Don’t Fork for the Cork

Baby Blues Bar-B-Q. There have been gun battles fought in the Carolinas between partisans of mustard-based barbecue sauce and those who prefer their pork doused with vinegar. Certain barbecue cooks in beef-loving Texas would just as soon throw your mother-in-law on the grill as a pork rib. But Baby Blues serves it all. Like the best uptown essays into the art form of barbecue, the cooking here arises less out of fierce, quasi-religious devotion than out of genial connoisseurship. As such, the restaurant may be lacking in the charming, cussed idiosyncrasies that lead otherwise sane individuals to chatter in cumin-tinged tongues. It’s just a nice, slightly pricey place to eat ribs, baby-back or otherwise. Baby Blues has a strong sideline in Carolina pulled-pork barbecue, stringy mounds of smoky meat that may not have quite the universal appeal of spareribs, but fit much more neatly into a sandwich. 444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-7675. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–mid. BYOB. Takeout. MC, V.Barbecue. JG $$

Bistro K. This tiny bistro run by Laurent Quenioux, whose Seventh Street Bistro was one of the best dining rooms of the Los Angeles ’80s, is one of the better places in town now as it is, but as a BYOB restaurant where full dinners for two rarely top $80, it may be one of the best restaurant bargains in the world. The last time we ate at Bistro K, the first course, a kind of corn mousse–filled cream puff in a crayfish-scented beurre blanc, was almost as good as the ’91 grand cru Riesling from Zind-Humbrecht that we drank with it, and the ’96 Volnay from Boillot went fairly splendidly with both the cassolet of sweetbreads and the roast suckling pig. Next time around, we look forward to seeing how the Mexican ant eggs might go with a rich, old Chalone Pinot Gris, or whether the black cod beignets with blood sausage might be a better match. The roasted red-leg partridge in a huckleberry jus might do very well with an old Rhone wine, and an ’85 Clape Cornas would be perfect for the job. 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, (626) 799 5052. Wed.–Sat. 5–9 p.m. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.French. JG $$

Cafe Brasil. Mostly, you’ll find grilled animals at Cafe Brasil: pork chops, lamb chops, steak, shrimp and fish, all profoundly salty and resonant with garlic, charred at the edges, fragrant with citrus and a little overcooked. With all this protein come truckloads of rice glistening with oil, sweet fried plantains and spicy black beans. Cafe Brasil also serves wonderful feijoada on weekends, less offal-intensive than some versions but meat-fragrant in the best possible way. 10831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Entrées $7–$16. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Brazilian. JG ¢

Cha Cha Chicken. Although Cha Cha Chicken seems to operate mostly as a takeout stand, the patio off to the side is a pleasant place on a hot night. The cuisine is Caribbean poultry with attitude: a luscious, crisp-skinned bird, gritty with spices and painted with dense, black sauce, slightly sweet and intricately spiced. Mulato Cubano is everything you could want in a pressed sandwich: violently spicy chicken, melted cheese, a pickle chip or two, and a French roll that has been folded, spindled and mutilated in the jaws of a sandwich press. 1906 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 581-1684. Open Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$20. BYOB. Street parking. MC, V. Caribbean. JG ¢

Chung King. If Chuck Jones had ever decided to draw something spicy for the coyote to injure himself with, it probably would have looked a lot like Chung King’s fried chicken with hot peppers, a knoll of crunchy dark-meat cubes subsumed under a blizzard of dried chiles that are the red of silk pajamas, the red of firecrackers, the red of the Chinese flag. Chung King is the gritty, grungy star of the minicorridor of Szechuan restaurants in Monterey Park, for the pungent, cured Chinese bacon fried with leeks, for the little eels stir-fried with fermented peppers, for the cold, hacked chicken with chile, for the great, multiflavored beef casseroles that are so spicy they attack the nervous system like a phaser set to “stun.” 206 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 280-7430. Lunch and dinner seven days 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Dinner for two $13–$22. BYOB. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese/Szechuan. JG ¢

Cobras & Matadors. Steven Arroyo is the Bill Graham of tapas in Los Angeles, the impresario who made the concept of Spanish drinks ’n’ snacks as popular as sushi platters after dozens of others had tried and failed. And his dark, buzzy tapas parlors are teeming dens of olive oil and garlic, octopus and cured pig, grilled meats and pungent concoctions of seafood and paprika and beans rushed to the table still crackling in unglazed crocks. The Los Feliz restaurant has a nicely curated list of Spanish and South American wines; at the Hollywood restaurant, you buy your wines from the wine store conveniently located next door. When you bring your prize back to the table, don’t be surprised if the counter guy is standing right there, corkscrew in hand. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-3922. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. Tapas $3–$15. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Spanish. JG $

Mama Voula’s. Mama Voula, who commands her namesake kitchen as if she were commanding a nuclear submarine, is an overwhelming presence in this family-owned Greek restaurant. Expect the sharp funk of garlic and charring meat, decent seafood, and a killer gyro that combines the virtues of extreme lambiness with a delicate, carbonized crunchiness. 11923 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-9464. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $7–$13. Mediterranean/Greek. JG $


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