Saturday, May 09, 2015

Carousel Restaurant: When the Original is Still the Best

The interior is brighter and more open than before.

In this month's Los Feliz Ledger, EatingLA paid a return visit to Carousel, which has recently redecorated.

Why to go: After more than 30 years, a recent facelift and a beer and wine license is the perfect reason to revisit Carousel in East Hollywood, which still turns out some of the city's best Middle Eastern cooking.
The look: Carousel retained its 1980s mini-mall ambiance for decades, while the more lavishly decorated
location on Brand Boulevard in Glendale seemed to get all the attention from the Tcholakian family. Now Carousel's original restaurant on Hollywood Blvd near Normandie is more inviting, with an opened-up layout, black and white photos and carved wood accents replacing the hotel-room art and frosted glass dividers. Bright canvas awnings shield the sidewalk tables from the parking lot, and some even bring their doggies to dine al fresco.
Carousel is now serving beer and wine

The food: After trying "modern" Mediterranean dishes elsewhere like kale tabbouli, you might find
yourself dreaming of Carousel's perfectly-balanced fattouch salad or its bracingly tart, herb-flecked cabbage salad that's the perfect foil to the richness of charred lamb kebabs or creamy hummus. The homestyle Lebanese dishes at Carousel define the flavors that others experiment with, but sometimes the original is still the best.
Vegetarian sampler is the perfect way to try everything

Entree kebabs and samplers are a good value for plenty of food, but make sure to explore the more unusual corners of the appetizer menu. Tabbouli comes in regular and a "red" variety with sauteed tomatoes and onions, while hummus gains another dimension with toppings of ground beef or Armenian soujouk sausage. Carousel was where I first tried muhammara, the fruity, lightly- spiced dip made of red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate, and it's hard to find a better version. I had already tried fattoush salad before I ever went to Carousel, growing fond of the combination of crunchy pita slices, cucumbers, tomatoes and purslane. But as soon as I tasted Carousel's bright citrus-sumac vinaigrette, I could tell a new standard had been set for the signature salad.
Beef Kofta

Kebbeh, or steak tartare, is one of the most popular traditional dishes, but if you prefer beef to be cooked, try Beef Kofta, fried torpedos of ground beef and pine nuts that start the meal off just right. You'll want to assemble various deliciously garlicky concoctions using pita bread and meats as a base, so make sure appetizers include several spreads like smooth eggplant mutabbal or moussaka and creamy lebneh (yogurt cheese).
Save room for baklava and Armenian coffee after dinner, and or try something different like the fragrant rosewater and Lebanese cheese desserts.
To drink: Lebanese and Armenian beer and wine work well with herb and onion-laden dishes, or try
housemade lemonade, bright green tarragon soda pop or traditional yogurt tun drink.
Must-tries: Muhammara dip, fattoush salad, eggplant moussaka, chicken lula kebab, lamb kebab
Good to know: Middle Eastern restaurants easily kids, vegetarians and gluten-free diners. Carousel's catering also feeds many of the Eastside's parties and celebrations. The menu at the Glendale location may be slightly larger, but Hollywood location is convenient with its parking lot, and it's easier to carry on a conversation without the live entertainment featured in Glendale some nights.
Carousel, 5112 Hollywood Blvd., 323-660-8060

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Go Get 'Em Tiger: Hyperion Gets a Coffee Energy Infusion

Reko Ethopian filtered coffee gets the day started alertly

The stretch of Silver Lake between Sunset Junction and Broome St. on Rowena is lacking some good coffee action. Say Cheese is serviceable but other than that, might as well just get a free sample at Trader Joe's. So it was exciting to see Go Get 'Em Tiger, the serious coffee outpost from Larchmont from Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski (this year's U.S. champion barista), open a coffee pop-up.
Coffees available include the unusual turmeric/ginger/almond/macadamia cappucino
Located in the former Lucky Duck space, where Hyperion meets Griffith Park Blvd., it's only for four months or so while they ready their new location next to Bar Covell on Hollywood Blvd., but we'll take it, and hope that maybe another quality caffeine outpost will take over that location. It's a pretty basic operation -- a few pastries, a few bags of coffee available and a focus on espresso, cappucino and filtered coffee. The almond/macadamia milk infused cappucino ($5) is plenty rich despite the absence of milk products, with a hint of nuttiness. Filtered coffee ($4) is smooth and bright, with enough for two cups in each carafe. It kept me focused and alert all day, and as I once told FoodGPS, I felt like a better person after drinking it. Which seems well worth $4. Also, the L.A. Family School dads are pretty stylin, so there's that.

Go Get 'Em Tiger
2630 Hyperion Ave.
Open 7 am to 2 pm or so, until August or so

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Atwater Villlage Festival: New Breweries and Cider This Year

The Atwater Village Festival is back Sunday, April 26, for its third year, sponsored by craft beer destination Link 'n Hops. L.A. breweries Angel City and Golden Road, along with Valencia's Wolf Creek, will be joined by Boulevard Brewing, Belching Beaver (famous for their peanut butter milk stout), Bravery Brewing and more. This year's festival will also feature the event's first cider booth from Sonoma Cider Company.
Wine tasting, gourmet sausages, food trucks and music are also on tap.
Want to win tickets to the festival? Send an email to with your idea for the perfect beer float pairing with a brewery featured at the festival. Tell us which beer you would pair with which ice cream flavor in an email with your full name as it appears on your driver's license and we'll pick the best combo to win two free tickets.

The festival runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and tickets, available on the website, are $35.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Lacha Somtum: the Thai Restaurant You Should be Going To

What if one of the best Thai restaurants in Los Angeles opened in Hollywood, but hardly anyone realized it?

Lacha Somtum has been quietly rolling along for about a year now, while trendier Thai restaurants in Silver Lake and Chinatown get all the attention.
The restaurant attracted a small flurry of write-ups, mostly for its specialty in more than a dozen types of somtum, the tangy, spicy Northern Thai papaya salad. But the Thai Town restaurant, which is typically deserted around 7 p.m. (presumably it gets busier later on), is far more than just a papaya salad gimmick spot with plenty of other dishes that put twists on traditional Isaan cuisine.
Papaya salad with black crab, Thai eggplant

But first, the papaya salad: Green papayas aren’t sweet like their orange relatives. Shredded with tart lime juice dressing, the salads are a refreshing – although still spicy — counterpart to hot soups and curries. The usual preparation combines crushed peanuts, fresh chilies, long beans and dried shrimp or fresh crab. Here you can add salted egg, crispy pork, clear noodles, Thai eggplant or ground catfish to the fiery mix. Some don’t even have papaya at all, but instead offer corn, mango or fruit salad instead of the shredded fruit.
Kon Kaen-style duck larb

Besides papaya salad, one of the other mainstays of the Laos-adjacent Isaan region is larb, a salad based on ground meat mixed with chilies, lemongrass and lime juice. Crispy fried larb -- ground pork patties stuffed with cilantro, chilies, rice powder and lime juice -- are a terrific way to start a meal. For something a little less fried, the tangy duck larb is a must and is rounded out by roasted rice powder to create a flavor bomb of staggering proportions that ranks with the year’s best dishes.

nam kha tood - crispy rice salad

Crispy rice salad isn’t easy to find on typical menus, so by all means try Nam Kha Tood, where puffed crispy rice throws a wildly flavored party with ginger, chile, peanuts, ground pork and green onion. Silver Lake’s Night + Market’s version might be a bit better balanced, but this version draws no complaints.
Northern Thai isn’t really about noodles, so while the special crab pad thai is solid — if a little too sweet — take this chance to explore other areas of Thai food, like the hot pots bursting with giant prawns and tiny squid in a lemongrass-perfumed broth.
mussel pancakes

If you’re eating with several people, try yet another deep-fried indulgence: mussel pancakes — a mild and crispy mountain of battered mollusks baked into an egg base, topped with bean sprouts. Eat it right away for maximum enjoyment.
crispy fried pork larb patties
All the familiar Thai dishes are on the menu here, but really, the reason to eat here is the Northern Thai salads and hotpots. Most of the dishes are just exotic enough to be exciting, without some of the more unusual ingredients found in some of the city’s uber-authentic Thai restaurants. If you try the Tom Yum Chicken Ovary, please report back, as I've yet to sample it. Spice levels are geared for Thais, so when in doubt, ask for mild.
Open for lunch until midnight, the restaurant is usually practically empty earlier in the evening, making it a good choice for groups or a spontaneous meal. Delivery is available but many of the deep-fried dishes will work much better eaten on site.

Lacha Somtum
5171 Hollywood Blvd.
(323) 486-7380

Lacha Somtum was reviewed in April's Los Feliz Ledger

Monday, March 02, 2015

Brouwerij West Is About to Brew Up a New San Pedro Scene

Known for its flavorful Belgian-style beers and wildly artistic labels, Brouwerij West is about to take a huge jump into the public eye when it opens a brewery and tasting room in San Pedro this summer. The four year-old microbrewer, which until now has been contracting space at other breweries, has leased a World War II-era wooden warehouse across from the harbor and next to Crafted L.A. that's sure to become a very in-demand area in the next few years when a few more restaurants and stores move in.

While the brewery and tasting room are expected to open in July, the cafe and bottling line/retail store will open a bit later. Due to seismic issues, it's been scaled down a bit from the original full restaurant from Waterloo & City's Brendan Collins that was originally envisioned. Brewmaster Brian Mercer has ordered a Meura 2001 Micro brewing system with a mash filter that saves time and water. Speaking of conservation, the brewery will be completely solar-powered, making it one of the greenest breweries anywhere.

Architects Oonagh Ryan & Associates are designing the space which will remain very industrial. Mercer promises that the increased capacity will allow "a lot of one-offs, specialty beers, wild beers and fresh fruit beers." Of course Brouwerij will continue its program of commissioning an array of international artists to do graphically-diverse labels that avoid the usual craft beer tropes of monks and abbeys. Unfortunately the stock of my favorite Dog Ate My Homework blackberry saison has been depleted, but we got to taste their terrific black cat-adorned Saison Extra as well as the Tripel and Mor Mor Quad.

Look for some very cool Mark Mothersbaugh-designed bottles to debut after the brewery is up and running -- but no IPA. Mercer thinks there's plenty of bitter brews out there already.
With cruise ships stopping at the pier right across the street and a large nearby outdoor event space where Cirque de Soleil was recently based, as well as an oceanographic institute, there's plenty of potential customers for Brouwerij West -- so look out for this summer's opening before it becomes a mob scene.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Charcoal Brings Barbecue, Bacon and Bourbon to Silver Lake

It's been a while since the Silver Lake area has seen a real barbecue restaurant. For a while in the late 2000s, there was Territory BBQ on Hoover, where you could buy vinyl and hang out on a funky patio, then there was the short-lived BBQ at Atwater Crossing. Other than the very worthy Big Mista's at the Atwater Farmer's Market, that's pretty much been it for the past decade. Charcoal aims to fix that with chef Jeremy Zimmerman and a big 'ol smoker hauled all the way from Arizona. Here's some first impressions:

Bucket o' bacon and pickles
What: Charcoal in the former Lago d'Argento Pizza spot
Where: 2611 N. Hyperion Ave., 323-300-5500
Why: You've a hankering for some smoky meats with a stiff cocktail or a craft beer and Bludso's is too far to drive.
toast your own s'mores
The goods: Dry-rubbed, Kansas City style smoked meats include pork ribs, brisket, sausages, pulled pork and the appetizer bucket o'bacon. Sides include a tartly-refreshing coleslaw, mac 'n cheese, cake-like cornbread, Brussels sprouts and potato salad. The kids menu and make your own s'mores dessert should be a hit with neighborhood families.
The look: Barbarella Bar and its adjoining restaurant space have always been saddled with an odd-shaped room, but they've made the most of it. Charcoal features a large central table with barstool seats, lots of stacked wood to prove the cue is real and blackboard walls. The sidewalk outside is unfortunately a bit narrow and the street too busy to make the outdoor tables a comfy spot.
open faced pulled pork was a hit
What to order:  smoked pork loin banh mi, open-faced pulled pork with fried egg, pork ribs, arugula/manchego/candied pecan salad. Mr. Cocktail enjoyed the PD cocktail with bourbon, lemon and raspberries.
Would we return? It's walking distance for me, so definitely. Brunch is coming soon with Southern specialties, and Happy Hour is every day from 4-7 p.m.

(EatingLA was invited to try this restaurant.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Idle Hour Rolls Out a Barrel of L.A. History in North Hollywood

The original Idle Hour is now restored to look much the same
There aren't many better restaurant backstories in L.A. right now than last week's opening of the Idle Hour on Vineland Ave. with a bar, restaurant and spacious back patio. Built in 1941 and made to look like a trio of giant barrels, the Idle Hour functioned as a bar in L.A.'s unique programmatic architecture tradition for years until it was converted to La Cana flamenco dance spot, with tacky aluminum awnings obscuring the barrels for many years. In 1984, La Cana closed, with owner Doris Fernandez retreating to live in the top of the barrel for the next 25 years or so, Spanish Kitchen style, while just a few blocks away NoHo restaurants and theaters were starting to flourish. She died in 2010, and preservationist and Los Angeles magazine editor Chris Nichols was able to help secure historic monument status for the dilapidated building. When it came up for auction, he recruited the Bigfoot Lodge owners Bobby Green's 1933 Group to restore and re-open the historic spot.

It's taken three years for a top-to-bottom restoration -- it basically had to be completely taken apart and rebuilt -- but last week I checked out the woodsy new bar, which is sure to be quickly packed with Valley dwellers who have only recently been getting some decent drinking spots.
The look: The interior is just like being inside a barrel, with curved wood-covered walls and a tall round roof. Outdoors is another surprise: the Bulldog Cafe from the Petersen Auto Museum, a smaller replica of the one that once stood on West Washington Blvd., has been relocated and can be rented out for parties. The rest of the patio is comfy with a firepit and picnic tables, and dogs will be allowed.

The drinks: There's a selection of draft cocktails (I liked the Maid with tequila, aloe liqueur, mint and lime), a few updated but fairly simple house cocktails and two bottled and carbonated choices, all $12. About 20 taps of California-focused beer include rotating choices like an autumnal Sonoma Bourbon Cider, Ladyface Red Rye and Smog City Porter.
The food: The casual menu is made to go with hoppy beers and stiff cocktails, and the pulled pork sliders, brussels sprouts with bacon, bbq chicken wings all hit the spot. Or try a pretzel with chipotle chocolate sauce.

Idle Hour Bar
4824 Vineland Ave.
North Hollywood

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dune: Falafel and Modern Middle Eastern on Atwater's Glendale Blvd.

Dune is still in its soft opening stage, but so far the small sandwich spot is turning out some unconventional but quite satisfying pita flatbreads in a small Glendale Blvd. space next to Juice and near Viet Noodle. The counter man wasn't very chatty but did say that the food doesn't represent any particular country, just the Middle East, and that the owner is from Poland. Or possibly Colorado. (It's actually Elf owner Scott Zwiezen.)
organic falafel sandwich at Dune
We tried an organic falafel ($8) with a heap of very soft and flavorful chickpea patties piled on a nicely charred homemade flatbread, topped with hummus and pickles. The lamb sandwich is made with pasture-raised lamb, and it's a little pricey at $10 for a few small lamb patties. But the yogurt sauce has a nice zing and presumably the lambs at least lived happy lives. For now the other items include a picked beet, feta and egg sandwich, hummus, tabbouli and rosewater dates for dessert. There are no tables inside, but outside Dune shares sidewalk tables with Juice and Kaldi. Dune seems like a good addition to a street that could use some updated casual spots.

3143 Glendale Blvd.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

El Condor Creates More Spacious Tequila-Sipping Areas as Dustin Lancaster's Empire Expands

After nine months using basically the same footprint as El Conquistador, El Condor owner Dustin Lancaster of Bar Covell and L&E Oyster realized the tiny upstairs bar and secluded back bar weren't creating a very good flow in the Silver Lake modern Mexican bar and restaurant. The feng shui just wasn't working, he explained, so a long L-shaped wooden bar now stretches across the entire downstairs area for maximum margarita-ordering efficiency. The front patio is now glassed-in while the cozy upstairs balcony is strictly for seating.

The menu has been streamlined just a bit -- though some are sad to lose the tortas and main dishes, it seems tacos and tequila (along with quesadillas, chips and enchiladas) are what the people want. There's also a fine selection of mezcals and carefully-crafted Mexican-influenced cocktails that are a world away from El Conquistador's neon green swill. Happy hour is 5-7 pm and 10-12 am.

With the boutique Hotel Covell set to open any day upstairs from Bar Covell, Lancaster is a very busy guy. He's also getting very close to opening Augustine, a wine bar in the Covell mold on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. After Home State and Mother Dough, the Covell block is filling up fast: The former two-story house next to Bar Covell is already set to feature a Go Get 'Em Tiger Coffee in six months or so; Lancaster is hoping that McConnell's Ice Cream will possibly join the coffee crowd.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pot + Commissary in the First Issue of the Larchmont Ledger: How Many Forks?

Commissary's indoor-outdoor greenhouse space

Eating LA is now contributing to both the Los Feliz and the Larchmont Ledgers, two community newspapers that publish monthly in print and online. I'm not sure how it's possible that I never posted about eating several times at Pot (once with Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi, brag, for a TV show promo of course). But now that I've tried Commissary too, it's time to make it right. Here's my review from the brand-new Larchmont Ledger. Click through to see how many forks it received.

It might not be fair to lump together Pot, a cheeky take on a Korean hotpot restaurant and Commissary, an equally-unorthodox approach to a breakfast, lunch and dinner hotel restaurant. But Koreatown's Line Hotel can be experienced all at once or in bits and pieces.
When Roy Choi, the man who brought food trucks into the 21st century with Kogi BBQ and then expanded into places like A-Frame and Sunny Spot, joined up with the recently remodeled mid-century hotel on Wilshire Blvd., it was clear it would reflect his brash approach to both flavors and marketing, with a weed-scented, hip-hop soundtracked sensibility.

Lobby bar at Pot
Walking into the lobby, a bar with comfy pentagonal booths offers updated classic cocktails and new creations like kimchi soju or tequila with sea urchin. The lobby coffee bar (open til 2 a.m. on weekends) serves Lamill coffee drinks (habanero mocha!), beer and wine along with Korean pastries like hot dog and ketchup buns and of course, clever toast (Laurence Fishbun is topped with anchovies) .
Down a corridor is Pot, an informal canteen offering accessible versions of hot pots and other Korean staples for diners who may or may not have much experience with real Korean restaurants. Servers in street-style chic and tables with clever shelves for flatware along with a pumping soundtrack give the windowless room a cacophonous energy. With typically Choi-esque names from Ganja Tang (pork neck hotpot) to Roger Wants Moore Octopussy grilled octopus, most dishes pack layers of sweetness, heat, salt and fat on top of each other until the diner keels over from either euphoria or a heart episode.
the kimchi fried rice of your dreams
The result is delicious but sometimes overly-rich dishes like kimchi fried rice, terrific potato pancakes and BBQ spicy pork. Hot pots come in pork-intensive, seafood or vegetarian varieties, and should be shared with several people. Come at lunch for a quieter experience and individually-sized hot pots, and don't miss the chili-oil slicked kat man doo dumplings.
Feeling more outdoorsy? Go past the hotel's reception desk and the mural made of plastic bleach bottles sprayed black, past the adorable Poketo gift shop and upstairs to Commissary. Next to the pool, a glass greenhouse-like structure filled with hanging plants, a bar and communal tables glows from within. Parties of two are likely to end up outdoors, where sleek heaters are able to keep out the cold most evenings. At Commissary, too, the vegetable-intensive menu plays tricks: like a children's bingo card, it offers just pictures of cauliflower, a carrot or a fish.
But the dishes are much more complex than the pictures, and the server can explain each one at length. Beets join pistachios, goat cheese and frisee, while "lettuce" symbolizes an artfully-composed salad of grilled lettuce, bacon, pear and avocado with a curry-scented dressing. Roasted carrots, one of the hot food trends at the moment, are roasted almost to a crisp and topped with a zippy green sauce. Every hotel restaurant needs a club sandwich and a burger, so Commissary offers both, as well as a satisfyingly crispy pork schnitzel that hangs over the edge of the plate in proper German style. Bacon is often a supporting character despite the vegetable focus, in classic clam chowder or in a rigatoni dish where tart capers cut the richness of the cream sauce.
Cocktails continue the garden theme with herbs and touches of rhubarb or persimmon. They're so refreshing that it might be nice if Choi could give up serving them in plastic leftover containers (a nod to the way kitchen workers drink) and let diners enjoy them in proper glasses. Assembling a meal of small plates and cocktails can easily end up around $100 for two people, and though everything is well-prepared, the menu can seem like a bit of a hodgepodge.
But no matter where you eat at the Line, it will no doubt be irreverent, addictive and just a little over the top, just like Choi himself.

Pot and Commissary at the Line Hotel
3515 Wilshire Blvd.