Trip report: Berkeley kids hit LA (short trip, long report)
Four twenty-somethings -- two of us Chowish, two less so -- recently spent three days of our spring break in LA. While some of the places we hit will be very familiar to regular readers of this board, perhaps this report will be of use to other Bay Area dwellers planning trips on something of a budget.
A hardcore Chow group staying in Hollywood would make it their first point of business drive directly to Jitlada; we wimped out, checking into our hotel first before walking to the restaurant, armed with quotations from the sage Erik M. We had a couple of chiliphobes in the party, so no khua kling "Phat Lung", not that I think I could ha've handled it.
From the regular menu:
#16 oxtail soup: all those nice soft bits I like, broth quite spicy though not quite challengingly so to my taste
#45 steamed mussels: best I've had outside New Zealand, complex broth but I maybe liked the more straightforward oxtail broth better
#67 country fried chicken: fine but we probably should've gone for the fried turmeric chicken E.M. mentioned somewhere
From the Southern menu:
#1 green curry with egg yolk-stuffed fish balls: balls were fun but the curry seemed a bit, uh, mild
#18 spicy stir-fried sator beans and soft-shelled crab: I could have eaten those funky beans all day, crab maybe not the best accompaniment
#35 mango salad: a very useful change-up dish, mango did an excellent job mitigating spice inflammation
#65 fried frogs' legs: less salty than I'm used to my fried food being, but the sauce worked wonders
The restaurant was full, but the only way this detracted from our experience was that our water glasses weren't filled up as often as we would've liked.
Comparisons to other Thai restaurants are fraught because of Jitlada's different style of food, but to me, having eaten at Lotus of Siam in Vegas, Pok Pok in Portland, and most of the better-known places in the Bay Area (though I haven't tried current Tenderloin hotspot Lers Ros), this was my favourite Thai meal ever. It made a trip to the Thai provinces seem a necessity.
The Ruen Pair in Albany is my favourite Bay Area Thai place; in fact, we ate there a few days earlier. My girlfriend and I had a recovery brunch at the original location the morning after Jitlada. Nothing too challenging: sausage salad, cleanly fried rice with crab, garlic fried morning glory that's about as good as stir-fried veggies get. I may not ever do a proper dinner here, with Jitlada in this area and another Ruen Pair close to home, but I'm sure those that do will get their money's worth.
DISNEY SODA FOUNTAIN:
Hey, it could've been fun. Sundaes with Dewar's ice cream, old school vibe. Well, from what we could tell, the ice cream was good, it was just hard to tell with all the cloying whipped marshmallow sauce slathered on top of it. Plus the wafers were stale. Should've known better, nostra culpa. And yet: I could see myself coming back there if I were in a certain mood. But if I were in that mood for more a couple of days, I'd deserve to be sentenced to work there.
This seems to be your equivalent of Zuni or Yank Sing on the SF board: expressing any sort of opinion about the place sets off a flame war. Oh well, let's do this by making appropriate Bay Area comparisons, in particular to my usual schmancy pizza joint, Pizzaiolo in Oakland.
Brussels sprouts with prosciutto breadcrumbs: Not much wrong with this, nice and tangy. On the other hand, the fried Brussels sprouts I had at Pizzaiolo once were revelatory. The difference: vegetable quality, maybe?
Fried potatoes and ceci with herbs: The potatoes are good but it's all about the chick peas, which had absorbed wondrous flavour.
"Meat lovers" pizza: Mozza definitely makes a California pie, and for the sake of argument let's agree to call it a pizza. Base definite seems like it's made out of high quality flour. Quite crisp to start, gets softer after a few minutes. Maybe Pizzaiolo has the advantage on the base because they're not afraid to cook the pie dark. Where Mozza shines is the toppings: just wonderful pork products, in particular the guanciale and the sausage. Previously the best pork pizza toppings I'd had were on the Specialized pie from Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur, but Mozza may now own that title. Best pizza ever? Quite possibly, but I'd like to do further research.
Butterscotch budino: Great balance: doesn't overdo either the sweetness or saltiness. Have located and saved the recipe. Up with the best non-frozen desserts I've had.
Gianduia and yoghurt gelato and clementine sorbetto: Gelato Milano in Berkeley used to do better sorbetti than this, but they changed hands. Pizzaiolo used to make better gelati, but I don't know where their super pastry chef went. So these are the best desserts of their kind of had in some time.
I found Mozza's food uniformly strong, and then there are the inexpensive wines by the glass and quartino. In all, my meal was better than most meals I've had at Pizzaiolo, though not as good as the best. Now, if only they could do something about the wait times...
What more can be said? Only sacrilege: I preferred the smokiness of the pastrami at Kenny and Zuke's in Portland (haven't been to Katz's). Still, being second (or third, or whatever) in the country after 60 years is outstanding. Oh yeah, and the chopped liver was also great. And the chicken soup. And the pickles. Oh, and there's a parking lot.
MIKUWAYA AND FUGETSU-DO:
These old shops may not be major destinations, but were fun stops when exploring Little Tokyo. I liked Mikawaya's plum wine "mochilato" and Fugetsu-do's "sakura" on a (cherry blossom?) leaf.
We had planned to hang around in Little Tokyo until dinner and eat at Izayoi, but we got bored and decided, brave souls that we were, to take an impromptu public transport trip across town. Two gruelling hours later, we arrived at the Santa Monica Beach looking for a place with cheap palatable food and cheap palatable cocktails. Cafe Crepe not only met those criteria, it very slightly exceeded them. I still have pangs of guilt about passing up Izayoi's pork belly, though.
Still sated on mammal meat from our Langer's visit, we made a quick stop here just before closing time. I prefer thinner fries than these, but conditional on the cross-section, the only way these could have been better was lard. The bits of my friend's rotisserie chicken I nibbled on seemed plenty tasty, as was the Oinksterade.
SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN:
The good news: I finally tried funnel cake. The bad news: I did it here. They allow re-entry; bring a cooler.
But otherwise a good trip. Next time I'll try to get to some Mexican and Korean places; that is, if I don't eat every meal at Jitlada.
Thanks for all the kind words -- they help convince me I'm doing the right thing in weaning myself off Y--p and on to CH. Some miscellaneous notes:
- The Ruen Pair in Albany has, generally at higher prices, most of the dishes the one in Hollywood has, though not, as far as I recall, the sausage salad. Albany is a bit less Chinese and a bit more Issan. Don't know about any ownership relation.
- I had the sitdown Chichen Itza pencilled in until I realised it was closed on Monday. Not entirely tragic since Yucatecan is the one regional Mexican cuisine we do have in some abundance in the Bay Area.
- Never got much traction on Korean because we wanted something we hadn't had before, as opposed to, say, BBQ (even though by near all accounts your BBQ is better than ours), but didn't know enough about the cuisine to say exactly what. Need to do some study.
- I was thinking about Father's Office as we were heading to Santa Monica, but didn't have the address. One of the few times I've wished I had a smartphone.
You Bay Area people definitely know how to eat, and how to write about your enjoyment of eating! Do you think the Ruen Pair in Albany is related to the one here?
I'm not surprised Kenny and Zuke's was better since it's a new place where they studied pastrami like a science and Langer's just does it the same way all the time.
Too bad you didn't get an express bus to Santa Monica! Also, if that ever happens again, Musha is a nice izakaya close to the beach in SM.