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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sushi at Jinpachi: Excellent and Expensive

I found a great new neighborhood sushi joint in Jinpachi. Not everyday prices for sure, but it's obviously a place that takes its sushi seriously. It's low-key but most importantly, serves fresh fish with warm rice in its sushi. I'm partial to this new style of warm rice + sushi. I wasn't crazy about the fact that most of its offerings (I didn't do omakase because it was my first time and wanted to check it out) had some kind of sauce drizzled on it. Still, the fish was very fresh and I'd definitely like to return for more.

Strangely enough, when we ordered a-la-carte and got an order of blue fin tuna, toro (fatty tuna) and hamachi (yellow tail), they gave us the toro first, which seems counter intuitive considering toro is the mother of all buttery tunas and serving it first would make anyone appreciate the lesser quality tuna served next less.

In any case, toro (right) was good but not as good as in other comparable establishments like Hiko or even Sushi Zo. It came drizzled with soy sauce with freshly grated wasabi inside. Loved the warm rice too.
Not surprisingly, the blue fin tuna (left) that was served immediately afterwards didn't really do it for me. It's like serving a Corona after having Hitachino Classic Pale Ale, which incidentally I was drinking this very evening.

But I digress. The hamachi, or yellow tail, was excellent. It too came with a bit of soy sauce drizzled on top, but it tasted so fresh that I hardly cared.

I'm also particular about the accompanying pickled ginger and that was very good too. No funky smell coming from some pickling issues.

Once I built up some confidence on the quality of the fish served here, I moved on riskier picks like scallop and Spanish mackerel, both of which were recommended by the chef, by which time I trusted. The scallop (right) that came with rock salt and beautiful specks of yuzu rind jewels was excellent. I'm not a big fan of shellfish sushi, not least because it's hard to find good ones, but this was well worth the risk.
The Spanish mackerel (top picture) was an even bigger risk in the sense that even at Hiko, my favorite sushi joint in LA, this sushi would more often than not come out fishy. But this one didn't have a hint of fishiness and the grated ginger and minced green onions it came topped with complemented well with the fresh flavor of the fish.

Then I got my standards like uni (sea urchin), blue crab handroll and last but not least, anago (salt water eel). The uni (left) was also excellent, albeit drizzled once again with soy sauce. The seaweed the warm rice was wrapped in was extremely crispy and I could tell it was very good quality seaweed.

The crab handroll was equally stellar. The crab was sweet and the warm rice wrapped in the seaweed was the perfect combination. I could have this for lunch every day.

The last one I had was anago, or salt water eel, which comes with the syrupy brown sauce that's slightly salty and sweet used for unagi. The flesh of the anago was so incredibly soft it (excuse the cliche) did melt in your mouth.

I also liked the beer selection. As much as I like Sapporo served in an ice cold glass straight out of a cooler, I can't help but love what's probably my favorite Japanese beer of all time, Hitachino Classic Pale Ale that has the cutest little owl on the bottle. But more importantly, it's fantastic beer that goes so well with sushi. The perfect pairing if ever there was one.

I'll be returning, probably for another special occasion. Prices are a bit steep for every day sushi. A meal for two with one beer came out to about $55 per person. I hear that omakase is $100 per person. I may just try that next time. Now I gotta find an excuse. It's very quaint and quiet. If you're looking for a scene, this isn't the place for you. I didn't like the fact that it also serves a lot of cooked dishes and the omakase also includes cooked dishes, which to me, seems so much like a contradiction. I came for sushi, not cooked foods! Anyhow, that's my rant. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Take a Bow for Bowery's Burgers

This burger surprised me. It was juicy, cooked just to my liking at medium-rare and had a very pleasant meaty taste. I liked this burger so much I'm going to go out on a limb and add it to my Top Five LA Burgers alongside the other hall of famers Houston's, Burger Kitchen and Rustic Canyon, in that order.

I also liked the fries that can be ordered as a mix of regular and sweet potato fries. I had it with "the works" and I chose cheddar cheese, avocado, caramelized onions and bacon. I was debating between bacon and fried egg, but in the end, think it was the right choice. I had wanted fresh red onions but apparently all the onions they had were either in confit form or caramelized.

What I didn't like was the bun, which was an English muffin that didn't hold the hefty interior very well. It quickly fell apart upon my cutting the burger in half. The patty was also too round as opposed to flat so that made it even harder to bite into. As much as I like meaty patties, this one could have used a tad of flattening.

I also have a problem with burgers priced at $9.50 that charge you for everything, and I mean, everything you decide to add to it, such as 3 toppings for additional cost or a lousy 50 cents for a side of thousand island dressing. Really? 50 cents for a side of "homemade" dressing? Come on.

As if that weren't enough, the side of fries alone was $5, and considering places like Houston's serve their burger (albeit costing more in the high teens) with fries included, I somehow felt robbed.

I didn't think much of the overdressed Bowery salad that came with greens, lentils, asparagus, beets, goat cheese and hazelnuts. Sounds good, right? It was drowning in dressing, which is not good. The salad would have been a lot better otherwise but it was hard to taste anything.

The vibe is ok but a bit noisy and crowded (or maybe I'm just getting old). It's tight quarters. It doesn't have any beers on draft, which is weird for a bar, but at least it has a decent selection. I chose a delightfully bitter Stone IPA that went well with my bloody burger.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eat Not at Eatalian: Worst Pasta I've Had in Years

I was so disappointed by the food and service at Eatalian that I vowed never to return again. So not worth the drive out to "Gardena," (closer to Harbor Gateway and Compton, actually). The space was great -- open, airy and very modern-cafeteria. The high ceilings reminded me of Bottega Louie, but Eatalian is a lot less fancy than that.

The only redeeming thing about this place was the pizza. I was a bit perplexed that the Margherita didn't have any basil on it, but I figured everyone must have their own version of Margherita. So I got the "speciale," that includes cherry tomatoes and basil. Maybe the menu should have specified that it only comes with 5 little slivers of basil, because they really skimped on the basil that usually adds so much flavor to the pizza. I'm talking fresh, large, full-leaves of basil sprinkled on top of the pizza.

The pizza crust was decent -- thin, crispy and not too chewy like those cheap ones. But there wasn't enough tomato and because there was more cheese than tomato, or maybe because they had oversalted it, it was too salty. I liked the fresh mozzarella blobs but I don't think it was enough for me to want to return.

The pastas were dismal to say the least. Thank god I was able to take one back and not get charged for it. The biggest culprit was the "handmade" tagliatelle al ragu. Oh my god. It was the single most bland thing I've put in my mouth in years. It tasted like a mush of nothingness over some flat spinach noodles. There was ground meat in it but it didn't taste like anything.
The tomato sauce tasted as bland as the meat. Normally, I would think about ways to add flavor to it from my home kitchen. I was thinking, would it taste better with some garlic added or, what a thought, salt?

I actually tried adding salt but it didn't do much for it.

Then the spaghetti carbonara wasn't much better. The pancetta seemed well cooked enough, crispy and porky as they should be. But what happened to flavor again? It looked like a perfectly serviceable carbonara with its "egginess" from the raw egg and cheese mixture and bits of pancetta throughout. And both pasta were cooked al dente. But that wasn't the issue.

The pasta was totally bland, again. So I proceeded to add more salt and pepper to add flavor. Because carbonara is a more simple dish, I feel, it actually helped to salt and pepper it. It was edible. I didn't take it back, but the tagliatelle, I had to. It just wasn't salvageable by any means. Not even Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria could have saved this dish.

Don't even get me started on the shoddy and slow service. Ok, our guy didn't charge us for the awful pasta. But this place is clearly short-staffed and it needs to beef up staff or somehow improve the quality of the service. Everyone's running around like chicken without their heads.

Also, this place also clearly got more business than it can handle. That was apparent in the diluted quality of the food. I'm sure it wasn't like that when the LA Times or West Ways magazine gave it rave reviews.

Whenever I run into places like these, I think about Hillstone Group that owns places like Houston's or R+D, etc. All restaurants are chains and are always inundated with customers but always have great service with great food. It's all in the training, experience and philosophy of the management. Maybe Eatalian bit off more than it could chew. I really wanted to like this place because it's a great concept and I wanted to an affordable place to go for good Margherita pizza (can't always go to Mozza, right?).

The gelato was totally unremarkable -- had the Bacio and mango. Yuck. The pastries that they sold there, like chocolate croissant and "cannellino," were downright bad. Maybe this is their version of chocolate croissant and I'm very picky when it comes to this. The chocolate was like chocolate custard instead of the dark brown chocolate essence in the best croissants. Yuck! And the cannellinos, well, I've never had one of these but if it's supposed to be their version of cannolis, they were really bad. They used a soft puff pastry shell instead of a hard shell and the custard was not good. I'm not a big fan of cannolis but even I was put off by this lame impersonation of the real deal. If I'm the lame one by not knowing this is the way they should be, my bad.

Hope this place improves but I'm not returning until I have word of mouth from trusted sources about its comeback.