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Entries in West LA (3)

Wednesday
Aug082012

Ramen Jinya on Sawtelle

*Post by Angela.

As hard as it may be to believe, given the sheer number of options in the neighborhood, trying to find an open table at a ramen shop in Little Osaka on a Saturday during lunch hour can be a slightly frustrating endeavor. First, there’s the parking situation. It took a good ten minutes of circling and another 4 or 5 blocks of walking to find a non-permit spot on the street. The next 20 minutes or so was spent confirming very long wait times or cash-only limitations at some of the top contenders (Tsujita, Asahi, Ramenya). Finally, we sucked it up and walked a few extra blocks to the West LA location of the chain Jinya Ramen Bar.

 

 

The franchise nature of the noodle shop is plain from the sort of Disneyland-version-of-Japanese décor, which is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s clean and bright and the staff is friendly and ready to explain any menu item.

 

 

This being a late lunch, we were hungry, so we both opted for combination deals ($3.95 extra). The pork gyoza (below, right) were nice and crispy, and if they are a tiny bit bland, it’s a flaw for which we could easily compensate by dipping them in the accompanying salty ponzu. The crispy chicken (below, left) was better seasoned, with thick pieces of juicy white-meat chicken. The salads (below, top) were a little on the boring side, but the appetizer plus the miso-ginger dressing made the combo deal money well-spent.

 

 

The Tonkotsu Spicy, or Kyoto (below, $8.55), with chunked pork chashu, bamboo, spicy bean sprouts, and green onion, was pretty standard – it will satisfy most ramen enthusiasts, but isn’t particularly special (or spicy), and the noodles were just a tad too Maruchan-ramen for our liking. But the broth, while not quite the lip-coating thickness of our favorite pork broths, was unctuous enough to please.

 

 

The Tonkotsu Black bumped it up a notch with sheets of dried seaweed and garlic oil, and a little extra porky thickness, and while we’re not sure the flavor boost is worth an extra 2 bucks, it was a very good bowl of soup. Maybe making up the value difference are the noodles here, which were thinner and springier, and which we like significantly better. One great touch at Jinya that we haven’t seen elsewhere is the provision of plenty of peeled garlic cloves and a press – being the garlic freaks we are, we took full advantage.

 

 

The Jinya company has six locations in North America (5 in SoCal and 1 in Vancouver) and is about to take its Ramen Party on the road: as stated on the website, you can own and run a Jinya Ramen Bar with “as low as $350K initial investment.” I don’t know that we’re quite ready to plop down that amount of cash for our own Jinya - it wasn't even our first choice for dining that day - but we left relatively pleased with the price we paid for a very solid lunch.

 

Ramen Jinya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Jan032012

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria in Westwood

*Post by Mark.

Wood-fired pizzas are everywhere you turn in LA these days. I could spend the better half of the next paragraph listing recently opened gourmet pizza options for the Westside alone. While nearly all of them have raised the bar for what was recently a sad state of affairs for the LA pizza scene, they also all share one other thing in common - a price tag hardly affordable for many Angelenos. Take for instance, LA gourmet pizza mecca Pizzeria Mozza, where pies can run as much as $24 each. Even the basic Margherita at local wood-burning pizzerias will still typically cost you $14.

Well, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria aims to bring the artisanal pizza style back to the 99%ers at its newly opened Westwood Village location. The latest venture by Adam Fleischman (Umami Burger, Red Medicine), Allen Ravert (Mexicali Cocina Cantina) and Chef Anthony Carron (Michael Mina) taps into LA's blooming gourmet pizza movement by streamlining the experience and drastically undercutting the competition with startling competitive price points. Rather than offering table-service, your pizza works its way through an assembly line customized to your liking. Silky ribbons of proscuitto are sliced fresh before you and handfuls of ripe basil are never further than an arm's reach away.

 

 

At the end of the line, your Neopalitan style pizza is heated up in less than two minutes at - you guessed it - 800 degrees, making the personalized ordering system (think Chipotle or Subway) a perfect method of delivering gourmet food at a fast food pace. And the convenience of wood-fired pizza while you wait isn't even the best part. Pizzas start at only $5 (like the sauceless blanca or cheeseless marinera) and a plain margherita starts at just $6. Even with add-on ingredients, it's still quite possible to get a loaded pizza for under $10. I'd challenge anyone to find a comparable product in LA for even double this cost. 

 

 

So what's the catch? Certainly the quality must be lacking, right? 800 Degrees' fresh ingredients are all on display. Their mozzerella is made locally by DiStefano. Their dough is made in house using organic flour, yeast, filtered water and sea salt. Add-on ingredients include soppressata, anchovies, oven-roasted meatballs, and salame and uncured rosemary ham from San Francisco's Fra' Mani for only a dollar. Fancier ingredients like La Quercia prosciutto, wild Florida rock shrimp and Boschetto di Tartufo Italian truffle cheese are $3.

The pizza itself? The guys behind the counter were still working out the pre-opening kinks when we checked in, but the aim is a standard Neopalitan pie with cracker-thin interior and a fluffy exterior crust brought to a light, bubbling char over almond wood. Not perfect. You'll find better pizzas in Los Angeles. But it's good. Very good even, and for the price there will be very few complaints. Bottom line is this is quality, gourmet pizza you can afford to eat every day. Considering its prime Westwood Village location, I imagine quite a few students and local workers will do exactly that. 

 

 

We really enjoyed the Margherita, customized with cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and caramelized onions.

 

 

And we topped our white Pizza Bianco with meatballs, pesto and the Boschetto di Tartufo

 

 

Drink offerings include beer and wine, but what better to accompany your pizza then a soda from the fancy-pants Ferrari soda machine. 800 Degree's machine is a one-stop shop where you're only a button's press away from mixing, matching or even adding a shot of vanilla to your refreshment. 

Customizable salads are another option to compliment your main course, but perhaps my favorite part is the burrata bar, where the cream-stuffed cheese can be paired with sides like beets, melon or pesto. I enjoyed mine with prosciutto, caponata and greens (below). Burrata and prosciutto are two things that make me a very happy guy. 

 

 

If you've saved room, there's even dessert. Choose from half a dozen flavors of gelato from LA Creamery to sate your sweet tooth. You'll definitely want to order the pistachio. Trust me.

 

 

For $6 I'd expect only to get a slice of re-heated pizza and maybe a fountain drink. Here, that'll get me the whole pie. With prices like that and a prime location at the corner of Lindbrook Dr. and Westwood Blvd., 800 Degrees will certainly be give its neighboring businesses a run for their money. 

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Oct112011

Fundamental Los Angeles

*Post by Mark.

In an era in Los Angeles where it seems like a new gourmet burger joints pops up every day, it's refreshing to note the sudden uptick in gourmet sandwich shops around town. Michael Voltaggio just opened ink.sack in West Hollywood, but on the west side, Fundamental LA is leading the charge. 

 

 

We hit the sandwich spot for lunch with Nick of TreasureLA after a local hike. Located in Westwood, this small shop serves hearty sandwiches for lunch and dinner, with an assortment of interesting sides, salads and desserts and even a full list of beer and wine. The clean, bright interior is sparsely decorated with long communal picnic tables aligned to allow diners a clear view of their sandwiches being made in the open kitchen. 

 

 

Nick decided to hit the beer menu, opting for the Spaten Optimator ($4), while we - still parched from our morning hike - decided to stick to the water. If only we'd been in the beer drinking mood: Fundamental's beer list (below) actually has a great assortment of bottles ranging from local to import.

 

 

The lunch menu features several sandwiches which are known to change frequently. On occasion you may be lucky enough to find thick porchetta or foie gras being served. At night, the menu expands to offer more sides, like hush puppies ($4) and fresh shucked oysters ($2 each).

 

 

For lunch, we were satisfied with some of their more routine sides. The homemade potato chips ($2, below) with salt and pepper really kicked things off to a good start. Light and airy, yet with a satisfying crunch, these were some of the best chips we've had in a while.

 

 

The warm potato salad ($4, below) was hearty, but not heavy. Served warm, the potato salad here attributes its creaminess not to the typical mayo blend, but to crème fraiche and blue cheese. The bacon bits added a really excellent textural contrast. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill potato salad. We were all pleasantly surprised by Fundamental's twist on the classic side dish. 

 

 

The pork meatball sandwich ($10, below) is a gut-bomb, but a tasty one that features sweet peppers and onions. Heavily buttered brioche bread soaked up a lot of the meaty red sauce, almost to the point where the just-cooked-through and perfectly seasoned meatballs threatened to break through the bottom. The taleggio was nice, although the bold flavor of the sauce could have withstood a stronger cheese.

 

 

Next up was the famous chicken torta ($9, below), with which Nick had fallen in love on a previous trip, and for good reason. This messy, glorious combination of shredded, crisped chicken, tomato, lettuce, cotija, crema, pickled jalapenos, and guacamole is sandwich-making done right. Served on a crusty bolillo bread, this was quite possibly, our favorite of the day.

 

 

Completing our trio of sandwiches was the turkey melt ($10, below). This deceptively simple sandwich uses caramelized onions, arugula, swiss and roasted garlic mayo to pack a whole lot of flavor between two pieces of very buttery, grilled bread. The highlight? Thick slices of succulent roast turkey.

 

 

For dessert we split the "evoo brownie with sea salt," ($3) a dense, just slightly sweet square of chocolate. Assorted cookies ($2) are your other lunch-time option, and at dinner the prospect of churros with butterscotch ($4) is enough to plan a return visit. 

 

 

While we loved all of our selections and would gladly order them again, we were excited to see that Fundamental changes its menu regularly, continuously creating new items to drool over. My only complaint might be the butteriness of some of the sandwiches, but the portions are plentiful and even though you order from a counter, the attentiveness of the staff goes above and beyond what you'd expect. Given that Fundamental continues to stuff sandwiches with quality and occasionally inventive ingredients, I will happily consent to their over-buttered brioche again and again.

Fundamental on Urbanspoon