Starry Kitchen, Local & Trader Sam’s

May 23, 2012 | By | COMMENTS

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Last week, we went to see “Follies” at the Ahmanson Theater (my second time seeing this production) and, beforehand, we needed a place to eat. I Tweeted out to the world and received a response from @StarryKitchen: “Starry Kitchen’s not a bad place to start.. Oh wait a minute, that’s my restaurant. (Tee hee hee) we’re only a block away ;).” I already had Starry Kitchen on my mental radar so the fact that the restaurant itself (or its Twitter handle) was beckoning me in (and that it was super close to the theater) made this dinner decision easy.

The vibe at Starry Kitchen is youthful and playful and ever-so-slightly badass:

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Here’s a peek into the kitchen:

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The menu offers an impossibly good deal. You choose a protein, you choose a vessel, and you choose a side (in my case, 2 sides) and it’s all around $10 or so. (This would never happen in New York.) Here’s my plate of Malaysian Chicken Curry over Coconut Rice with a side of spicy noodles and another side of spicy coleslaw:

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The flavors were both big and bold, but also comforting–like something your friend’s mother might make you after a game of soccer. (Not that I play soccer–I did see “Follies” twice, after all–but that somehow feels like a right metaphor.)

Others at the table tried things like the pork banh mi:

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And these giant fried tofu balls:

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As if we needed more fried food, the nice guy managing the counter (which was incredibly quiet, this evening; turns out the line gets crazy at lunch, because a lot of people work nearby downtown) brought as a plate of these Pandan donut holes:

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That sauce is naturally green because it’s infused with Pandan leaves. And these donut holes were absolute crowd pleasers; a perfect capper to a comfortingly exotic meal.

Thanks, StarryKitchen, for inviting me over. Can’t wait to come back!

One of my favorite coffee shops in L.A. is called Paper or Plastik. In fact, when I first came to L.A. last July (almost a year ago) to find us an apartment, I parked myself at Paper or Plastik for hours searching on Westside Rentals trying to find a place to live. I survived solely on their iced lattes and baked items. (If I’d come a year later, I could’ve had sandwiches created by Chef Jeremy Fox. See here.)

While there, I met one of the owners–Marina Michelson–who’d also just moved to L.A. from New York with her boyfriend, Billy Scafuri (a founding member of the Harvard Sailing Team). We decided we should all hang out one night; and every time I saw her, over the past year, we said the same thing. Until finally we put a date on the calendar and decided to meet at LOCAL, a restaurant in Silverlake.

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I’ll be honest: my first impressions of Local weren’t good. The place seemed to hum like the neon sign at a run-down motel; there was a salad bar that no one seemed to be patronizing. The menu seemed overly ambitious for a place so casual.

How wrong I was!

Seriously. Our meal at Local was stunningly good. First things first, though: here’s Marina and Billy at the table:

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A handsome couple, if ever there was one.

We started our meal with this sea vegetable salad with yuzu kosho, crushed tofu, dill and kumquat:

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This dish totally set the tone for the rest of the meal. There was the chewiness of seaweed, the acidity of the yuzu and kumquat, and the creaminess of the tofu: a combination of three flavors/textures I’d never experienced before. And it totally worked.

There were these crispy pork belly skewers with smoked gouchujang aioli:

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Not a great picture, but each bite was crispy on the outside and rich and tender inside. (My only gripe is: if there’s a table of four people and they order one plate of skewers and you know there are only three skewers per order, why don’t you offer up a 4th and just charge us a little extra for it?)

There were charred brussels sprouts with bacon lardons, date and pecorino:

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(I accidentally used a flash but you can see it a lot better, can’t you.)

But now we get to the good stuff. This was Marina’s entree—soft poached egg with cured lemon quinoa and crispy pork belly:

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Never in my life have I tasted quinoa like this. It was so wildly acidic, so tongue-tinglingly exciting that I demanded a recipe from the waitress–who returned and said, “Chef says they cook it with carrots and celery and stuff.” Ummm… no! I loved this quinoa so much I’m going to call the restaurant sometime soon to see if I can come in to learn the secret recipe. I have a theory that maybe they use citric acid in addition to the cured lemon to give it all of that zing. It’s really incredible.

But I also loved Craig’s seared lamb belly with warm lentil salad, radicchio and rosemary (terrible picture, I know):

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And Billy’s stake & frites–a pork rib eye with caper mojo picon and kennebec fries (forgot to take a picture!) and my braised lamb shank with okinawa purple yam puree, rosemary and red wine:

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The food at Local is so good, in fact, I’m scared to let the secret out. What if word spreads and the place gets so busy we won’t be able to score a table on a Friday night? So stay scared of that salad bar, folks; believe in the neon sign hum. There’s nothing to see here! Ignore this dessert of peanut butter & banana butterscotch with warm caramel and vanilla whipped cream:

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Again, that sounds WAY better than it is. It’s terrible. Do you believe me??? Believe me and stay far away.

Ok, finally, we ended up back at Disneyland last week because my friend John has a special pass where he can bring three friends and he’d been talking about bringing us and our friend Diana for a while. So we went! We had a good meal there at California Adventure (which I wrote about in my newsletter) and then, at the end of the day, we visited Trader Sam’s at The Disneyland Hotel:

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The best way to describe this place is: a child’s fantasy of what it’d be like to hang out at a Tiki bar in Hawaii.

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There are all kinds of doodads on the walls, bartenders who put on something of a show; when they pull the handle for beer, a little song plays.

Little amusing gimmicks abound. Like this guy’s chair at the bar progressively went lower and lower without him realizing it:

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Alarms started to sound when the volcano out the “window” starting erupting. Here’s a video I shot:

So yes, it’s a child’s fantasy of a Tiki bar, but that’s what makes it fun. And the drinks weren’t bad at all! I had some kind of punch that came with a glowing ice cube:

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And we all enjoyed these fried Chinese long beans with a spicy dipping sauce:

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So the next time you make it to Disneyland in California, it’s not a bad idea to wind up at Trader Sam’s. It felt less touristy than places in or near the park (in Downtown Disney, for example). There’s an outside patio with a fireplace where the singles among you might find a goofy stranger to bring back to your hotel room. Who knows: put a quarter in your Mickey Mouse bed and more than volcanos will be erupting.

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Categories: California, Los Angeles, Restaurant Reviews