I was 15 minutes late for my reservation at Little Sister, running up Olive Street and only just around the corner when I was thwarted. The sidewalk next to the new Whole Foods was blocked by construction, though the parking garage attendant was nice enough to halt oncoming traffic so that I could dart across the street. My foot wasn’t even on the curb when I encountered my next delay: a toothless man offering to sell me the pit bull puppy in his arms for a mere $100.
Do I ditch my reservation and adopt a dog? I spent several beats too many pondering this.
Such are the conundrums one faces in downtown L.A. these days. Your routine is bound to be interrupted by a dizzying array of options and opportunities that seem to fly in the face of each other. There’s a lot going on; you have to choose wisely.
In the midst of this increasingly slick and exhilarating pocket of the city, chef Tin Vuong has dropped his seventh project: the second outpost of his Manhattan Beach restaurant Little Sister and his second venture east of the 405. (Vuong’s Wildcraft, in Culver City, is barely east of it.)
Despite the geographic divide between the two Sisters, there are notable similarities. The concept at both is East-meets-West but feels much more like East-meets-East (maybe with a touch of French): Think imperial and spring rolls, curries and fiery salads, claypot and hot pot — basically a range of influences from Chinese to Thai to Vietnamese to Malaysian to everything in between. One notable difference: The downtown location serves breakfast, which sounds fun.
Much has been made of the fact that, as with the Little Sister in Manhattan Beach, the gangsta rap at the downtown location plays at full blast — though honestly, it’s less intrusive than the servers trying to maneuver around the the cramped row of two-tops. I didn’t mind the proximity of my fellow diners, curious as I was about the dishes they had ordered and their topics of conversation (the challenges of the real estate market to my right, the delight of off-the-beaten track L.A. restaurants to my left). But the shared-plates format necessitated frequent visits from the servers, and I had to put down my fork every time they delivered or retrieved a plate belonging to the home buyers or the foodies. It’s just too tight. You should at least try to sit with your back to the wall.
Claustrophobia aside, we were delighted by the tingling ma la pickles; the snappy, skewered baby octopus; the grilled prawns brightened by fresh herbs and green mango; and the knockout, chile-laden snapper that, as my husband says about very few things, is a dish you could eat every day. The okra curry with a fried whole egg seemed somehow dull in comparison with its luminous peers. I imagine that’s how some of the less inspired restaurants in the neighborhood must feel.
The braised beef shank was delicious — tender and rich — the next day, when I finally got to eat it. We made the mistake of over-ordering, which Little Sister’s reasonable prices all but encourage.
My only regrets are that I didn’t order the salt-and-pepper lobster, which I coveted the second it hit my neighbors’ table (best to take cues from the foodies, I suppose) — and that I didn’t go back for that puppy.
Little Sister, 523 W. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 628-3146, littlesisterla.com.