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First Bites 

Tastes from some of the city’s newest restaurants

Wednesday, Jul 19 2000
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AMMO
1155 N. Highland Ave.
(323) 871-2666

 

Ammo has been around for three years as a catering company, a take-away kitchen, a tiny breakfast ’n’ lunch spot. Only recently has it annexed and remodeled an adjacent storefront and opened for dinner. The new dining room has a Zen simplicity, with wall-length banquettes, lots of pale wood, boxy paper lamps and a Thermopane vista of Highland Avenue. At breakfast, Ammo is part espresso bar, part minimalist coffee shop: There’s the conceptual opposite of Denny’s Grand Slam, two cup-poached eggs with daubs of pesto, thin sheets of reggiano and a scattering of chunky roasted potatoes. Ammo bustles at lunch. All the soups are delicious: potato leek; a purée of white corn with a dollop of pesto. Composed salads, too, rank far above average. I love the never-a-dull-bite French lentil salad with roasted beets, chives, arugula, crunchy pepitas and just enough goat cheese. People I know eat dinner at Ammo for the tuna tartare alone, the raw, smooth fish chopped with avocados, chives and a squirt of lemon juice on crostini. I myself like the butter-lettuce salad, with grapefruit and golden beets and curds of a good sharp feta. And all are helpless before the ice cream sandwich, a classy remake of a classic: two intensely bittersweet chocolate cookies filled with rich, house-made espresso ice cream in a pool of just-salty-enough caramel. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday–Saturday; weekend brunch. Lunch entrées from $8 to $12; dinner entrées from $12 to $23. (MH)

Location Info

 

DARYA
12130 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.
(310) 442-9000

The newest kebabery to join West L.A.’s crowded Persian restaurant scene, Darya has materialized from a once-drab storefront to Las Vegas MGM Grand–style opulence, with crystal chandeliers and gilded Greek columns reflecting shimmery light around its dining room. Those more-than-generous plates of grilled, skewered protein, traditional in Persian restaurants, are all here, too. But in tune with the sensibility of its neighborhood, Darya has wisely created a list of vegetarian plates that includes the creamy roasted-eggplant-based kashk-e-bademjan, and fesenjon, a vegetarian version of the usual pomegranate-and-walnut-sauced duck fesenjon. Though prices are kebaberia-low, lamb chops are juicy and meaty, the skewered Cornish game hen plump and well-marinated, and the ground chicken or beef Koobideh is seasoned to sausage-like succulence. Almost everything arrives with the traditional saffron-misted basmati, piled to obscene heights, though Darya’s kitchen will graciously substitute a romaine salad or a more exotic rice. Try zereshk polo, freckled with tiny tart barberries, or adas polo, dotted with lentils, dates and raisins. Beer and wine is served, but the house doogh, a refreshingly thinned yogurt drink, is still best alongside Persian flavors. Beware: A live singer on Fridays and Saturdays may prevent intimate conversation. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Entrées from $7.95 to $13.95. (LB)

 

HAPPY KING
8450 E. Valley Blvd.,
Nos. 108 and 109, Rosemead
(626) 288-9299

Hidden behind the swank and palatial 888 Chinese restaurant, the casual Happy King is a family-run place where you can breakfast all through the day. It’s the Hong Kong equivalent of Rae’s or Twohey’s coffee shops, where you sit beneath the cheerful gaze of Hong Kong movie stars smiling from a larger-than-life, photorealistic mural. Happy King’s menu says “Specialist in rice and noodle,” but there’s much more to eat here than that. Breakfast specials for $3.25 combine vast, comforting bowls of soupy rice congee (minced beef, lean pork or fish) with a choice of fried noodles, deep-fried savory Chinese crullers, or silky, noodlelike stuffed rice rolls. Lunch specials, also $3.25, â— veer off into the mysterious world of preserved meat, black salted turnip and even double-boiled turtle. But the menu’s Chinese snacks — not considered formal enough for a meal, yet wonderfully filling — are the best items to sample: A mountainous plate of spicy salt-fried tofu (the No. 5 appetizer), shrimp with creamy scrambled eggs, and a minced-beef soup with masses of cilantro — all for the funky-dive prices we so appreciate. Open daily 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Snacks from $2.95 to $10.50. (LB)

 

MAKO
225 S. Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills
(310) 288-8338

Mako, the new Beverly Hills restaurant started by Mako Tanaka after leaving Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main, is in the former location of Il Mito and the short-lived La Veranda. Mako’s room has been redone in a simple, casual style with lots of pale wood, pretty blue hanging lamps and attractive original art, some of it by Mako’s wife, Lisa Brady. The dining room is well-staffed. Hosts and servers are attentive, good-natured, full of enthusiasm. They’re serious, and pulling for this restaurant; and the group effort is heartening. Mako serves up a familiar Pacific Rim fusion strain — Euro/Cal eclectic with strong Asian influences and an emphasis on seafood. An appetizer of deeply caramelized braised short ribs with black truffles and gnocchi is hearty and delicious, though pricey. Big, beautiful scallops are perfectly cooked, served on the shell with a bit of mashed potatoes and lots of slivered black truffle — excellent. Also a hit was grilled filet mignon, a tasty, beautifully cooked piece of beef with a side of sweet sake soy, and spinach. The great risk of fusion is a murky multiplicity, in which the diverse parts don’t add up to a whole. Unfortunately, many of the dishes here slip into that murk. A dessert crumble with apple, currants and nuts is a cross between mince pie and granola. The best dessert is yuzu tart, with a cute, singed beehive of meringue and delicious coconut sorbet. Open for lunch Wednesday–Friday, dinner Monday–Saturday. Entrées from $21.50 to $29.50. (MH)

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