Cassia in Santa Monica

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” is probably what Cassia, the gorgeous and buzzy restaurant in Santa Monica, would say to its haters. When you look this good in an elegant industrial loft setting, turning out glamorous and exotic Southeast Asian creations, people will try to find fault with you. “It’s so expensive” or “it’s interesting but not as good as the authentic stuff” will be some commonly heard feedback. But pay them no mind.Read More

Animal Restaurant in West Hollywood

heirloom tomato, sweet corn, shiitake, onikasu, maggi ranch dressing

The last thing I wanted to eat in LA was a plate of meat and offal specialties. Especially in the morning. Imagine waking up to some spam and foie gras at 10 am, who in LA does that? I wanted to be like the Hollywood stars and eat vegan tacos and green juice. Which was why I was a little skeptical of eating at Animal, the restaurant in West Hollywood that’s known for serving up meat bits of all kinds.Read More

48 Hours in LA: Sqirl and POT

When we drove into East Hollywood for our breakfast at Sqirl, I thought to myself, what a dump. East Hollywood is not pretty, people. We walked by a sketchy Chinese take-out restaurant and other sorry storefronts before we spotted a line of hipsters across the street. The food at Sqirl must be amazing to draw a crowd so early in the morning in such a janky part of town.

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toast and coffee, two of my favorite things
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inside sqirl

Don’t be intimidated by the neighborhood. We spotted Kiernan Shipka, the actress who plays Sally Draper on Mad Men, waiting in line with her friends. If it’s safe enough for sweet little Sally, it’s definitely safe enough for you. And the wait isn’t as bad at people say, the line actually moves pretty quickly. We were there at 10 am on a Saturday, and the wait was about 30 minutes for the four of us. The food also comes out pretty fast, since the limited but well edited menu lets the kitchen crank out orders pretty efficiently.

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fauxtella brioche toast with guittard chocolate and hazelnut butter
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brioche toast with jam

The brioche toast is as good as everyone says. The slice of toast is massive, but most of that volume is a light and buttery pastry base that dissolves in your mouth. The toast is technically burnt, and the black marks might look suspicious, but the end result is more of a caramelized char rather than burnt scraps. But enough about the toast, let’s talk about the jam. These artisanal jams are unlike anything I’ve ever had. You feel like you’re eating real pieces of soft fruit, not sugary pectin packed into a jar. You can taste each part of the blackberry and every one of the seeds in the strawberry, and when paired with the buttery toast, it’s the perfect match.

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crispy rice salad with the works – fried egg and house sausage
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black eyed peas with poached eggs, aioli, mustard greens and country toast

The rice bowls here are also famous, and almost every table seemed to order one.  I personally found them a bit too dense and heavy for breakfast–having a bunch of rice sitting at the bottom of your gut is not the way to start the morning. The flavors were very interesting and vibrant, though, with a lot of bright citrus flavors coming to the forefront. I preferred the black eyed peas and poached eggs special, which tasted like a bowl of warm bean chili. Savory and filling, but in a more balanced sort of way.

Afterwards, since we were so taken by the jams, we bought a bottle of the blueberry & rhubarb jam as a souvenir. I don’t think I’ll find a brioche toast quite like the one at Sqirl in New York, but a jam this good goes well on almost anything.

Later in the day, we had dinner at POT, a Korean fusion restaurant in Koreatown run by bad-ass Korean American chef Roy Choi. I can’t believe I used the word Korean so many times in one sentence. POT looks and feels like a cafeteria for acolytes of street culture. People roll in wearing their Bathing Ape hats and Supreme shirts, ordering dishes with racy names like Roger Wants Moore Octopussy while a DJ plays hip hop beats in the background. I was surprised by how such a trendy place felt like a food court, it reminded me of the seating area of Hannam Chain, which I spent much of my childhood in, eating big bowls of kal gooksoo. If you traded in the hipster Asian line cooks for Korean ajoomas, the transition would be seamless.

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complimentary banchan
kay man doo dumplings
kay man doo dumplings
poke me tuna poke salad
poke me tuna poke salad

While most of the dishes are Korean-inspired, there’s an ambiguous pan asian quality in the flavors that makes it taste like a little bit of everything. Our Kay Man Doo dumplings had the mouth-feel of a wonton and contained a glut of ginger and chives that was unmistakably Chinese, but the spicy sauce it arrived in was reminiscent of a Korean maeoon tang. The tuna Poke Me lacked the sesame oil marinade in Hawaiian versions and instead was dressed in a light soy, rice vinegar dressing that is common in Korean salads.

crispy uni rice
beep beep uni dynamite rice

The Beep Beep Uni Dynamite Rice bowl was a hot mess of excess, in which grilled uni was laid on top of rice krispy like kernels slathered in spicy mayo sauce. This wasn’t a product of Korea or Asia, it was the love child of Roy Choi’s pot-induced imagination. Which is probably why it doesn’t taste all that great when you’re sober. I do have to admit it was a unique dish, but not one I particularly enjoyed, as the ratio of mayo to rice was off the charts too high.

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the steam room – pork belly, kimchee and tofu

My favorite dish was one that was more traditional in nature, the Steam Room, which featured steamed tofu in a spicy soy sauce, kimchee, and huge slices of steamed pork belly. It looked and tasted like the makings of a bo ssam except there were no lettuce leaves or rice. You really didn’t need them, because the tofu and pork were mild enough to absorb the pickled nature of the kimchee. The kimchee was shockingly good, this coming from someone who truly hates it, and I found myself eating it plain.

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sweet potato cheesecake

For dessert, we ordered the sweet potato cheesecake, which arrived looking very over the top like a quinceanera in Texas. It tasted amazing, like one of the taro cheesecakes that won over my heart in Hawaii. Whether you were high or not, this was definitely a crowd favorite.

Afterwards, you can have some drinks outside and mingle with the scenesters of Koreatown, or you can be like me and make jet lag an excuse for calling it an early night. Roy Choi’s Korean fusion food is creative and interesting, but I would never choose this over really good traditional Korean BBQ or Momofuku pork buns. But then again, I never tried the food stoned. That might be a whole different story.


Sqirl
720 N. Virgil Ave, Ste 4
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 284-8147

POT
3515 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 368-3030

48 Hours in LA: Venice Beach

Life’s a beach in California, literally if you’re in Venice. Venice Beach is the California that you see in the movies. Tan, fit people making their way down the boardwalk, stopping at a bar to grab a drink or two outside, or perhaps meeting with a spiritual healer to feel more centered. Nearby is a skate park where skaters, real ones who’ve been living and breathing this lifestyle for decades, not the millennial wannabes who crash into you on the street, are doing some fancy tricks to earn some cash. Seriously, buy a postcard of California somewhere, hold it up against Venice, and the two backdrops will look exactly the same.

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palm trees and sunshine
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can you imagine waking up to this everyday?
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a throwback volkswagen hippie van
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living on the edge at the skate park
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dennis hopper, easy rider
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even the street art is chill
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the scene at venice ale house
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getting our day drinking on with a skate of beers
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cheers!

A few blocks away from the boardwalk is Abbot Kinney Blvd., a picturesque street that is home to interesting boutiques and good restaurants. Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle are both here, but if you want a different caffeine option, try the vegan bullet proof Buttery Brew coffee at Another Kind of Sunrise. It’s an intensely rich brew consisting of raw coconut oil, grass fed ghee and organic coffee that makes you feel like you’re drinking the foamy fat that you skim off the top of soups. Not really my cup of tea. Or coffee.

blue bottle coffee
blue bottle coffee
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looking sleepy and needing coffee at another kind of sunrise
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an intense cup of buttery brew

Where you get your coffee is open to discussion, but your brunch option definitely is not. Without question, you must go to Gjelina, one of the best farm-to-table, seasonal American restaurants that I’ve ever been to. This is the restaurant that makes New Yorkers jealous of LA. The location is prime, the outdoor premises are beautiful, and most importantly, the food is incredible. They absolutely kill it here with the pizzas. The extremely fresh seasonings are literally straight from the farmers market, as was the case with the squash blossoms on our pizza, the cheese is so creamy, and the crust has the perfect chewy, blistery texture about it. I’d also highly recommend the braised pork meatballs, which arrived plump and simmering in a thick and tangy tomato sauce, well seasoned and perfectly crumbly. You can’t have a bad meal here, just sit back, have a beer, and let Gjelina do all the heavy lifting for you. And maybe you might consider moving here permanently so that you can live, and eat, the dream, everyday.

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starting the day at gjelina with a michelada
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crispy sunny eggs with artichokes, asparagus, confit leek, pea tendrils & charmoula
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braised pork meatballs, tomato, parmesan & grilled bread
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pizza with squash blossoms, zucchini and cherry tomatoes
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kale salad

*All photos by Ruoxi Chen.


Gjelina
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-1429

Another Kind of Sunrise
1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(909) 334-2567

Venice Ale House
2 Rose Ave
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 314-8253