, Elina Shatkin, Sinosoul and Tyson, one of Michael Cardenas’ food-loving friends. The atmosphere is warm and inviting with clear, oversized light bulbs and frosted candleholders providing the ambiance. Perch on barstools underneath the red glow of the backlit bar or sit back in your chair or lengthwise booth behind small tables. Choose from a three-tiered menu, split simply into 1, 2 and 3: starters ($4-6), small plates ($9-15) and bigger plates ($20+) that can be doubled as entrees. The manageable brew list commands respect, from the St. Bernardus Triple on tap to Old Rasputen Imperial Stout and Allagash White (my choice for the night). Don’t overlook the bottle list, either – the Japanese “American IPA-style” Ozeno Yukidoke is unattainable anywhere else in the vicinity, confirmed by the back label which reads “Not for sale: For exhibition use only.” Most of the wines on the list run under $30 for the bottle and exhibit good range. And if your heart so desires, there are also a handful of sakes and shochus available.

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Your L.A. Weekend: Taiko, Korean BBQ, Multeepurpose & Movies

Photo by Miyabiarashi2 on Flickr

All right, let’s do this. Japanese beats and Korean eats, green events and outdoor movies…it was hard to come up with a theme other than, “This is stuff I would be doing if I weren’t playing violin in a wedding tomorrow.” So it’s up to you to enjoy on my behalf. I’m counting on you!!

Free Taiko Concert: Taiko 10

“Taiko 10” is a free community concert to be held tonight in Noguchi Plaza of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo, Downtown. With a compilation of performances from 9 troupes from all over North America, a diversity of taiko styles that have developed this side of the globe will be on display. If you haven’t seen taiko up close and personal, I’d highly recommend checking out this free concert. I’m always intrigued by what it takes to make a taiko ensemble come together – including visually. It’s an experience in and of itself.

Friday, August 7th

7:30 PM – 9:30 PM

Noguchi Plaza, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles
244 S. San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Taiko Jam

If you’re jonesin’ to get a serious dosage of Taiko drumming, you can also see it performed inside the Japan America Theatre the following two days. Taiko Jam is a competitive showcase of the brightest troupes in culmination of the North American Taiko Conference. I’ll be there on Sunday to see my girlfriend Jen with her Las Vegas group.

Saturday, August 8 at 8 PM
Sunday, August 9 at 3 PM

Orchestra $35
Balcony $32

Tickets

Aratani/Japan America Theater
244 S. San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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