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Tucked away in a shopping center on the corner of Fountain and Santa Monica is your typical Los Angeles Thai food outpost, but with a very sweet twist. The difference between this Thai restaurant and the many others lining any given Los Angeles city block? The food comes with a decent ambience and house-made, Western-style desserts. Wat Dong Moon Lek offers a dependable menu of Thai fundamentals, including pan-fried noodles and curries, as well as more adventurous dishes, like Jungle Rice—perhaps named after the animalistic sounds one makes while attempting to breathe through and choke down the peppery, fiery dish. Since its opening in 2009, Wat Dong Moon Lek has steadily become a Silver Lake institution for eat-in and take-out.
We started our dine-in meal with Crispy Vegetable Egg Rolls and Fresh Rolls. The fried veggie egg rolls were no better than the frozen variety, but the fresh rolls were just as advertised, with bright green veggies and a chewy, translucent rice noodle skin. The dips that came with the rolls were a perfect balance of all the best taste groups: sweet, salty, spicy, umami. I drowned every bite with sauce. The fried shredded taro is another good appetizer choice, and it also comes with an addictively viscous nectar of a dipping sauce.
Moving on to mains, the Pad See Ew (thick rice noodles with broccoli, meat and scrambled egg) is one of the better ones I’ve had, though slightly sweeter than most recipes. And, instead of the usual imperceptible egg scrambled into the dish, it is served up over-easy, taking center stage and allowing the runny yolk to dribble over the pan-fried rice noodles like golden gravy. I wasn’t wild about the Goye See Me (fried noodles with veggies and gravy), as the fried noodles quickly became sodden with the watery sauce. The Garlic Green Beans were good, but basic.
My favorite dish here is the Jungle Rice. If you read my SQIRL post, you know that I find rice boring, but this fiery concoction is anything but! Jungle Rice is basically a fried rice, teeming with tofu (or whatever protein you choose), red bell pepper, green beans and thai basil, then pushed to the edge with a couple layers of spiciness to cover all the heat-bases. The black peppercorn is intense, rushing up your nostrils with its smoky heat. The red chili paste slowly spreads throughout the rest of your mouth, tingling with heat. My nose usually runs when I eat this dish, and my mouth kind of wants to run and hide too, but it’s too delicious to pass up. For those that I’ve already scared off, no worries, you can customize your spice level.
To finish off our meal and reward my tastebuds for what they just went through, we ordered the pumpkin creme brulée, a seasonal offering, and the carrot cake. The wife of the proprietor is a formerly trained pastry chef, and all the cakes, souffles and puddings are her creations. The creme brulée was completely surprising. It was just slightly sweet, and instead of being baked in a traditional ramekin, it came in an actual mini pumpkin. We scooped out the soft, baked pumpkin with spoonfuls of the creme brulee, like you would with clam chowder in a bread bowl. The carrot cake was also impressive with its three layers and perfectly applied cream cheese frosting. Like the creme brulée, it wasn’t too sweet, but hit just the right note to cap off another great meal at Wat Dong Moon Lek.
Ever since finding out that Ô Bánh Mì offers pig roast sandwiches every Friday, I’ve been surreptitiously plotting and patiently waiting for a day I could escape my downtown desk and head to Silver Lake for lunch. That day finally came last week.
Ô Bánh Mì is a tiny storefront, tucked behind a stretch of trees on Hyperion Avenue. You can easily drive past and completely miss the neon “O” above the front door (which I did on Friday. Twice.). I arrived promptly at noon, just before Jens, one of the owners, pulled up in his truck, bringing with him the pig that he’d roasted for several hours that morning.
Once inside, I was lucky enough to get a preview of the deliciousness to come, when one of the employees brought over pieces of the pork for my friend and me to try. The meat was tender and juicy, wonderfully enhanced by the crackle of golden skin and permeated with the garlic and herbs that had covered it in the roasting box.
Vegan food has become quite the rage in past few years, breaking through to the mainstream with chains like Native Foods, Veggie Grill and Real Food Daily. Still, by my estimation, none of them have managed to even come close to Silver Lake’s Flore Vegan Cuisine. This mainstay cafe has been a go-to for omnivores and vegans alike for years because it’s so damn good. The comfort-driven menu, grounded in organic ingredients, has all the hits, from sloppy burgers and classic sandwiches to fat burritos and breakfast til 1 pm. Their brunch menu even includes a gravy-drenched “Chicken & Waffles.”
I find it hard to veer from Flore’s generally gluttonous sandwiches. The Tempeh Tu-No Melt is close to the real thing but stands on its own, plus any deviation is made up for by the fact that it isn’t chock-full of mercury. Chunky with ideal crunch, the tuna-like tempeh mixture mingles with cashew cheese, which adds a luscious texture and light sweetness. It does the same for the Tempeh Reuben, grilled on rye and absolutely gooey with layers of cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. All sandwiches come with mixed green salad or potato salad.
Since their opening last October, I find myself at SQIRL once a week, mostly because their food tastes like home cooking ratcheted up to a notch that I myself would never bother with, but am happy paying $5-12 dollars to enjoy. SQIRL summons a steady cult following that consistently crowds its small Silver Lake space for their simple, farm-fresh fare (focusing on homemade jams and ingredients sourced within 350 miles) and adventurous daily specials. Their changing chalkboard menu lists such basics as brioche toast slathered with nut butters and house-made jams, pesto rice bowls, pies and quiches as well as unusual seasonal specials, like squid ink cavatelli, lobster rolls and duck confit.
My usual meal at SQIRL is some variation on their brioche toast—they make it savory or sweet, buttered and browned with any combination of spreads, house-made ricotta, jam, and nut butter, or heaped with sautéed kale, tomatillo jam, a subtle lacto-fermented hot sauce and a fried egg. This week I settled on the brioche topped with a silken ricotta and Black Mission Fig & La Clarine Mourvedre jam. Basically that is a fancy, hifalutin way of saying fig and red wine jam, but SQIRL, with their tiny kitchen and mismatched serving plates and silverware, does not come off as pretentious in their execution or follow the farm-to-table fad blindly. There is an earnestness and sincerity to all that they do.
My brioche toast, as usual, was optimally crisped on the outside while remaining soft and buttery in the center. The warm toasted bread paired well with the slight chill of the smooth ricotta, and the fresh fig jam added just the right note of sweetness, with satisfying chunks of chewy, marinated figs.
Summer heat gives you the right to indulge in ice cream at least every other day, right? You’re lucky, too, because there are so many great ice cream shops on this side of town, most of them making beautiful ice creams, gelato, and frozen yogurt on the premises. Here are three great beat-the-heat-icy-sweet saviors from an ice cream fanatic (me):
Tejuino Los Reyes: This Lincoln Heights ice cream shop is really just a storefront where people line up in droves for nieves—there’s no seating, minus a bus bench. You can choose from ten or so flavors of this Mexican-style ice cream, with either a leche or agua base. Milk-wise, the chocolate has a rich cocoa taste, a light, airy texture and the occasional chocolate chip while the pistachio is outrageously nutty. Mixing a milk-based flavor like creamy coconut with a water-based one such as tart lime or subtly sweet mango is a good move. The medium gets you four scoops in a big styrofoam cup. Tejuino Los Reyes 2707 N. Broadway.
Fact: grilled cheese, as with pancakes and steak, always tastes better when someone else makes it. Heywood, the newish grilled cheese shop in Silver Lake, has ambitiously taken up the task. Named after John Heywood, a 16th century British writer who once wrote an ode to cheese, the little eatery is, itself, an ode to the art of ultimate comfort sandwich.
The menu runs the gamut from recognizable to experimental. There’s The Classic, a standard combination of white bread, cheddar and butter, and then there’s The Bon Appetite Brie on cinnamon raisin bread, sweetened with fig jam and topped with raspberry sugar crystals. Fantastically unsubtle, The Italian Blue Jeans is a well-proportioned mix of mozzarella, blue cheese, walnut pesto and sundried tomatoes that packs quite the wallop. You can also choose from a list of breads, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and spreads to build your own. Vegan cheese and butter can be substituted on most sandwiches.
All sandwiches are served on a wooden board with mixed greens and a small cup of tomato soup for dipping. The soup is a velvety bisque that far outshines local contenders like the rather watery one they sell for an arm and a leg at nearby LAMill, for instance. It’s so good that you—but not I—could forgo the sandwich and pair a full-sized portion with one of the two salads on the menu. We tried the Mix Spring Salad, mixed greens topped with cheese and tomatoes. It was nice enough.
Prices range from $7-11, and some will argue that you can make 20 grilled cheeses for that kind of money, but if you just want one really good one, leave your griddle in the cupboard and check out Heywood.
They’re open ’til 3am Fridays and Saturdays.
Heywood A Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop
3337 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, 90026
I was invited to attend Taste of the Eastside, which I sadly had to miss last year. The whole shebang took place last Sunday at Barnsdall Park in Los Feliz. I got there right on time, so I was able to try everything relatively unmolested. Here are some of the things I tried. Those up there? Pavlovas with blackberry and lemon meyer preserves from Atwater Village’s Proof Bakery.
Here’s the rest:
Conchinita pibil taco from Yuca’s in Los Feliz. Very tender.
Buffalo-style cauliflower with vegan blue cheese from Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. I hardly missed the chicken.
Cinnamon rolls and red velvet cupcakes from Auntie Em’s in Eagle Rock.They were nice enough to turn over two rolls for me.
Millie’s has gone fine dining. Well, sort of. Alma, a pop-up concept by Chef Ari Taymor and Front-of-the-House Dinelle Lucchesi, has been taking over the Sunset Boulevard diner after hours Thursday through Sunday. My advice: go.
For $55, you get around six courses, plus a few extras—each more inventive than the last. I haven’t been this excited by a meal in a long time. From start (an artfully plated, color-conscious root vegetable crudite) to finish (Shichimi-spiced kettle corn), the experience was totally worth the price of admission.
The hands-down highlight of the night, for me, was the rich and silky young garlic soup with a poached egg plopped in the center. The heavens opened up once the yolk was broken, and green onion relish acted as an exclamation point. Also impressive was the onion chicharron topped with smoked crème fraiche. The crunchy-creamy/sweet-savory effect was mirrored by its companion, a savory seaweed beignet drizzled with yuzu koshu and lime. The combination made for a lusty deep fried course.
The main event was a succulent duck, which appeared with that perfect golden brown skin and tender pink meat you always hope for when duck is on the menu. Simple and earthy, the dish was rounded out by fava beans and chantrelle mushrooms instead of being camouflaged in sauce.
Other perks included a house-made Squirt soda made with hibiscus and habanero, plus two desserts—a play on bananas foster and raw milk curd with strawberry and pistachios.
Note: The Alma pop-up continues through May 27th, and the menu changes constantly. It’s cash only and BYOB. You can make a reservation at Urbanspoon.
Salad photo (top left corner) by Brian McGinn, courtesy of Alma.
I’m what you might call “whole grain obsessed.” It’s not that I don’t eat white bread—put a baguette in front of me or a some sourdough, and I’ll eat more than my fair share, but for the most part, I like my grains unrefined. And while I started my whole grain habit for the health benefits, over the years, I’ve just come to plain old prefer their hearty texture and substance. For instance, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a piece of well-made whole wheat bread is beyond satisfying taste-wise, and it keeps you full for eons.
This preference has even overcome my feelings about pancakes. Lately, a plain old buttermilk pancake just doesn’t have give me the same thrill as a whole grain one, but sadly they’re hard to come by. Which is why I became unreasonably excited when I realized that Local has not one, but three varieties of whole wheat pancakes—regular, banana walnut and apple pecan. Hello, new brunch obsession!
I complain a lot. But it’s mostly about one thing: my commute. If you already know me, then you know this to be a fact, and if you ever meet me, the subject will most definitely come up. I think I’m entitled, though, since I endure the dreaded Los Angeles east to west commute everyday.
Festering in traffic 2-plus hours a day is harrowing enough, but doing the math makes it worse: 12 hours wasted on a weekly basis. That’s why I rarely venture any further than Lincoln Heights on the weekends and compulsively dream of a job Downtown.
This being my lot, I relish the rare opportunities I get to work from home. Avoiding the drive is a treat, but even sweeter is the chance to lunch in the eastern hemisphere of LA…on a weekday! Just last week week, such an opportunity arose and I found myself at Forage in Silver Lake.
It was kind of thrilling to be so far east of Santa Monica at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday. So thrilling, in fact that I got a little out of hand and ordered the ham and cheddar bread pudding. Though a little salty for my tastes, every rich and savory bite was joyous. The slab they piled on my plate was remarkably moist inside (is there egg in that thing?), with a crispy baked top crust and thinly sliced ham pieces with a nicely seared texture—no flimsy, soggy pork here.
To squeeze in a bit of nutrition, I chose kale salad and beet and citrus salad as my sides. However, seeing as the kale salad had a parmesan bread crumb topping (a perfect texture contrast for the kale) and the beets had more cheese, I barely fooled myself.
But, I was celebrating my freedom from the 10 freeway so…