Everything but the Bird

Koi. It is widely believed that the post-Matsuhisa-style cuisine at Koi is an afterthought, that the avocado-laden tuna tartare on crispy won tons, the tuna sashimi with jalapeño, and the infamous albacore Italiano are secondary to the rush, the scene, even the steak. Many of the customers are impossibly good-looking, the kind of toned, tanned, possibly surgically enhanced beauty for which Los Angeles is envied by the world, but the lighting, a grid of dim spotlights more intricate than anything Robert Wilson ever devised for an opera production, makes even modestly attractive people look like extras on The O.C. Everybody loves Koi: Its matrix of sushi, celebrity and sex bumped the Roku paradigm up a few levels, and at the moment, it may be one of the most imitated restaurants in the world. Try the sashimi salad. It’ll give you something to do while you eavesdrop on Lindsay Lohan or the Roots. 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-9449. Dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–mid., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet. AE, DC, D, MC. JG $$$ Mandarin Deli. The key to ordering noodle dishes here is to specify the handmade ones, which means you’ll get wide, thick, square-cut noodles, something like fettuccine on steroids. The fish dumplings are airy, steamy things filled with a loose, fragrant mousse of whitefish and chopped greens that could serve as a $26 specialty at any high-priced Pacific Rim restaurant in town; the pan-fried pork dumplings are epochal. And then there is the seaweed salad — julienned strips of sea plant as elusively briny as a Kumamoto oyster, seasoned with an astonishing quantity of garlic. An order may be the best two bucks you ever spend in a restaurant. 727 N. Broadway, No. 109, downtown, (213) 623-6054. Lunch and dinner, Fri.–Wed. 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $15–$20. Cash only. Mandarin. JG ¢ Orris. Hideo Yamashiro’s Orris is sometimes described as an Asian “tapas bar,” a place to drift in for a glass of Viognier and a snack. Orris is something else, closer to a Mediterranean take on new-wave izakaya, a Japanese pub, than to anything you might ever come across in Spain — sweet shisito peppers sprinkled with shaved Parmesan cheese and crunchy bits of fried prosciutto; smoked scallops garnished with fat salmon eggs; a very nice Dungeness crab salad in a sweetish ginger dressing. This is food to wash down with sake, not with a glass of sherry — don’t miss the lamb tataki with rosemary and sheep-cheese. 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 268-2212. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Beer, wine and sake. Limited lot parking in rear. Small plates $6.50–$14. JG $$ Renu Nakorn. Renu Nakorn’s northern and Isaan-style Thai food is spicy, but what makes it wonderful is the fresh play of tastes, a fugue of herbs, meatiness and citrus that is quite unlike anything at your corner Thai café, even though practically everything worth ordering here is a salad. There’s a blistering larb of finely ground catfish; the thinnest sour strands of shredded bamboo; great Thai beef jerky; and an extraordinary version of steak tartare that is so delicious it could sear the hairs out of your nostrils. 13041 E. Rosecrans Ave., Norwalk, (562) 921-2124. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $5.95–$19.95. Thai. JG ¢ Simpang Asia. With a huge selection of Japanese candy and boxes piled neatly to the ceiling, this small Indonesian grocery, with a Web site, is what I’d imagine a 7-Eleven in Sulawesi might look like: immaculate shelves of chile peanuts, dried squid and juice boxes of star-fruit drink, kilo bags of fried shallots, and more flavors of instant noodles than you may have known existed. The principal unit of consumption at Simpang Asia is nasi rames, a foam containerful of boiled rice topped with small portions of three or four dishes, a dab of some homemade chile sambal, and a baggie of pale-pink shrimp chips, which look a little like Styrofoam packing material but are ideal for scooping up a bit of stew. Simpang Asia is almost exotic in its nonexoticism. Will you find the usual Indonesian salads here? But of course. 10433 National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 815-9075, www.veryasia.com. Lunch and dinner, Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Food for two: $10–$13. Indonesian. JG ¢ Vietnam House. Among the menu of soups and noodle salads and possibly the best fried spring rolls in town that it shares with its sister restaurant Golden Deli, Vietnam House prepares bo bay mon, the fabled Vietnamese seven-course beef dinner that was a specialty in this dining room when it was still called Pagode Saigon. The dinner is a well-worn ritual, honed in country restaurants before the war and served in an unbending succession of courses whose composition probably hasn’t changed in 30 years: sliced raw beef that you cook at the table by swishing it for a few seconds in a pot of vinegar broth boiling merrily on a brazier; steamed pâté studded with clear noodles and served with shrimp chips; gristly, grilled meatballs; tightly rolled slivers of steak; charred beef tucked inside vaguely narcotic la lot leaves; marinated beef salad; beef porridge. 710 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 282-6327. Lunch and dinner Mon., Wed.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sun. till 9:30 p.m. Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$24. Vietnamese. JG ¢ Yazmin. In the San Gabriel Valley, ethnic institutions are layered as intricately as microchips — an apt setting for what is probably the most polymorphous of all the world’s cuisines, a shotgun wedding of Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai and indigenous Malay cooking. The satay at Yazmin is especially good: strips of grilled beef or chicken crusted with ground cumin and coriander seed, burnt and crunchy at the edges, floating in that hazy area of perfection between sweetness and charred bitterness — and set off just right by an extremely fine sauce of chile and ground peanuts, and a big heap of acar, a spicy Malaysian pickle stained bright yellow with turmeric. Malaysian rojak is one of the world’s great salads: ripe mango, papaya, pineapple, cucumber and jicama, sprinkled with chopped peanuts, garnished with crumbly cubes of fried tofu, and drizzled with a dark, sweet dressing spiked with red chiles and the stinky shrimp paste called belacan. 19 E. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 308-2036. Closed Tues. Open for lunch Mon., Wed.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $13–$20. Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. JG $ Yungui Garden. We have seen many of these dishes before — the ma po bean curd, the Sichuan dumplings, the Chungking hot pot, the fantastic, hacked cold chicken sluiced with chile oil — but the Hunanese and Sichuanese cooking found at Yungui Garden is presented with a depth of flavor, a brutal frankness. The array of Sichuan salads in the cold case is second to none: chile-slicked pig’s-ear salad; crunchy seaweed salad; bright-red melanges of cold brisket and beef tongue and tripe. You might think this food would go well with beer, and you would be right. 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 571-8387. Lunch and dinner daily. 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Budweiser served. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $15–$25. Chinese. JG ¢


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