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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Street: Bland and Overpriced

I admit I was very skeptical of Susan Feniger's Street from the first time I heard about it on KCRW's Good Food. Unfortunately, my suspicions were thoroughly confirmed. Granted, I haven't tried every single one of the items on the fairly extensive menu. But I feel like I've tried enough. It's a no go.

It's not a matter of authenticity. I didn't hold it against her that mung bean pancakes aren't really street food in Korea. But overpriced bland food? I don't think so. The only thing it has going for it are the ambiance, especially the outdoor patio that had a great vibe, and beer list (great hefeweizen).

We had what's called Thai Bites (above), which were baby collard leaves with an assortment of stuff such as coconut, peanuts, lime, red onion, dry shrimp and chilies cut into tiny pieces, to be had with a dab of tamarind palm caramel. It was interesting and refreshing but nothing special. It was advertised as a "flavor explosion" but wasn't really.

I liked the look of the complimentary snack in the beginning. I expected it to be nice and crunchy, like rice puffs. But alas, it was a seemingly Indian-inspired grain concoction with spices that wasn't at all crunchy.

The service was decent but I didn't like that we got the check before asking for it. I also think it should have a better cocktail selection. I mean, come on, the world is your oyster, for crying out loud. However, we greatly enjoyed the two hefeweizen offered, a Bavarian one and a Japanese one.

Don't mean to be a downer all the way, but I also dislike it when restaurants get gimmicky by calling a dumpling "Mandoo Vegetable Dumpling," which is the epitome of redundancy -- like saying dumpling vegetable dumpling. Then to add insult to injury, it describes it as "Asian vegetables and..." which is an immediate red flag for me. What menu item would describe something as "European vegetables" or "Middle Eastern vegetables"? Final question about gimmicks: What is Korean about the Korean Rice Salad? I'm baffled.

The Turkish Zucchini Spinach Cake in puff pastry (didn't taste like it) with thyme, feta and red pepper sauce was so incredibly bland and unremarkable that I'm not even going to show you a picture. I couldn't taste any of the ingredients listed here. Strike 3.

The Singaporean Kaya Toast tried to come to the rescue but alas, it was a lost cause. The toasted bread spread with coconut jam served with a runny egg, dark soy sauce and white pepper had promise but I much prefer the French version with crusty bread instead. The thick coconut jam was so distracting, like a thick mound of butter that was overdone and not in a good way. I always like an egg so that was a no-brainer but the bread itself, which is so important in such a dish, wasn't good.

Then came the biggest disappointment of the evening: Egyptian Style Baked Fish. It was cod baked with roasted lemons and sea salt. It came with braised collard greens and Kushary, which is spiced rice, lentil and macaroni. The red pepper sauce was barely noticeable. The cod seemed fresh enough but it was hardly seasoned. Spiced rice? What spice? It was literally a mesh of stuff on a plate that couldn't be tasted. No texture distinctions. I couldn't help but ask our waiter to bring us something with a kick. Thankfully, the kitchen whipped something up from sambal, olives, water and some other ingredients that our waiter dutifully recited but I forgot. It wasn't super spicy but definitely helped. We smothered the fish in the sauce. It's a bit obscene to charge $26 for this dish. And this from someone who paid $35 for a plate of jamon iberico de bellota. Now that was worth it.

The last savory dish was called Vietnamese corn, cooked with green onions and pork belly (my favorite part). It was good, but only because bacon or some iteration of it makes everything taste good. This was probably the better dish among all the things we tried, but that's not saying much.

If at least the dessert were good, I would have given this place a better wrap, like with the Foundry. But no. The selection was unimpressive and what we did get, the Turkish doughnuts, were not as light and fluffy as I would have wanted. And I didn't care much for the strong cardamon taste that came from simmering doughnuts in cardamon-roasted syrup.

I don't think I'll return simply because why go there when I could have a much better meal for a fraction of the price (or same price) elsewhere?

As a street food-lover, I'm saddened that this experiment didn't work out. Maybe it'll improve over time but until then...

Susan Feniger's Street
742 No Highland
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 203-0500

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