We've kicked off the new year in Los Angeles with, finally, some rain. Well, a lot of rain. Which has meant predictable chaos, of weather and traffic, and a citywide rush indoors. In turn, for many of us this has meant bowls of congee. Because while cold, wet days call for soup, the go-to bowl in many Asian restaurants is not soup so much as this incredibly comforting bowl of rice porridge.
Thus Jonathan Gold catalogs seven of his favorite places to get congee, and I go talk to chef Tin Vuong, who recently opened his second Little Sister restaurant in downtown Los Angeles and put congee on his breakfast menu.
Also this week Jonathan heads to Venice, close to the pier, to check out Leona, Nyesha Arrington's first restaurant. There he finds market-driven cooking, dumplings and other dishes that can be traced to her Korean grandmother and plates that work as odes to vegetables as much as dinner.
In other news, we drop in on a shabu shabu restaurant in Koreatown and eat probably way too much at a few food trucks, including one that specializes in Japanese curry and another in plates of fried chicken.
Leona by the beach
Jonathan reviews Leona, chef Nyesha Arrington's newish restaurant in Venice. "It is clear that we have entered the age of the roasted vegetable," he writes — which comes, at Leona, in the form of roasted whole squash. Arrington's cooking is both traditional and experimental, influenced by her L.A. roots, her multi-cultural family, and her experience cooking in this town's white-tablecloth restaurants. Thus: short ribs and bone marrow a short walk from Venice pier.
Lots of congee
It is a great time to be eating congee, in this case, seven very good bowls of the stuff, at restaurants across Los Angeles from Highland Park to Temple City to Alhambra. There are bowls of homey chicken and rice porridge, others with shrimp and braised sea cucumber, and a pretty spectacular one with lobster. And yes, lots of crispy crullers to go with them.
Behind the counter at Little Sister
Tin Vuong's congee is more cheffy than his grandmother's was, but it's something he tells us that anyone can duplicate at home with a pot, some stock and some rice. As he demonstrates the dish, he brings out repeating little bowls of accouterments but also points out that — as with much great breakfast food, or drunk food — you can just use what you have on hand. And yes, this includes bacon.
Jenn Harris checks out the food at Free Range L.A., a popular food truck that specializes in fried chicken sandwiches made with homemade biscuits. If that's not enough to get you tailing the truck in traffic, they also have fried egg and avocado toast and breakfast sandwiches. Helmed by a chef who used to cook at Red Medicine, the truck began life as a farmers' market pop-up project.
Shabu shabu in K-Town
If porridge isn't your thing (really?), you might try shabu shabu on a cold, rainy day — the Japanese dish of thinly sliced beef and other ingredients boiled tableside in vats of hot water. At Shabu Me, the sauces that accompany all this have more of a Korean influence than Japanese — maybe because Shabu Me is in Koreatown. Maybe reason enough to get a table.
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