What makes a restaurant in Los Angeles?


Think LA restaurants, new Michelin stars and find the snook whisperer. I’m Laurie Ochoa, General Manager of LA Times Food, with this week’s tasting notes for a hot Labor Day weekend.

Comfort and adventure

Thursday night at Hollywood’s Grandmaster Recorders, during the Los Angeles Times Food Bowl kick-off party, Anajak’s Thai chef Justin Pichetrungsi received the Times Restaurant of the Year award with typical humility. “Honestly, what I said the first night [I heard] that great news was, “You should give it to someone else,” he told the crowd after I had the honor of presenting him with the award chosen by food critic Bill Addison. “Give it to Antico. Give it to someone good. I have fridges in the dining room. I have propane tanks in the women’s restroom. The air conditioning does not work. My fryer is 21 years old.

Pichetrungsi is right that Chad Colby’s Antico Nuovo is a great restaurant, serving up lovely pasta and freshly made ice cream in an unassuming building that was once a Koreatown nightclub. But Pichetrungsi is wrong to claim that his Restaurant of the Year award is undeserved.

Certainly, after ordering at the restaurant door and being directed to a table in the aisle, there are those who, after receiving plastic cups with one of the restaurant’s natural wine selections — he works with some 230 winemakers — might wonder if they’re in the right place. But if you came for one of Anajak’s Thai Taco Tuesdays, the seduction quickly begins as the sun begins to set and the tables fill with an energetic LA crowd eager to sample the aged fish tacos. dry Pichetrungsi, its remarkable tostada garnished with Chinese sausage and mint or the pork neck cooked on the outdoor grill in front of your table. Chances are that by the time Pichetrungsi’s mother arrives with mango and sticky rice, you will have fallen in love with Anajak and this town for being home to such a place. Right now, Anajak Thai might be the perfect LA restaurant.

My meals at Anajak Thai made me think about what makes a great restaurant in LA. When I used to report on restaurants for this newspaper in the 1990s, I would talk to young chefs like Octavio Becerra and Fred Eric about their dreams of bringing flavors and ingredients from the many cuisines that were flourishing. in and around Los Angeles in fine dining. Since that time, we’ve seen the food truck revolution sparked by Roy Choi, a classically trained chef who fused the Korean cuisine he grew up eating with the taco truck culture all around him, and the pop phenomenon -up that took root after Ludo Lefebvre introduced French street food to a borrowed bakery space. Both have become prototype Los Angeles restaurants with global influence. Anajak Thai represents a different kind of evolution – where gastronomy comes to the neighborhood restaurant from within, not via outsiders.

Pichetrungsi is certainly not the first restaurant kid to take over the family restaurant and change the menu. It’s an old tradition. But there’s something so right – and therefore L.A. – about the way he’s gone about it. For one thing, on most weekdays, you can still eat at Anajak – one of the first Thai restaurants in the San Fernando Valley – as a neighborhood restaurant. Beloved classics like panang curry and pad siew pioneered by Pichetrungsi’s father, Ricky, are available Wednesday through Sunday. Contrary to what seems to happen at the Italian beef restaurant on the TV show “The Bear”, the old is not abandoned for the new.

But when Pichetrungsi gave up his entertaining career for Disney to return to dining after his father had a stroke, he brought his LA-bred sensibility to the family business with Thai Taco Tuesdays (which requires no reservations). but a willingness to queue for a seat) as well as a sophisticated omakase menu served on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s almost impossible to get a seat for omakase meals, which makes Anajak one of the most exclusive and democratic restaurants in Los Angeles.

This fits Pichetrungsi’s frequent description of Thai cuisine as comfort and adventure – comfort in curries and noodles and risky adventure in wild spices and flavors. I would say comfort and adventure is a great way to describe what so many of us want in a restaurant in Los Angeles right now.

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Find the snook whisperer

Sergio Penuelas, aka the Snook Whisperer, at his backyard restaurant 106 Seafood Underground in Inglewood.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

There was a period in 2017 when I ate a lot of pescado zarandeado, the Sinaloa-style grilled fish most often made with róbalo — aka snook. Jonathan Gold, the late Times food critic, was on a mission to explore all the places where Sergio Peñuelas, known as the snub whisperer, had cooked pescado zarandeado, which he called “one of the wonders of world of seafood, a large, thin fish neatly cut in half on the vertical axis, slowly roasted over a smoky fire and served on a skimboard-sized platter – half an acre of steaming, charred flesh .

This week, restaurant critic Bill Addison talks about his own quest for pescado zarandeado — landing in Peñuelas’ backyard restaurant, 106 Seafood Underground.

He liked what he found: “Pescado zarandeado,” he writes, “is an ecosystem of tastes and textures: jagged, sweet, sweet, and smoky, with hidden meat-filled ravines that require excavation.

LA Michelin Newcomers

In Stephanie Breijo’s restaurant column, she tells us about several openings, including a Culver City location for the big Japanese sando spot Konbi, and she reveals that the Michelin Guide has added 18 new restaurants to LA. These are All Day Baby, Antico Nuovo, Chiang Rai, Fia Steak, Flavors From Afar, Girl & the Goat, Horses, Ipoh Kopitiam, Lalibela, Lulu, Lumiere, Manzke, Mes Amis, Moo’s Craft Barbecue, Ryla, Shunji, Sushi Nikkei and Sushi Takeda.

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