Last weekend I traveled down to the City of Angels to visit my brother and his family and celebrate my niece’s belated 6th birthday. I will say upfront that I do not share most people’s snobbery against LA nor do I subscribe to what seems to be the requisite superiority complex of Bay Area residents, again, over LA. Nope. As Randy Newman sang in the early 80s, “I Love LA,” and I make no apologies for it.
Having spent the first 13 years of my life three hours northeast of LA, I have a soft spot for the city. Traveling “down below” to the LA area was a special treat when I was a kid. And to this day, it still is.
One of the treats associated with trips to Los Angeles was hearing about the fancy restaurants my parents would go to when they would travel to LA without us kids. When we would drive down Wilshire Blvd., my parents would always point out the famous “Brown Derby” restaurant to us–famous because it was indeed shaped like a hat. The Brown Derby was associated with the Hollywood elite–built by one of Gloria Swanson‘s (aka Norma Desmond) husbands, whether from my parents’ stories or from TV or the movies, I associated it with Old Hollywood Glamour.
Then there was La Cienega Blvd. If we drove down La Cienega, my mom would always point out that it was known as “Restaurant Row,” full of famous restaurants, again, frequented by Hollywood stars. Among the restaurants that every one of my parents’ friends would go on and on about was Lawry’s Prime Rib (I’ll call it LPR for the sake of convenience). It was the 70s, so Fancy Dinner=Steak Dinner, complete with baked potatoes and either a salad or creamed spinach. Known for their spice blends and salad dressings, Lawry’s had a few outlets of its Prime Rib restaurant scattered throughout the country. LPR was my parent’s favorite LA restaurant, and they could not enter the vicinity of the city of Los Angeles without talking it up. How tender the prime rib was, how huge the baked potatoes were, how the waiters would carry around 2-ft. long pepper mills and offer customers a few turns of the mill for freshly cracked pepper on their salad or steak. I don’t even think the menu really had any other offerings but prime rib–if I recall the stories correctly, the menu was fixed, both in price and in offerings. It also had a dress code–men needed sport coats; women needed nice “slacks,”–as my mom insisted on calling them–if not dresses or skirts; no jean, shorts or flip-flops whatsoever. The one time our whole family almost had the chance to eat there together on a trip to LA, I ruined my parent’s desire to go to Lawry’s because I happened to be wearing shorts that day–there was no way I’d be let in. It was a Sunday, and the family had traveled down to LA after church–and no one else had changed out of their church clothes for the trip but me. They all could have gone in, but I would have been stuck in the car waiting for a doggie bag. I think we ended up finding a Mexican place instead–there aren’t many Mexican places that require your Sunday best…
LA Cuisine has changed a lot since then–in particular, it’s a hotbed for great Asian food–especially Korean food. Of the three places I tried last weekend, two were Asian and one was a classic LA burger joint. All are well worth checking out the next time you’re in LA!
Korean sausage? Oh, yeah. Now, I am not usually a sausage aficionado, but I can appreciate a good one every now and again. For you fellow Food Network-obsessed folks out there, Seoul Sausage has gained a bit of a reputation nationally of late as winners of Season 3 of “The Great Food Truck Race.” And according to their website, their storefront in West LA has also been a favored destination of many of Food Network Star, with recent visits from none other than Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada DeLaurentis. (I’m glad to hear that skinny mini Giada is also a fan, especially since I was the only woman in a sea of men during my visit at lunchtime on a Friday. Go figure. Yeah. Sausage. Man Fest…)
So if none of that is convincing enough that these guys are LEGIT, let me just say this is some great stuff. Apparently Seoul Sausage began as a food truck and the storefront opened last October. According to the website,
“Seoul Sausage Company began as a passion project for brothers, Yong and Ted Kim, and Chef Chris Oh, who had some fun ideas for a “new” way to eat Korean BBQ. In less than 2 years, those ideas, or in hindsight, innovations, have translated into a multi-faceted culinary enterprise. Thanks to the support of their family and friends, Seoul Sausage Co. has seen exponential growth and an absolute explosion in popularity.”
Their mission? And I quote (again from the website): “…humbly put…To take over the world, one sausage at-a-time.”
I’m sure many a sausage aficionado would agree that this is a noble goal.
Anyway, to the food. The menu is small, but creative. They have two kinds of sausages–spicy pork or Galbi, based on Korean BBQ short ribs. You can also try three different types of rice balls, coated with panko and fried. When I saw they had a Spam Musubi ball, I had to try that. (Yes, I grew up in a house that ate Spam–which, I have to admit, I am a bit ashamed of, but having an over developed sense of irony, I can appreciate the campiness of Spam as an adult–I’ve even been to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota!). Other menu offerings include “KFC,” a Korean Fried Chicken and Galbi Poutine. That’s it, folks!
On my visit, my brother opted for the Galbi sausage, I for the Spam Musubi and then we split an order of the Galbi Poutine, because, well, we had to. It’s hard enough to find Poutine outside of Montreal, let alone one smothered in short ribs, so that was a must. The Spam ball was great – it’s basically a rice ball, complete with corn, baby squid and spam pieces throughout. It’s served with a spicy aoili-type sauce. What’s fun about the Spam ball is the different textures–crunchiness from the fried Panko, the squish of the squid and the small pop of the corn kernels. I had a bite of my brother’s Galbi, which was also terrific. The Poutine is well worth the trip. Unlike regular Galbi, which is served as BBQ’d strips of beef, this was a stewed version, really tender and in a nice sauce. This sits atop a box of french fries, covered in scallions, sweet pickled daikon, a bit of cheese and an avocado crema. That aoili can be a bit rich by the end of the box, so it’s good to ask for a little hot sauce to go with it. All they have is Sriracha, though. I don’t usually use a lot of hot sauce on stuff because I’m a bit of a heat wimp, so I’m glad we waited until we were almost done to ask for the hot sauce – otherwise it would have been a bit much for me, but it definitely kicked things up a notch, so it’s worth asking for if you’re a spicy sort.
They are well worth a trip. And don’t forget to pick up a the t-shirt: “Make Sausage, Not War!” A great sentiment–maybe if more people made sausage like this, there would be world peace!
11313 Mississippi Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
The Apple Pan
Because it wasn’t enough to have sausage and fries for lunch on Friday, our Friday night excursion was to The Apple Pan, which, as we discovered, is an LA institution. My brother found it listed on a local eater’s guide that outlined 38 places in LA not to be missed. Because my sister-in-law’s co-workers had also talked it up, we decided we should give it a go as well. The only thing we knew going in was that it was “classic diner food.” And classic it is!
Opened in 1947, The Apple Pan retains the feel of an old-time California burger joint to this day. When I think of “diners” I tend to think of East Coast diners–the type you find in New Jersey or Connecticut. They have massive menus and, in Connecticut, at least, most of them are Greek-owned, so not only do they have everything from burgers to club sandwiches to hot turkey and dessert cases full of cakes and cream pies, but they also have spanakopita and moussaka. The Apple Pan is not an East Coast diner–it’s a West Coast diner, courtesy of some obvious Midwest origins.
The Apple Pan has a limited menu – two types of burgers–Steakburger or Hickory Burger, an egg salad or tuna salad sandwich, a ham or ham/swiss sandwich and a swiss cheese on rye sandwich. That’s it. Except for french fries and pie. The Apple Pan is also famous for it’s pies–apple, cream or pecan.
Seating is all counter seating–no booths. The entire interior is taken up by a large U-shaped counter, with the cooking station in the middle. The whole place probably seats no more than about 30 or 40 people at a time, but turnover is pretty fast. This is exactly what I imagine lunch counters from the 40s-60s to have been like, complete with the exact same menu and a 50s juke box in the corner (free! you can play as many rounds of “Rock Around the Clock” or “Hound Dog” as your heart desires!).
I had the Steakburger with Tillamook cheddar and, since this was my second time to have fries in one day (!), something I maybe normally eat every couple months if that, I split an order with my six-year old niece, who had the swiss on rye and immediately removed the stack of (iceberg) lettuce from it to avoid “veggies.” In typical California burger style, burgers at The Apple Pan come wrapped in paper, which is usually a sign that it’s 1) good; and 2) messy. This burger seemed to have some Midwestern origins–the “Steakburger” sauce consists of a combination of ketchup, clearly mixed liberally with sweet pickle relish, which seems like such a Midwestern concoction to me. This menu is “Grandma” in every sense of the word. It just is the type of thing that your Grandmother would have come up with to serve the family during the Depression. The Steakburger recipe is said to date from 1927.
The pies are also all Grandma–in fact the recipes for each are attributed on the menu to someone’s Grandma–again, my niece and I split a piece of the apple pie, which has been attributed to a recipe developed in 1881 by Roma Grover Baker of Gallipolis, Ohio.
In addition to the free juke box (which I made copious use of) and the whole old-fashioned burgers and pies thing, the other thing I appreciated about The Apple Pan was the other little classic diner touches–they still serve soda in paper cone cups, nestled in a steel-handled cup. I love this! I had to get a root beer to complete the experience. They also serve a glass of buttermilk if you’d like or a cup of Sanka!
This is a fun place–if you’re hankering for nostalgia, a little old LA and a burger, stop in.
The Apple Pan
10801 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles 90064
(In true fashion, The Apple Pan is old school–no website available.)
Last, but nowhere least, for my culinary treats in LA was a Sunday dinner trip for ramen. It was unusually cold in LA last Sunday, so after a chilly afternoon walk around the UCLA campus, soup was just the right thing to warm up. Great Japanese food is also an LA staple. LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold has called Yamadaya’s ramen one of the top 10 in LA. In the couple months since moving to LA, my brother and sister-in-law had been there once prior to their visit with me and my brother hasn’t stopped bragging about how rich the broth is. Both Yamadaya and Seoul Sausage were tops on his “We Have to Take You There” list for me.
Yamadaya’s claim to fame is a 20-hour Tonkatsu broth, and their website has an entire page devoted to the process. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of pork products in the world, aside from bacon, of course. I tend to shy away from pork flavored things. But having heard so much about this Tonkatsu, I had to at least try to get with the program for this. I ordered the Tonkatsu Shoyu, which is the pork broth flavored with soy sauce. The ramen bowl comes with a slice of kombu seaweed, noodles, one slice of pork roast, a marinated boiled egg, bamboo shoots and scallions. I liked that there was only one small slice of meat–a lot of ramen places serve too much meat in their soup, I think. The ramen noodles themselves were nice and thin and just al dente enough to go well in soup. I also really liked having a bit of crunch in the bamboo shoot – good combination of textures all around. Nice mouth feel!
My brother wasn’t kidding when he said this was the best ramen he’d ever had. I concur! Wow. Twenty-hour broth is some sort of pork revelation. It’s super smooth and almost has a creamy texture. My sister in law ordered their Tonkatsu Kotteri, which is actually creamy. Both were splendiferous. According to the website and the big blackboard in the resto, this is a bone broth. They boil pork bones for 10 hours until they are starting to flake (seriously!). Then they simmer the broth for another ten hours to extract extra flavor from the bones. While thinking about that process does sort of leave me a bit skeeved out, the result really is quite amazing. The broth has a richness and depth to it that I have never had in a homemade broth before. All that extra time creates love. I am a convert.
(Various locations in the LA/San Diego area)
11172 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232