First Bites | Dining | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

First Bites 

Sampling L.A.’s newest restaurants

Wednesday, Feb 10 1999
Comments

Illustration by J.T. Steiny

CYRANO

8840 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood

Location Info

(310) 271-4193

Remember Pane Caldo on Beverly Boulevard, upstairs from the Antiquarian Guild? Its sweeping view of the Hollywood Hills gave the simple dining room a marvelous sense of luxury. Cyrano has inherited that room and the view. It is one of the restaurant’s best features. This isn’t to say the food from Cyrano’s French-Mediterranean kitchen is entirely lackluster. There’s a collection of high-end comfort foods familiar to anyone who’s sampled the Top 10 (or even 5) restaurants on the Zagat Survey. What could be blah about ahi steak au poivre, chilled oysters, rack of lamb, rare roast duck breast and a caesar salad of tender romaine hearts? Intriguing accompaniments vary with every plate: a crisp slab of sweet potato wrapped around a tower of lime-roasted sweet potato with the duck breast, or potato gratin with the salmon. When you open the menu, it seems full of familiar possibilities. Unfortunately, many dishes still need refining. Tough braised lamb, overseared foie gras, steamed vegetables in a pasta that were advertised as roasted, and a wonderful-tasting but overcooked chocolate soufflé all indicate a kitchen not quite in control of its ambitions. Service was kindly but harried. The vote at our table: a restaurant with all the right ingredients that now needs to perfect the recipe. Open Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and Tues.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. (LB)

 

ELECTRIC LOTUS

 

4656 Franklin Ave., Los Feliz

(323) 953-0040

 

Too many Indian restaurants — particularly neighborhood Indian restaurants catering to Americans — still feature the sort of musty bong-hit exoticism, bedspreads on the walls and Ravi Shankar on the stereo, that was pretty much played out by 1969. But next door to a Los Feliz 7-Eleven, the brand-new Electric Lotus is the kind of countercultural neighborhood restaurant post-Beck Los Angeles has always needed, a curry shop self-aware enough to groove on its customers’ fixed ideas about curry shops: mellow vibes of the East replaced by the jangling dissonances of Bollywood; dusty hippie palette transmuted into colors bright enough to sear afterimages into eyeballs. The proprietor blasts — and has apparently even produced — bhangra CDs and quwaali music; the staff is hip to healing herbs. And the fairly orthodox Pakistani and northern Indian food — stewed eggplant, bright-yellow chickpea curry, cauliflower with toasted cumin — is cooked in olive oil instead of the usual ghee, which means that most of the vegetarian dishes are completely without animal residue. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. (JG)

 

FU SHING

 

2960 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 792-8898

 

The hottest Thai curry in Los Angeles? It’s hard to say. But the soupy Szechuan beef at Fu Shing may be the most incendiary single Chinese dish in Southern California, a brothy, brick-colored thing — gritty with ground dried chiles, thick with garlic, leeks, slices of cow — that sometimes resembles a hard-fought set of tennis in its uncanny ability to soak your shirt in sweat. Fu-Shing’s soupy beef — ask for it extra-hot — is an endorphin surfer’s Waimea. Started nearly two decades ago in a former House of Pies in San Gabriel, then abutting an East Pasadena motel, Fu Shing has always been renowned in the Chinese community for the sharpest Szechuan food in town, kung pao squid and Chinese squash with crab eggs, crisp taro duck and cold tripe with chile oil. Its new location, a two-story building a couple of blocks west of the last one, is an intimate place, all nooks and corners, hallways and cozy dining rooms, and, it seems, a rebuke to the mammoth gastrodomes of Monterey Park, just a few miles south. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. (JG)

 

FUZIO

 

11750 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood

(310) 820-5499

 

"Oh, it’s the home of the Last Supper," quipped a friend as he joined our table at Fuzio, adding, "Be sure not to forget your eyeglasses." I knew it — inevitably, someone would feel compelled to remind us, tastelessly I might add, of O.J. and Nicole, and the fact that Mezzaluna used to be in Fuzio’s location. My advice is to ignore the site’s troubled past and explore Fuzio’s "Universal Pasta." The conceit of this San Francisco chain is the matching of global flavor combinations with compatible noodle styles. Firecracker Pork Fusilli, for instance, has a topping of succulent slow-cooked pork simmering with the raging heat of ginger and habañero that’s been mellowed with sour cream. That dish and the Barbwire Chicken with chipotle cream, Anaheim chiles and corn are the most "out of character" pastas in a list that includes Japanese udon bowl, vegetable pad Thai and good ol’ linguine and meatballs. After six of us tried half a dozen pastas, shared three large salads, split an order of focaccia topped with Cambozola, bacon and caramelized onion, and drank two bottles of Niebaum Coppola Rosso wine, the bill came to about $100. Total. One purist at the table said he preferred "authentic" pastas to the unconventional ones, but me, I’m a slave to any noodle that’s perfectly cooked and beautifully seasoned, a noodle I found at Fuzio. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. (LB)

 

LU GI

 

539 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel

(626) 457-5111

 

Behold the Szechuan hot pot, a pint or so of scarlet liquid frothing in a chafing dish, spitting up bloody geysers, roiling and bubbling around bits of meat and tofu like a sulfurous brimstone pool. You have tasted hot Asian food, but this is a heat of a different order, truly corrosive stuff, a pure tincture of chile and spice, thick as cream, overlaid with a garlic pungence that may ooze from your pores for a week. Like Pink’s, Roscoe’s and Chili John’s, Lu Gi is essentially a one-dish restaurant, and every table in the place hosts an induction burner, a bubbling pot and a garlicky cloud of steam. With the hot pot, tofu and vegetables, you order foods to cook yourself in the boiling brew: gamy shavings of mutton, gelatinous chunks of beef tendon, delicate little fish balls. By the end of the meal, when you have finished simmering a tableful of meat and greens in the broth, the espresso-thimble of red goo that is left is as caustic as pure lye. Open daily from 11 a.m. until midnight. (JG)

 

RINCON HONDUREÑO

 

1654 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.

(323) 734-9530

 

Near the edge of the West Adams district, Rincon Hondureño is a serene restaurant, washed in sea blue, with high ceilings, a cheerful mural of sailboats, and sleepy natural light. Bottles of ultrahot habañero sauce dot each table. The most popular Honduran snack is the baleada, a thick flour tortilla as big around as a phonograph record and griddle-baked to order, then painted with puréed black beans, Honduran sour cream and cheese and folded into something like an oversize taco. And nowhere else will you find sopa de caracol as good, or curry-tinged arroz con pollo, or coconut-enhanced fish soup that revolves around a whole, fresh red snapper as highly peppered as pastrami. Green plantains microtomed lengthwise into thin slices, then fried until they resemble phallic potato chips with a subtly sweet aftertaste — tajadas, they’re called — are served with nearly everything. This is the sort of place you’d be glad to find in a Honduran beach village. Open daily 7:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. (JG)

 

ZEST

 

2505 Valley Blvd., Alhambra

(626) 281-9968

 

The basic unit of Cantonese dining in L.A. is probably the barbecue joint: a takeout counter with lacquered ducks, simmered pig’s intestines, salted chicken, barbecued pork, annexed to a restaurant with a long menu of basic stir-fries, noodle dishes, hot pots and possibly exotic seafood. At a Chinese barbecue, it is perfectly all right to show up at odd hours, by yourself, and eat only a bowl of won ton soup or a plate of roast duck over rice. Of the hundred-odd Hong Kong–style barbecue places in the San Gabriel Valley, perhaps the newest is Zest, a bright, sprawling restaurant near the eastern edge of Alhambra. If you have been to enough barbecue places, you probably also know this menu by heart: sizzling pork chops fried with spicy salt, seafood chow mein, anise-scented Cantonese beef stew with turnips over rice. But something is clearly going on in the kitchen here. The tables are stocked with a couple of different kinds of chile sauce and jars of marinated Thai peppers, and there are far more spicy dishes than you might expect at a Cantonese restaurant. The barbecue is fine, especially the honeyed roast pork, and the "Zest-style" lobster is just wonderful, hacked into pieces and fried with chiles, ginger and minty Thai basil, crusted with sweet Asian spice. Open Sun.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. until 11 p.m. (JG)

Related Content

Related Locations

Now Trending