Balls to the Wall
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 comes what seems like a truckload of rice glistening with oil, a couple of sweet fried plantains, spicy black beans and a bowl of ”Cajun-spiced“ bean soup. Cafe Brasil also serves wonderful feijoada, less offal-intensive than some versions but meat-fragrant in the best possible way, served with the traditional garnishes of fried yucca flour, herbed salsa and well-garlicked shreds of sauteed bitter greens. And do try the puffy baked cheese balls called pao de queijo. 10831 Venice Blvd.; (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.--10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $14--$26. No alcohol. Takeout. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V.
Kim Tar serves the best Chinese barbecued pork this side of Monterey Park, sweet and full of juice. Anybody would like crisp fried dumplings stuffed with fragrant sauteed leeks, tiny taro egg rolls the size of a baby’s thumb, delicious roast duck and the occasional barbecued spareribs. A seaweed soup, its rich, briny taste underlaid with salt and fried garlic, comes with little fish quenelles (balls) whose relative blandness is a nice contrast to the soup. It‘s also safe to say that Kim Tar is the place in East Hollywood to come if you’re looking for salted pig‘s intestines or a party-size portion of soft young pig . . . which you’re probably not. 4806 Melrose Ave.; (323) 669-1180. Open daily 9:30 a.m.--9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $7--$15. No alcohol. MC, V.
Dasaprakash is vegetarian, but you can eat there a dozen times without seeing an actual vegetable. Cashew pakodas are quail-egg-size lentil-flour fritters, studded with nuts, as brittle as sponge candy and quite spicy. Masala vadai are chewy, falafel-like fried bean patties, oniony, studded with whole legumes and bits of chopped chiles, terrific with a bit of tart tamarind chutney; idli are the usual steamed, madeleine-size rice-flour cakes; bondas are sort of fried, blandish pingpong balls of lentils or mashed potatoes that benefit from a dab or two of the spicy mint-laced chutney. The crisp, lacy pancakes called rava dosai, made of the Indian equivalent of Cream of Wheat, seem like the sort of thing a Madras grandmother might make to nibble on at teatime. 12217 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, West L.A.; (310) 820-9477. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $16--$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V.
Paseo Chapin’s pepian is a forceful version of this Mayan stew: ground, spiced squash seeds, fortified with burnt bread and toasted chiles and thinned out with broth, overwhelming the boiled chicken that floats in it, but also giving the rather ordinary bird substance. Pollo con crema is a revelation here, a Latin American standard given life with an elegant, thin cream sauce, as tart as citrus, made from bell peppers and tart Guatemalan sour cream. And everybody likes longaniza -- little coarse-textured balls of sausage, hot with black pepper, laced with pungent dried herbs and grilled crisp, served with a fresh, chile-laced tomato salsa that has a deep, smoky bite. 2220 W. Seventh St.; (213) 385-7420. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12--$19. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
Renu Nakorn‘s food is spicy, but what makes it wonderful is the fresh play of tastes, a fugue of herbs, animal pungencies and citrus that is quite unlike anything at your corner Thai cafe. There’s a blistering larb of finely ground catfish seasoned with lime, chile and nutty-brown, ground, toasted rice; the thinnest sour strands of shredded bamboo shoot are dressed the same way; and an extraordinary version of steak tartare was so delicious it seared the hairs out of my nostrils. The waiter will bring a side plate of sliced cucumber and cabbage on a bed of crushed ice, which you can nibble on between bites to cool down, and sticky rice in little straw baskets, which you‘re supposed to roll into balls and eat with your fingers. 13041 E. Rosecrans Ave., Norwalk; (562) 921-2124. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $10--$20. Beer and wine. MC, V.
Taylor‘s is a real urban steak house, a two-fisted meat-and-martini joint where an account executive can blow his Pritikin thing with massive hunks of well-aged sirloin, at about half what he’d pay in one of those Beverly Hills joints. The filet mignon here is soft, buttery, as rare as you order it, and crusted with char; the New York steak is beefy and rich; London broil, kind of stewy-tasting, comes sliced, with a horseradish and sour-cream sauce on the side. But the glory of Taylor‘s is the culotte steak, a softball-shaped prime thing cut from the top of the sirloin. If you order it rare, the interior is scarlet, dripping juice, marbled with fat, full of the tremendous mineral sourness of great meat. It’s the steak that time forgot. 3361 W. Eighth St.; (213) 382-8449. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
Tung Lai Shun
The first thing you notice about Tung Lai Shun is the enormous rounds of freshly baked sesame bread that seem to be on every table, wedges of which you drag through sauce, or stuff with terrific chopstickfuls of beef fried with green onions. While you‘re waiting for the bread to come -- it can take 20 minutes -- you nibble on cool, slippery slices of garlicked ox-tendon terrine, or thin, cold slices of delicately spiced beef, or chunks of cold braised lamb in an unctuous garlic jelly. Later on, string beans, crisp and melting, come fried with hoisin and crumbles of pork. The duck is ruddy to the bone and as smoky as Texas barbecue. Beijing shrimp balls are crunchy little orbs of ground shrimp, served with a little pile of ground spice to dip them in. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 118C, San Gabriel; (626) 288-6588. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14--$20. No alcohol. Parking in mall lot. MC, V.
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