Pingtung Brings Pan-Asian Café Favorites to Melrose

Neighborhood Hot Spot

It’s curious that Pingtung is called an “Eat-in Market,” the “market” designation perhaps being a way of propping up the Asian goods that lie on overhead (to me) shelves along the sides of the deep-drawn cafe. Though I have a few guilty snack pleasures such as Yan Yan, Shrimp Chips, that clear, Japanese soda with the swingy little ball, Calpico and the like, I’d make the trek to 99 Ranch, Mitsuwa or Zion if I wanted to go Asian grocery shopping. (I’m trying to cut down on the snacks, much less MSG-laden ones, anyway.)

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Favorite Dish: Duck Popiah at Lukshon

Duck Popiah | cilantro stems, pickled jicama, house-made hoisin chile sauce

I have always loved a good stack of spring rolls to start off my Asian, Asian fusion, Asian-influenced, Asian what-have-you meal. That love, however, has just transcended to a whole new level of appreciation thanks to Lukshon’s Duck Popiah.

Since you can’t have a good burrito or taco without a good tortilla; the same applies to their Asianfied counterparts. The overall quality is owed in no small part to the wrapper – the freshness of which was apparent from the moment my dining companion and I observed the Chef de partie rolling the skinny scrolls from our seats at the bar of Lukson’s beautiful, open kitchen. The balmy texture of the wrap made it undeniable that the skins were battered and rolled in-house. It made me yearn for the makers of even the best Chinese beef rolls I’ve had in San Gabriel to trade in their often dry, flour wraps for these.

And the fresh cilantro, the pickled jicama, all those vibrant flavors coming together with the rich bird that is duck, and altogether dressed in a house-made hoisin chile sauce. So delicious. The collapse of that soft shell revealed the crunch of bright, pickled flavors paired with tender duck meat, all of which is dressed in sweet and spicy. The popiah were pretty much my favorite thing at Lukshon during my first and only visit thus far. I enjoyed my other dishes (and also loved the cocktails), but I still feel unqualified to say what they were until I visit a few more times. But the duck popiah and its refined execution on all levels…I already know this one is a wash. A favorite. Rinse, repeat. 

I’ll be back for more, dear Lukshon. As for you, go – and report back on what your favorites are.

Mon – Sat

5:30 PM – 10:30 PM

Lukshon
3239 Helms Ave.
Culver City, CA 90034
310.202.6808

Healthful, Conscientious Pan-Asian at Fresh East Is Actually Delicious

Emperor's Lamb ($12.95)

Good Chinese, Indian and other Asian food is known to be sourced from the dirtiest, rudest hole-in-the-wall shops around town – especially east of our Metropolis off the 10 and 60 freeways. I can put it this way:  There were plenty of great reasons to visit my aunt who lived in West Covina for those two years, and they were all within a two-mile radius around the house she later flipped.

Spicy Garlic Noodles ($8.25)

There’s usually a direct relationship between taste and MSG in Asian food, however. It’s just one of those known facts, along with the cost-effectiveness of an often cash-only operation – and a lot of these Mom and Pop shops using styrofoam and other unrecyclable products and just plain being un-green.

Fresheast is the first known-to-me Pan-Asian place that integrates an Eco-conscientious (organic when they can) business model into actually delicious food. No MSG is in their recipes, all their sauces are made in-house and their plates are made from recycled, bio-degradable palm fronds. As for your side, you can choose from white rice, brown rice, quinoa or greens.

Interior

The best part of all of this is that they’re Midtown Lunch LA price point-friendly (that is, under $10). To start, anyway (sorry, Zach, you’ll have to drink water). They also have beer and wine on their menu, so you can wash down your Jidori Chicken with some Singha or Fess Parker Pinot Noir. And there’s free parking. In West Hollywood. And there’s energy outlets! And wifi! Talk about blogger-friendly.

My favorite dish was definitely the Emperor’s Lamb, which really impressed me in that there was little-to-no gamey taste. Their Jidori Chicken was also solid and had really good flavor. The Spicy Garlic Noodles were so-so, but nothing extraordinary. It seems that for the most part, they’ve been able to hone in on the right recipes, creating dishes that utilize fresh and made-in-house ingredients while keeping the price point fairly low.

I also loved the Fresheast juice, which was a great, natural energy drink made with beets, kale, apples and other ingredients. Feel like coconut? They got them. And don’t forget dessert. Their sorbet flavors are potent yet fluffy – I loved the mango!

So try it out. You won’t get that MSG hangover or icky feeling you typically get after consuming bad-for-you Chinese. And if you’re looking to get some work done, you might as well bring your laptop, too.

All food, wine and beer were hosted.

Open daily, 11 AM – 10 PM

Happy Hour: 4 – 7 PM daily
Get 50% off wine and beer with food purchase

Free parking, energy outlets and wifi

Menu

Fresheast
8951 Santa Monica Blvd- Suite G1
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310.859.9989

Starry Kitchen Opens For Dinner Thursdays and Fridays

Malaysian Curry Chicken Over Coconut Rice and Glass Noodles (Japchae)

In the case of the downtown hot spot (and once-underground) Starry Kitchen, it would be useless to do a dish-by-dish, plate-by-plate review as is protocol for food blogging, these days. Thank God. Because I would pick a constantly-changing (evolving, if you will) menu that focuses on a few dishes at a time over a huge menu just to leave me indecisively frustrated at all the options, any day. I am a simple girl, after all, having grown up on over-rice dishes interspersed with the occasional Midwest casserole and bratwurst-in-a-bun. Starry Kitchen gives me homespun, Pan-Asian flavors – and done well. It’s what my mother’s cooking would taste like if she were … Pan-Asian, and not just Taiwanese.

If only I worked downtown, I could have more of these flavors to look forward to on a weekly basis.

But no – instead I sit envious in my cubicle as I read tweets from fellow tweeting counterparts about how they’re having Braised Coconut Jackfruit, Crispy Tofu Balls, Lime Vinaigrette- and Ginger Peanut-dressed chopped salad, or Japchae. Oh nice. I’ve actually had that last one.

The hugely ironic thing about it all is that Starry Kitchen is one of the best lunch deals in all of town – while being located downtown. Everything costs less than $10 – and what’s more, try parking for $2 anywhere in Los Angeles, much less right in the heart of the business district. And now – the best news: Starry Kitchen will be open for dinner on Thursdays and Fridays starting this week. No one has to hear me whine about lunch, anymore. And I won’t risk getting in trouble with the boss for taking extended lunches because I drove downtown to eat.

Win-win.

Further reading:

Starry Kitchen Starts Dinner Soon; Free Sodas Monday – Eating LA

Profile: L.A. Luncher Nguyen from Starry Kitchen – Midtown Lunch LA

Validated parking $2 for 2 hrs at Cal Plaza
Enter from Olive

Starry Kitchen
350 S. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071
213.617.3474

@starrykitchen

Taste of East Rivals Its Scene And Style

Oysters on the half with Vietnamese mignonette, yuzu gelée & pickled onion

All photography courtesy of Andrew Herrold

East is not the kind of place that, upon drive-by, would make me turn my head while noting to come back or even to simply do more research. If it’s a Japanese Pan-Asian place on Hollywood Blvd., I’ve basically assumed it’s Geisha House or the recently-shuttered Club DSushi (which is actually on Sunset Blvd but pretty darned close). I have a stock montage that I play in my head – slow motion close-ups of collapsing hand cut spicy tuna rolls being shoved into lipsticked mouths as low-frequency four-on-the-floors pulsate through the venue. Having to shout over trance lasers to hear the person immediately next to you. Sake bombs. Blech. Saketinis. Blech. You know the place. The place where renditions of Miyagi’s go.

I get it – it’s hard to imagine Hollywood Blvd. as a culinary destination. I wouldn’t argue with you there. But then, I think, it would be unwise to completely extract that scene from the identity of a restaurant like East. During my visit, I sat across from Rob Dyrdek (for all you extreme sports fans). Celebrity or not, the guy was on to something, here – the restaurant actually doesn’t rest upon its Hollywood Blvd. laurels and serves up reliable seafood on the half – and will even impress you with its minimal, classy interior.

Warm spinach, arugula, shiitake mushrooms, duck confit, Bali pepper tossed in sherry vinaigrette. Topped with crispy pancetta and roasted young candy beets.

Let me stress again: Don’t come here looking for a bargain. Bring your date here because while you may want to throw her off with the exterior and location of yet another typical Hollywood spot, East will surprise her with classy, minimal decor and some amazingly good dishes. Keven Alan Lee heads the kitchen, hails from Vegas’ Lutèce and let’s face it – there are some you want to impress outside of business and East is the place to take him or her. Even the starting spinach salad with arugula and duck confit was very good – a good amuse to precede the seafood to come.

And do concentrate on the shellfish – not so much the sashimi (“We do sashimi, not sushi” I was told).

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