Carrot tartare at n/soto
Meatless tartare is an ongoing obsession. The beefsteak tomato tartare from Jose Andres’ Bazaar Meat is still a revelation. The precise preparation of the fruit mimics beef so perfectly that some diners have a hard time distinguishing between the two. But the carrot tartare at Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama’s new n/soto restaurant in West Adams is intended to taste like one thing and one thing only: carrots. And it may be the most compelling preparation of a single vegetable in Los Angeles at the moment.
The tartare arrives in a perfect circle, hidden under coins of orange, white, yellow and purple carrots. A few slivers of raw fennel lounge across the top. The Nakayamas, who are also behind the two Michelin-star n/naka in Palms, use no fewer than five preparations of the star vegetable. Carrots are peeled and then broken down into wider and more narrow sections. The wider cuts are roasted. The smaller cuts are pureed into a carrot cream. The skins are dehydrated and turned into carrot dust. Some baby carrots are pickled; others are soaked in ice water. Some are diced raw. Then there’s pickled fennel.
Everything is combined into a sort of chunky carrot salad reminiscent of the best picnic potato salad. The roasted carrots are cooked to a pliant, mellow sweetness that ricochets off the tart pickles and the crunch of the raw vegetables. On the side, a smear of brown butter miso hummus. It’s a lavish chickpea spread inspired by Niki’s memories of eating burnt miso with butter on rice as a treat in Japan. The tartare is served with a basket of fried lotus chips, Okinawan potato and rice paper crisps that when fried, puff up like elaborate flower petals.
Cacio e pepe wings at Uncool Bar
We are still very much in the middle of a cacio e pepe craze. In Los Angeles, it’s being used as a flavor profile for pizza, bagels, breakfast sandwiches, arancini balls and salads in addition to pasta. For further evidence of its proliferation, check out the jarred cacio e pepe sauce at Trader Joe’s. The stars at the heart of this phenomenon are simple enough: nose-tingling Pecorino and lots of black pepper. At the new Uncool Bar in West Hollywood, a bar and restaurant in the shopping center on Fairfax Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard with the demolition derby parking lot and a Whole Foods, you can order cacio e pepe chicken wings.
I can feel the haters (and the nonnas) coming for me. But hear me out. Good fried chicken is good fried chicken. The fried chicken wings at Uncool are excellent. Coated in both rice flour and potato starch (gluten-free!), the wings are fried once at a low temperature and then fried again at a high temperature to create an extra crispy chicken shell. Chef Jonathan Katz, who spent time cooking at Eataly, wanted to turn cacio e pepe into a wing so he coats his chicken in a mayonnaise-based sauce made with black pepper and Pecorino cheese. It’s creamy, cheesy and heavy on the black pepper; all the things you want from a good bowl of cacio e pepe pasta, on a chicken wing.
Char siu ribs at Pearl River Deli
The thin paper napkins at Pearl River Deli are no match for the char siu ribs. You can grab as many as you like, stacked at the self-service station inside chef Johnny Lee’s new location of his Chinatown restaurant, alongside the chopsticks, forks and water. These are not the ribs you’ll find at some Cantonese-style barbecue shops around town, where the sometimes virulently red sauce slides right off the meat.
Lee’s ribs are properly sticky — the kind of sticky that prompts you to lick your fingers but inevitably glue bits of napkin to your hands. The petite slabs are lacquered in a salty-sweet glaze that caramelizes while the ribs cook through, creating crusty, sugary edges that taste like meat candy. They’re sweet enough to be dessert, but I eat them as soon as they hit the table. You can also order the char siu sliced a la carte, with white rice or on top of springy egg noodles with bok choy. I suggest bringing your own moist toilettes and ordering a full rack.
Scallop tostada at Found Oyster
Lately, when I feel like treating myself to something special, I spend a couple of hours sipping rose-tinted pét-nat on a wooden chair on the patio at Found Oyster. I don’t spring for the seafood towers, vertical masterpieces fashioned from ice, peel-and-eat shrimp, plump oysters, lobster cocktail and crudo. Or the impressively stuffed lobster rolls. Instead, I order the scallop tostada. It has been a mainstay on the menu since chef and co-owner Ari Kolender opened the restaurant on Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood in late 2019.
The raw scallops are sliced into rounds and beached on a lumpy fried corn tortilla, so crisp that it may or may not fracture by the time it gets to your table. The bivalve mollusks are sweet and briny. Slivers of apple bolster the sweetness, spiked with tart yuzu kosho. The strewn leaves of basil on top act as a beautiful, functional garnish, adding notes of pepper and anise. Even with the impressive towers, the lobster rolls and the steamed clams, my heart belongs to the tostada.