My historical past of New Yr’s Eve celebrations has run just about from unhappy to sorrowful.
Rising up in New York Metropolis, I really went to Occasions Sq. a few years in the past — lengthy earlier than they began corralling the celebrants for hours on finish, forcing them to put on grownup diapers. My reminiscence of it was that it was chilly … bone-chilling chilly.
After the ball descended, the assembled lots all ran for the subway entrances. The New York subway system had, thoughtfully, gone on a post-midnight schedule. Which means that a number of hundred thousand of us have been clustered on the sting of the platforms, praying for a practice — and that nobody would push us off.
Then, there was the time I used to be invited to a gala dinner at a buddy’s home — solely to find the gala dinner consisted of baggage of chips and cans of onion dip, with Lawrence Welk taking part in on the TV, and quite a lot of pitiful characters sitting on couches, attempting to remain awake.
There was the meal at a favourite Italian restaurant, the place I found, too late, that what was being served was a meal consisting of two pasta entrées, a inexperienced salad, and a few type of store-bought chocolate cake for dessert. I feel the meal included a break up of champagne. That’s half a bottle, for 2 individuals. It was dangerous champagne. They usually charged an excessive amount of for it.
After shifting to the West Coast, to simplify New Yr’s Eve, I made a decision to remain on East Coast time the night time of Dec. 31. This allowed me to have a good time early, after which fall asleep at any time when I needed. And to get up early enough for the Rose Parade, if I needed to.
In spite of everything these years, there’s been just one New Yr’s Eve that stands out as an unmitigated triumph — and it concerned going right into a world the place Dec. 31 is not New Yr’s Eve. I organized a crowd to go to one of many sprawling Chinese language seafood eating places of Monterey Park for an early night banquet. It was fairly the expertise.
Getting off on the Atlantic Avenue exit, simply after 6 p.m., I discovered myself caught in a visitors jam, attributable to police operating a sobriety verify. At 6 o’clock? The Chinese language New Yr wasn’t arising for an additional month or extra, so this was simply one other night time. Besides that the bigger corridor of the restaurant had been taken over by what I used to be instructed was a Chinese language highschool reunion. There have been a whole bunch of celebrants. There have been speeches and songs — all in Chinese language. There have been acrobatic acts. Prizes have been awarded. And I sat in an adjoining room, consuming shrimp and lobster, and having an excellent time.
I notably bear in mind bringing my very own wine, and asking if there was a corkage charge. I used to be instructed, sure, $10. Per bottle, I requested? No, I used to be instructed — for the desk, for the night. What’s to not love? I had an amazing meal — and was dwelling early sufficient to catch the ball coming down in Occasions Sq..
I’ve repeated it many instances within the years since. A Chinese language restaurant New Yr’s Eve on Dec. 31 has at all times been a pleasure. And fairly priced, too. (I’ve additionally diverse the feeds with meals at Thai eating places, Filipino spots, Vietnamese locations; Persian, Lebanese and Indian cafes; Korean barbecues, even the occasional Cambodian eatery, of which we’ve got treasured few! The costs are at all times nice!
We carry our personal enjoyable with us, which doesn’t embody humorous hats and noisemakers! Nowadays, in the event you’re at Occasions Sq., you’re locked in until after midnight. How is that enjoyable? However meals on the following eating places are at all times a pleasure — how might it’s in any other case?
Chinese language dumplings (and extra)
The unique Din Tai Fung, in Taipei, isn’t precisely a shack on a backstreet. However it’s a storefront in a grey, formless constructing, notable for having a relentless and relentless crowd in entrance.
The unique Din Tai Fung right here in Southern California was in a U-shaped mini-mall on Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia, finally joined by a second department just about subsequent door. (There are two main mall places in Orange County as nicely.) Not funky — however not elegant both.
After which, one thing sudden began taking place: Din Tai Fung got malled. Big malled, shopping center malled. And within the course of, it bought fairly darned advantageous. The primary mall location was proper right here, within the Americana at Model (177 Caruso Ave., Glendale; 818-551-5561, www.dintaifungusa.com).
Rising up in New York’s Chinatown, I demand a specific amount of tough and tumble from my noodle and dumpling homes. So I do discover the niceness of the mall Din Tai Fungs a bit disconcerting. However then, these aesthetic issues fade away when the primary order of soup-filled xiao lengthy bao hit the desk in a bamboo steamer basket. The aroma, the visible, the primary chunk — heck, the place might seem like Spago, and I’d be completely satisfied.
Although there could also be a anticipate a seat, there’s no anticipate the meals, which emerges from the kitchen at Roadrunner cartoon pace. The dumplings emerge in bamboo steamers, piled comically excessive. The soup dumplings come full of pork, snow crab and truffles, in varied combos. The buns are puffy and candy, good steamed buns, crammed with pork, veggies, pink beans, sesame and candy taro; I lean towards the savory over the candy, however that’s me.
There’s a pantheon of steamed dumplings as nicely, with a world of fantastic fillings, and a chunk that dazzles — kimchi and pork anybody? In contrast to among the smaller dumpling joints, there’s deal extra right here. The seaweed and bean curd in vinegar is a necessary chilly appetizer, as is the pungent cucumber salad. And the soy noodle salad and the wooden ear mushrooms in vinegar — wondrous!
There are seven plates of greens — string beans, kale, bok choy and such, which have to be a part of the meal. I have a tendency to not order the soups, since they take up room in my abdomen I’d reasonably fill with dumplings. Or with the noodles with sesame sauce. I’m certain the desserts are excellent — however in spite of everything that goodness, pink bean and candy taro xiao lengthy bao doesn’t name to me. However then, it is a mall — the dessert choices are many. Even on New Yr’s Eve.
Thai (half one)
You eat in sufficient Thai eating places, you come to anticipate sure dishes, completed in a sure approach, not all of that are good. You anticipate rooster satay to be a bit stringy, a bit dry, with a peanut sauce that’s separated into oil and solids. You anticipate pad Thai to be cooked to the purpose the place the noodles are starting to fall to items. You anticipate barbecue rooster to be a desiccated fowl, saved solely by a candy chili sauce that is available in a bit plastic container. All of which makes Lum Ka Naad (8910 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, 818-882-3028; 17644 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-616-2338; www.lumkanaad.com), a outstanding revelation of a restaurant.
Not in contrast to the Siamese eating places of Thai City, a reasonably dismal restaurant row that meanders alongside Hollywood Boulevard from Western to Vermont on the east facet of Hollywood, the meals at Lum Ka Naad has the funk and taste of a backstreet in Bangkok. The meals tastes like the actual deal. The service has the type of abrupt in-a-hurry-ness that I’ve come to anticipate of real ethnic experiences. And the following day, the leftovers are even higher than they appeared to have been contemporary from the kitchen.
This can be a Thai restaurant value going again to, repeatedly. With practically 200 dishes on the menu, you merely should.
The menu begins with a ramble of 21 appetizers, divided into “Fries,” “From the Grill” and “Served Recent As It Can Be!” There are wonders all through. The rooster and beef satay, touchstone dishes at any Thai restaurant, are distinctive — chunky chubbettes of tender meat, with tasty grill marks, served with an ideal peanut sauce that made me surprise, as soon as once more, why I’ve by no means managed to copy peanut sauce at dwelling; is it that tough? Guess so, as a result of so many restaurant get it unsuitable. Lum Ka Naad will get it proper.
As is commonly the case in Thai eating places, you don’t should wander removed from the apps to create a meal that may make your desk completely satisfied. The prosaic egg roll is nearly as good because it will get, so crispy, with a advantageous candy & bitter sauce. The fried pork ribs are loopy good — the menu tells us they’re “fermented,” although they could imply “marinated,” in a scorching & bitter sauce, then splattered with chiles, ginger, lime and cilantro.
In order for you your satay hotter than regular, get the Bangkok Sticks on Hearth. In order for you your beef rarer than regular, go for the Crying Tiger. And there’s a stunning dish of shrimp marinated in garlic and chiles, referred to as Bare Mermaid. The identify alone makes it value ordering.
The menu continues with Curries, Noodles (divvied into Noodle Soup and Pan-Fried Noodles, the place we discover not simply pad Thai, but in addition Thai spaghetti, and unexpectedly yaki-soba), Fried Rice, Salad (such good rooster larb), Seafood, Soups (Sizzling & Spicy, and Not Spicy), Sautéed, Vegetable Lovers, Rice, Relish/Dipping Sauces (wither dwells some severely spicy creations), Asian Specialties — and a pair of bifurcated classes: Specialty Northern Delicacies, and Specialty Southern Delicacies, the place we discover a digital Baedeker of Thailand’s delicacies.
There are 17 dishes from the north, on the border with Laos — exotica like jackfruit salad, elephant ear plant soup with fish, and a steamed banana leaf basket crammed with rooster, Thai eggplant, curry paste and candy rice powder.
The dishes from the South include a warning that “all objects on this class are thought of ‘too spicy’ for common Individuals.” Take the warning severely. The spicy curry with “sator” peas (which develop on a tree), shrimp and floor pork sizzles. The South Sea spice dried curry has sufficient components in it to rely as a Oaxacan mole.
Dessert could also be important — fried banana, coconut ice cream, candy sticky rice with mango.
Thai (half two)
Wanting on the very lengthy menu on the much-loved Sri Siam Café (12843 Vanowen St., North Hollywood; 818-982-6161, www.srisiamcafe.com) — a brightly lit, neat-as-a-pin Thai eatery in a Central Valley mini-mall — there are at the least two sections worthy of a re-assessment, even a double take. There’s one headed “Specials,” the opposite “Chef Specials” — a tad redundant, which isn’t uncommon. And that’s the place you discover dishes just like the fantastic Crispy Rice Salad, which is a bit just like the crispy noodle dish mee krob, solely not sticky candy, and made with crispy rice as a substitute, together with Thai bitter sausage (which is to say, not “candy sausage”), ginger, scallions, floor rooster larb, peanuts, mint leaves and a chili lime sauce, that pulls the entire dish collectively into one cohesive, and really tasty entire.
Contemplate as nicely the Barbecue Eggplant Salad. Oddly, the eggplant has been skinned, for barbecued eggplant wants its pores and skin to carry it collectively. However that stated, it has , smoky taste, the eggplant topped with extra of the bottom rooster the kitchen appears so keen on, together with massive chunky shrimp, in a tangy lime dressing — an excellent dish, although I’m unsure if it’s a lot a salad as a vegetable facet dish. No matter. It’s a variation not typically discovered.
Then, there’s the Spicy Grilled Salad, made with shredded apple; the Hoy-Tord, a crispy mussel pancake with a candy chili sauce; the O-Lou, a crispy shrimp pancake; the Spicy Ribs, bit chunks of meat, with a touch of pickling spice; the Shrimp Paste Chili Dip Fried Rice with Fried Mackerel — and when was the final time, if ever, you noticed mackerel in a Thai dish? And look, there’s mackerel once more within the Miang Pla Too, with lemongrass in that good chili lime sauce.
There’s a lot extra — the menu abounds with dishes that make you would like you had include extra folks. And which could make you surprise how the one server, at the least on one explicit night time, managed to work a virtually full restaurant with out dropping her composure. However she didn’t. Nor did I. Although I did really feel a bit higher after she recommended I am going to the bundle retailer subsequent door if I craved a beer with my meals. Sipping a beer is a lot extra satisfying than a glass of water.
There are 114 dishes on the menu at Sri Siam, although the rely goes up when you think about that many contain a alternative of meat. And for individuals who need to observe the straight and slim, the tried and true, it definitely doesn’t disappoint.
The rooster satay is correctly moist, with one of many higher peanut sauces I’ve encountered, and a cucumber salad that’s not the same old throwaway dish — it’s made with giant chunks of cuke that flip it right into a facet dish, and never only a relish.
The curry choice takes you on a jolly journey via the quite a few lands of curry — Panang pink, Thai yellow, Gaeng Ped pink, inexperienced with a lot of basil, roasted duck in pink curry, even a spicy and bitter curry (which as soon as once more means not candy).
In case you’ve by no means had the fried jerky — one of many many good preps to come back from the north of Thailand — it is a advantageous place to present it a run, both beef or pork, and actually exhausting to say which is best, although the chili sauce that comes with it makes the dish that a lot better, whichever meat you select.
My daughter, an aficionado of pad see ew, charges this one as among the best. And he or she says the identical of the mango sticky rice. I raised her nicely.
As my eating regimen has developed over time, very like grasp chef/humanitarian Jose Andres, I’ve discovered my consuming shifting extra towards the completely satisfied world of greens. This isn’t to say I’m a vegetarian (or a vegan). I’ve simply shifted from perceiving meals as a hunk of meat, with veggies as a sidekick…to a meal the place greens star…and meat makes a cameo look.
And after I say meat, I largely imply beef — the “pink meat” that’s grow to be a line within the sand for would-be wholesome diners. Fish and rooster are our buddies. However greens are our greatest buddies.
After which, I am going to a spot like Vinh Loi Tofu (18625 Sherman Method, Reseda; 818-996-9779, www.vinhloitofu.com), a tofu-based vegan Vietnamese, and I’ve to confront the following stage of my relationship with meat and greens. One should respect what they do at Vinh Loi. One should additionally ask if tofu is a vegetable? Properly, after all it’s. However it’s been reworked from soy beans (our much-loved edamame) to soy milk to soy curds to ready tofu in dishes. It’s a Franken-vegetable.
I’m unsure I’ll ever adore it. I’ll eat it, and infrequently fairly fortunately. Typically in a type of palate-destroying Szechuan dishes, flavored with fiery peppers and sautéed pork, the place the tofu is hidden beneath a mountain of maximum flavors. At Vinh Loi, the tofu is at all times…tofu. Even in a stir-fry, it’s tofu. And because the cooking is decidedly refined, the tofu isn’t hidden. And so…tofu is what we go right here for. Tofu…and a meal that represents, because the menu says, “A greater lifestyle.”
What I favor to deal with is the road, discovered on the web site, encouraging us to “Take pleasure in genuine, flavorful Southeast Asian Delicacies ready from contemporary components and daring spices.” Which is what Vinh Loi is excellent at.
Placing apart my combined opinions on tofu specifically, and vegan meat substitutes generally, that is advantageous chow, a small number of dishes, drawn from the in depth world of Vietnamese (and to a lesser diploma, Thai) cooking. The menu is about as minimalist as a Vietnamese menu ever is. Moderately than dozens of pho noodle soup variations, every with a special mixture of meat, there’s only one — the Ironman Pho (love the identify!), a vegetable broth, with rice noodles, tofu and “beef” slices, topped with onions (each white and inexperienced), cilantro, beansprouts, basil, lime and jalapeño.
It’s one in every of 5 soups on the menu, a really busy part — a lemongrass and chili soup referred to as Kevin #1, a Curry Soup (my private favourite), a noodle-less vegetable soup, and a wheat noodle ramen soup, which comes with fried shallots, an unexpectedly elegant contact.
The appetizers lean towards the rolls, additionally 5 of them, one in every of which was made with “ham,” one other with “beef,” and a 3rd with “rooster” that’s bought a type of spongy texture. It’s improved by the nice peanut sauce that comes with all of the rolls. Peanut sauce is fortunately vegan, although it does open up a world of allergic reactions. Which is why there’s a piece on the menu headed “Peanut Allergic reactions” — detailing the supply of coconut sauce, sesame soy sauce, gluten-free soy, and one thing referred to as VL Dressing — for individuals who can’t eat peanuts. So many dietary hoops to leap via there — vegan and peanut-free and gluten-free.
And the priority continues into the “Dry Noodles,” the place we discover that these with a wheat/gluten allergy can substitute gluten-free noodles, clear mung bean noodles, rice noodles or shredded zucchini, together with a gluten-free sauce. Eating out as of late will be so tough!
And for these on an old school eating regimen, there are salads as nicely, the place the greens are clearly greens. Although you do have a alternative of assorted vegan meats to go within the salads. I selected a meat to style it. However I put it on the facet, and caught with the salad. It tasted contemporary and actual. It hadn’t been manipulated. For me, it defines “A greater lifestyle.” A vegetable that’s simply…a vegetable. And a great way…to start a brand new yr.
At Carnival (4356 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks; 818-784-3469, www.carnivalrest.com), as at most Center Jap eateries, ordering chow for the desk is each straightforward and actually the way in which to go. The notion of sitting there, hunched over your kebabs, whereas the remainder of the desk passes round baba ghanoush and grape leaves, is just about ludicrous.
Carnival definitely makes ordering for the desk greater than straightforward. To begin with, you in all probability can’t go unsuitable with the menu right here — an in depth assortment of the best hits of Lebanese cooking, with lots of the dishes collected into handy mixture plates.
For the sake of newcomers (there have to be a couple of on the market!), there’s an appetizer combo of hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli and falafel, served, after all, with a lot of heat pita bread — an ideal appetizer for each the neophyte and the native.
Merely talking (for these newbies), hummus is made out of garbanzo beans and baba ghanoush from eggplant, tabouli is bulghur wheat with tomatoes and mint, and falafel balls are a fried cousin of hummus.
You’ll want to add on the grilled veggie platter (there’s a fried veggie platter as nicely) — the greens are flavored with olive oil and herbs, superbly grilled. It’s a reminder that this actually is among the healthiest cuisines on this planet.
I at all times order the fattoush salad, just because I’ve at all times preferred fattoush — a kitchen sink salad constructed across the crunch of toasted pita chips.
One can dig into the sandwiches, of which there are 9 — together with a improbable beef and lamb pita burger, simply among the best burgers on the town, flavored richly with parsley and onions. Does that even correctly rely as a burger? (The Carnival Burger is topped with coleslaw, and served on a sesame bun, a basic burger, although a little bit of an outlier on the menu.) However actually, what’s finest is the Carnival Mixture of rooster, lamb and floor kafta, charbroiled and served with rice or fries, extra pita bread and fantastic pickled veggies. Expect to take lots home to eat while watching the Rose Parade.
Not taken dwelling are the desserts — a elegant baklava, flavored with selfmade rosewater syrup. And never simply selfmade, however “Mamma’s Selfmade”! There’s additionally a pudding referred to as ashtalia, a cream of wheat dessert referred to as namoura, and a baked cheese dessert referred to as knafeh. The espresso — “Arabic espresso,” says the menu — is thick and robust and coats the tongue. It’s New Yr’s Eve. Robust Arabic espresso will wake you up. And also you in all probability received’t fall asleep until morning.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.