It Must Be Jelly . . .
Borobudur Garden might be an Indonesian greasy spoon, but it's a great greasy spoon, focused and satisfying, with crisp shreds of fried tripe that sing of dark soy and garlic; with meltingly tender beef rendang, redolent of a dozen spices; with pungent mee goreng noodles fried with chicken, cabbage and herbs. Order lamb soup and you'll get a bowl of intense, chile-red coconut curry, resonant with garlic and lemongrass, puddled around a mound of meltingly tender lamb ribs. For a beverage, there's an item called es cendol, involving coconut milk, something lime-colored, and bright-green squiggles of translucent grass jelly that look like somebody took a great deal of trouble to squirt gel toothpaste into your drink. 821 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel; (626) 281-6521. Open Tues.Sun., 11:30 a.m.8 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $9$15. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
The Studio City Du-Par's is a clubhouse for gaffers in the early morning â and high school kids late at night, screenwriters pounding on PowerBooks, young moms with strollers, gray-haired couples holding hands -- practically everybody in the Valley who prefers coffee with cream to grande skinny lattes. At the Farmers Market Du-Par's, some of the regulars look as if they've been sitting at the same table since Governor Reagan's first term. (On weekend mornings, the restaurant is, as a friend puts it, filled with young women in love and men who need Jell-O.) And pretty much anybody will concede that Du-Par's serves the best French toast in Los Angeles -- essentially, supermarket balloon bread transformed into a rich, eggy bread pudding, slicked with melted butter, dusted with confectioners' sugar. 12036 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 466-4437. Also in Farmers Market, Third Street at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 933-8446; Lexington Drive at Brand Boulevard, Glendale, (818) 240-5454. All locations open seven days; call for hours. Lunch or dinner for two, $1520. AE, Disc., MC, V.
Quanjude's Beijing duck is so remarkably superior to the Beijing ducks you might have grown up eating that the effect is not unlike taking a first bite of first-class toro sushi after a lifetime of Star Kist on Wonder Bread. If you are not Chinese, a waiter will probably come over to show you how to eat this smoked delicacy, how to smear a paper-thin wheat pancake with a bit of the house's bean jelly, top it with the white of a scallion, chopstick up a piece or two of the duck skin, and roll it up into a kind of elegant taco. The skin is crisp, giving way under your teeth like the glaze on a crème brûlée; the sweetness of the bean jelly amplifies the duck's unctuousness like the glaze on a Virginia ham; the sharpness of the scallion cuts through the sweet richness, bringing the whole dish into balance. It's worth a trip to Beijing, let alone Rosemead. 8450 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead; (626) 280-2378. Open daily 11:30 a.m.2 p.m. and 5:309 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, about $26. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. MC, V.
A smallish place up the street from the strip malls and office buildings of the Sawtelle-Olympic district, Sawtelle Kitchen is tastefully rustic right down to the patinaed walls and the weathered hutches that hold the bowls for café au lait. The tables are covered with sheets of copper, and little fiaschi hold homemade, chile-flavored olive oil. The salads are pretty much a toss of greens, though the dressings are spiked with exotic things like lavender and balsamic vinegar. Broiled Pacific salmon is served on a bed of al dente pasta sauced with a textbook-perfect buerre blanc, and sautéed sea bass, served with sort of a Tuscan-style ratatouille, is sweet and nicely undercooked. Soups have been wonderful, especially an intense carrot purée flavored with fresh clams. And though you should at all costs avoid the clammy sweet-potato tart, Ishi's most famous dessert, coffee Jell-O topped with rich cappuccino ice cream, is terrific. 2024 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 445-9288. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.Sat. Dinner for two, food only, $30$40. No alcohol; own wine okay. MC, V.
You may have experienced your own perfect fish in a Japanese restaurant -- a sushi bar is a great place for cheap epiphanies -- because raw, impeccably fresh fish needs no seasoning more elaborate than a few drops of soy sauce and the pleasant aftertaste of pickled ginger. Take the pressed-mackerel sushi occasionally available at the Little Tokyo sushi bar Shibucho, fish lightly sweetened through long marination and gilded with a transparent, crunchy sliver of kelp. The snacky kinds of sushi are superb here: salmon-skin hand rolls sharp with pungent gobo root, sushi rolls stuffed with Japanese pickles, sushi of sweet shrimp. And if you should point to a luminous aspic in the cold case, the owner may blush, then lift out what looks like whitebait trapped in amber. "Fish Jell-O," he'll say, sliding a cube of the stuff onto your plate. "People like to eat it when they drink sake." 333 S. Alameda St., top floor; (213) 626-1184. Also at 3114 W. Beverly Blvd.; (213) 387-8498. Open Thurs.Tues. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12$60. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, 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, crisp string beans come fried with hoisin and crumbles of pork. The duck is ruddy to the bone and as smoky as Texas barbecue. Green-onion pies are 45-rpm discs of crisp, griddled dough, at their best when dipped in a tincture of chile and vinegar: easily the best green-onion pancakes in town. 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 ($30 or more).
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