Thursday, July 27, 2006

Red Booths and Raw Fish - Noshi Sushi

Noshi Sushi

4430 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 469-3458

Open 7 days til 9 pm

Google Local Info

It's a fucking zillion degrees in L.A. You've already imposed on your friends to swim in their pool twice, you've seen An Inconvenient Truth and every other thing playing at the Arclight. You've cooked out on the Weber until you have hot dogs coming out your ears. You feel like it's actually too damn hot to eat, but you've got to... and you've got escape the heat.

If you're like me, you want raw fish. Cool, fresh, buttery slabs of sushi. And you'd like it somewhere where you can relax and spend a couple of hours, not propped up on a slightly-too-small plastic chair in a spartan Zen room that should be cool but, because of the small space and the track lighting over the sushi bar, is just a little too close for comfort.

You want to go to Noshi Sushi. I think it's the best sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. Sure, there are places in Beverly Hills that do the thousand-dollar slice of fish. And of course there are the splendors of sushi row on Ventura Blvd. Katsu-ya makes delicious dishes in the "Japanese tapas" style -- things like Carpaccio of Yellowtail with JalapeƱo, or Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice Cakes -- as does my new local favorite Shintaro. There's Nozawa with his "Trust Me" special, and his amazing array of tunas and his blue crab rolls. But Nozawa's rice is always a little warm, and authentic or not, I don't want warm rice taking the cool edge off my raw fish on a hot night.

No, those places are great, but when my wife and say "Wanna go for sushi?", we mean Noshi. Why? Big slabs of fresh fish at reasonable prices, consistently amazing hamachi (which is, after all, the best of all possible sushi fish), and the most comfortable dining room of any sushi place in L.A.

It's in what looks like a nuclear fallout shelter on Beverly Blvd., smack in the middle of Koreatown. It's got a huge sushi bar, but it's one of the few sushi joints where I don't usually sit there... because Noshi's got booths. Big ones. Real, honest-to-god, spacious, red naugahyde booths. The place looks like it was probably once a steakhouse, and has the airy, high-ceilinged feel of a Japanese Hamburger Hamlet, without the cheesy decor.

You won't find any fancy, layered, fusion creations here. No specialty rolls. It's stripped down, dude. No fancy "premium cold sake list." They got hot sake, cold sake, and Asahi and Sapporo beer. Small bottles only, no large. No Kirin. Tempura/teriyaki combos and old-school sushi rule the day.

There are a very few specials on the wall. The albacore salad, a mound of crisp cucumber and shredded daikon and carrot with slabs of albacore tuna in a light, tangy dressing, is the perfect starter to beat the heat. After that, you'll recognize the menu from 1980's sushi bars: Tuna, eel, clam, giant clam, octopus, squid, shrimp, and scallop sushi; California rolls; spicy tuna rolls; salmon skin rolls. You can try to ask for your favorite nouvelle sushi option, but if you're going much beyond "Spicy Scallop Hand Roll," expect a blank stare.

But what they do, they do right: big, bold and fresh. My personal favorites are "white fish" (you get halibut unless you specify red snapper, which is usually better) - order it with ponzu sauce. Scallop sushi (ordered with mayo) is never better anywhere than here. And as for the hamachi (yellowtail) sushi... it's simply the most consistently sweet and buttery you'll find. It invokes in this blogger what his wife affectionately calls "hamachi-face" -- that look of utter epicurean delight that makes your face positively melt with joy. Which is much better than having it melt -- like the Nazi dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark -- in the heat outside.

Two tips:

- Arrive early. The restaurant is only open 'til 9:00 pm, and you can have a tough time parking and a long wait in the 7-9 window.

- Bring cash. It's cash only, and they have no ATM. But you don't need to bring too much... unless you eat more than your weight in sushi and drink more than three beers or sakes, you'll have a hard time spending more than $35.00 a person.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tofu! Tofu! Tofu! - Vinh Loi Tofu!

Vinh Loi Tofu

18625 Sherman Way, No. 101,
(818) 996-9779
Open 7 am - 7 pm
Cash Only

Google Local Info

If you're like me, you're an equal-opportunity diner. Just because you love few things in the world more than a perfectly grilled 14-ounce New York strip doesn't mean you can't appreciate the delights of a nice, fresh salad, a good veggie stir-fry, or even... tofu.

Some otherwise reasonable people I know won't go there. Any food that has to sit in water in your fridge must be for pussies, they figure. And the average Buddha's Delight at your local Chinese greasery isn't likely to persuade them.

Vinh Loi Tofu just might.

I can't claim to have found the place, as Linda Burum's piece in the Los Angeles Times sent me slavering there a couple of weeks ago. But holy bean curd, this place is good.

It's yet another outpost of cutting edge cuisine in a dodgy strip mall; this one in the deepest depths of Reseda. Ambience: one counter, five pictures of food on the wall, one cooler with drinks and other specialty items, one handful of formica tables.

It's my first time there, and Kevin Tran, owner, proprietor, and cashier can tell. As I and my lunch date study the menu, he says, "First of all, don't order off the menu. Get what I tell you."

We do.

First of all, it's Vietnamese food, which means it's good to begin with. Vietnamese uses all of my favorite ingredients: tender, sliced, savory bits swimming in flavorful broths among delicate noodles, seasoned with lemon grass, chiles, and cilantro, juiced up with a squeeze of lime.

But what Kevin Tran does with the savory bits is truly amazing.

Anchoring all of the spicy salads, stinging hot soups, and fresh spring rolls -- where you're used to beef, duck, pork or shrimp -- is humble tofu. Tofu that, in a dazzling array of preparations, manages to to taste, feel, and sometimes even look like the beef, duck, pork or shrimp of the original.

The beef- and pork-style tofus in the spicy noodle soup are as different from each other as cow and pig: the beef, thin-sliced and slightly chewy, the pork tender and succulently chunky. And they're both as different from the pillowy hunks of what-you-know-as-tofu in the same soup as different can be.

The "seafood" with wide, flat noodles (first photo, above) arrives topped with what looks for all the world like a perfectly breaded, grilled, sliced calamari steak. It tastes a little more like shrimp than calamari, but there's no actual seafood involved. When my vegetarian dining partner, entirely skeptical, asks Kevin if all this is really vegetarian, he replies no, it's vegan!

The slices of browned stuff in the spring rolls? Tofu.

The absurdly duck-like stuff in the duck salad? Vegan.

Only the fried tofu with dipping sauce looks and feels familiar. Yet with its perfectly crispy, chile-flaked crust, it's the best version of fried tofu I've ever had, with the possible exception of the world-famous Fatty's in Singapore.

And it all comes from Kevin's very own tofu factory in the back of the restaurant. It's fresh. It's one-of-a-kind. I guarantee you, you CAN'T get these dishes, like this, anywhere else, even if you're food crazy like me and make the requisite pilgrimages to far-flung parts of the county for exotic Asian food. And it's right there in freakin' Reseda!

With apologies to Soul Coughing: We are all going to Reseda, someday, to die... for the tofu.

You'll have to excuse the lack of detail here. I rarely post about a place after visiting just once, especially when I'm not even allowed to look at the menu, but I had to get this up, to make sure people keep going there, to make sure Kevin's place is a huge success. You gotta go. And I gotta go back.

When are we going?