Whether you're cooking at home or ordering at a restaurant, it can be easy to overlook the rice bowl. Rice in a bowl, even topped with very good things, just seems less interesting, less ambitious, less artistic, than, oh, omakase or bubbling hot pots. But when done with particular care, a rice bowl can be a magnificent thing, an intricate collage of ingredients and flavors that work precisely because they're all maneuvered into one place. One bowl. One spoon or set of chopsticks.
Here are three particularly stellar bowls, each geared for different appetites and different budgets, one from the world of high-end Japanese dining, one from a happily noisy noodle shop, and a third from a place that, well, kind of defies genre. Because, especially in the hands of a good chef, a bowl is entirely what you make of it.
Yellowtail scallion donburi bowl at Matsuhisa
Nobu Matsuhisa's first Los Angeles restaurant, despite its old school low rent feel (low rent only if you compare it to the stunning fish museum on the sea that is Nobu Malibu) is hardly the place to go for a cheap lunch. But cheap is sometimes a relative term, and the list of donburi bowls – there are 16, and they take requests too – on the menu can seem quite a bargain next to $200 lunch omakase.
The yellowtail scallion donburi bowl is a beautiful composition, the finely diced pristine fish above the perfectly articulated grains of rice like a geological stratum, the additional acccouterments forming a kind of still life. Don't look at it for too long, because it's an incredibly delicious meal in a single bowl. And there's shaved ice for dessert. $27. N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; 310-659-9639.
Shredded pork bowl at Daikokuya
Even if you fully intend to order something other than yet another bowl of the justly lauded ramen when you finally get a seat at Daikokuya, odds are that you probably won't – it's just too difficult to resist the pull of the steaming bowls of noodles. So either go with a group or when you're insanely hungry and order the rice bowl TOO.
Often overlooked in favor of the noodles, Daikokuya has fantastic rice bowls, particularly the one topped with luscious bits of grilled Kurabuta pork belly. There's an avalanche of scallions and plenty of pickled ginger as a counterpoint to all that pork, plus those jars of minced raw garlic on the table. These are not small bowls, and more than enough for a fantastic meal, which is another reminder to bring friends with you, because, well, you're going to need to order the gyoza too. $8.95. 327 E. First St., Downtown; 213-626-1680, and three other locations, in Arcadia, Monterey Park and Sawtelle Blvd.[
Uni dynamite rice bowl at Pot
There are many excellent reasons to make your way over to Roy Choi's latest restaurant: the bubbling hot pots after which the restaurant is more or less named; the Wifi-friendly couches in the lounge; the Ritz candy bars and French bread pizzas in the cafe's pastry case; the fact that the place is often open until 2 a.m., at which point you can probably get a room upstairs at the hotel if you've downed too many of Choi's crazy cocktails. But the best reason may be the rice bowls Choi calls Beep Beep.
These are smallish, shallow metal bowls filled with rice and topped with a glorious combination of yuzu and Sriracha and Kewpie mayonnaise, broiled until the rice is crisped, and then layered with thick lobes of Santa Barbara uni and a topping of sesame seeds, chives, ground nori and kochukaru, the Korean chile powder that should probably be in all our kitchens. Is this as good as it sounds? Absolutely. You probably won't need the roll (roll!) of paper towels and the Betty Crocker apron your server will give you as you sit down, because very soon you'll have licked every last bit from the bottom of the bowl. $18. 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown; 213-381-7411.