Cliff’s Edge–Hidden Brunch Getaway

Eggs Benedict--poached eggs, bacon, roasted tomato hollandaise

Eggs Benedict–poached eggs, bacon, roasted tomato hollandaise

Now that the rain cloud over Los Angeles has disappeared, the skies are blue and the air is crisp…and you know what that means: it’s that time of the year for outdoor brunch! Ah, that special time of year where Angelenos can crawl out of the crack of the earth on Sundays afternoons after a long night out (topping their outfits with merely light cardigans!) to be delighted by farm fresh foods from simple egg and bacon sandwiches to chillaquiles Mexican fare. We could only wish that our brunches lasted as long as the ones in New York do, which I know are still popping on weekends at 4 p.m. On a positive note, spring is around the corner and patrons can happily sit at brunch tables on the sidewalk sipping on spicy bloody marys and bubbling guava mimosas.

Chicken Liver Terrine--candied kumquats, grainy mustard, table bread

Chicken Liver Terrine–candied kumquats, grainy mustard, table bread

Cliff’s Edge, however, has one leg up over LA restaurants with sidewalk tables–the seating is all outside, tucked deep in Silver Lake, next to a 99 Cent Store. Yet, when you walk past the large Medieval-like iron door, you get transported to a different place, a paradise of sorts, in an outdoor grotto, secluded from the rest of the world. Light leaks peek in through the trees surrounding the tables. Wooden benches adorned with turquoise and blood orange Moroccan pillows present a cozy atmosphere for long chats over cups of perfect coffee roasts.

Baked Eggs--roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, olive, goat cheese

Baked Eggs–roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, olive, goat cheese

With notable menu items like the pork belly hash, a dish that brings out the smokiness of bacon with roasted brussel sprouts, topped with a slightly runny fried egg and crumbles of feta, you’ll realize that this isn’t your average IHOP. The fried chicken boasts a rosemary essence with waffles covered in whipped maple butter and bourbon syrup. The rather large bacon and cheddar frittata is topped with a beautiful green salad with braised leeks and jalapeño crema.

Bacon + Cheddar Frittata--braised leeks, scallion, jalapeño crema, potatoes

Bacon + Cheddar Frittata–braised leeks, scallion, jalapeño crema, potatoes

The restaurant, which is also a delight for dinner after dark when the outdoor hanging lights provide a romantic ambience, has had a number of different chefs change the menu over the course of the last few years. When James Beard nominee Benjamin Bailly of Fraiche fame took over as head chef last year, his new menu was met with high acclaim. However, as quickly as he arrived, he left last September, and Public Kitchen and Bar chef Vartan Abgaryan took his place, making sure to include local, seasonal food with a sophisticated flare. Hopefully, Abgaryan remains at Cliff’s Edge, and challenges our palates with unique and elegant nuances.

Cliff’s Edge

3626 W. Sunset Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90026

323.666.6116

Brunch hours:

Sat. & Sun: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Price range:

$8 – $16

Website:

http://www.cliffsedgecafe.com/

Din Tai Fung Dumpling House–little packages of delight

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My boss’s father went on a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan and called his son to tell him about this revolutionary dish he had never had before–xiao long bao (also known as “soup dumplings”), a steamed dumpling filled with juicy pork and soup (inside of the dumpling!)–at a restaurant called Din Tai Fung. My boss told him that he already knew about that restaurant and that there was one right in Los Angeles. By the end of his father’s trip through Southeast Asia, every time he had a business meeting, someone would take him to a Din Tai Fung in their country–from Singapore to Japan.

Din Tai Fung is just that big and that amazing.

When I went to Taipei on a vacation in 2006, there wasn’t a direct train route to the restaurant, and I had to take two buses in the rain to get to the flagship location. There was a line outside of the narrow, three-story building; inside, waiters were zooming in and out of the kitchen, up and down the staircase, delivering woven baskets of steamed dumplings to tables. We put in a heap of sliced ginger in a sauce dish, added red vinegar, soy sauce, chili flakes, salt and pepper. The marriage of the two puzzle pieces were almost complete. We dipped the dumpling in the the sauce, put it in a soup spoon, and grabbed a few slices of ginger from the sauce and put it on top, and carefully bit into the juicy dumpling. The first time is like no other.

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Luckily, LA doesn’t just have one Din Tai Fung location, but rather two–and they’re right next to each other. Be prepared for a long wait, but it’s always worth it. If you’re going with a big group, also order a variety of items like pork fried rice, shanghai rice cakes, any of the fried noodle dishes, sauteed green beans with garlic, and don’t forget dessert–red bean dumplings are a must!

Din Tai Fung

1108 S. Baldwin Ave.

Arcadia, CA 91007

Hours:

Mon – Fri: 11:00 am – 9:30 pm

Sat: 10:00 am -9:30 pm

Sun: 10:00 am -9:00 pm

or

1088 S. Baldwin Ave.

Arcadia, CA 91007

Hours:

Mon – Fri: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm

Sat: 10:30 am – 9:30 pm

Sun: 10:30 am – 9:00 pm

Website:

http://www.dintaifungusa.com/

You can’t curry love…a CoCo Ichiban experience

Left: CoCo Ichiban experience in Japan in 2005. Right: CoCo Ichiban in USA in 2012.

Left: CoCo Ichiban experience in Japan in 2005. Right: CoCo Ichiban in USA in 2012.

Seven years ago, my best friend and I hopped on a plane to begin a year-long adventure on the other side of the world in Japan. At that point, we hadn’t had much more culinary experience besides the chicken marsala at Cheesecake factory or the carne asada burritos at Alberto’s. To be honest, our palates were as advanced as it could get for poor college kids.

We figured we already knew about sushi, and thought that was sufficient enough. Little did we know what was in store for our taste buds as we spent every day walking from Japanese/French patisseries to udon noodle soup shops in train station stops. We were introduced to the yakitori stand hidden in a dark alley by our office, where we would wait in line with dozens of other people (rain or shine) eating skewered chicken livers, tail, hearts and gizzards covered in a sweet and savory soy sauce-based marinade and charred to perfection. There were the holiday festivals (boy, were there many!) that were held at local parks where we would get taiyaki – pastries with a pancake softness filled with mashed red bean paste in the shape of fish.

However, some of my fondest memories were spent at CoCo Ichiban – a curry rice restaurant chain that you could find all over Japan. This was my first introduction to Japanese curry – a thick curry roux served over rice with a variety of meat and vegetable toppings. Definitely not a fancy place, but known for fast service and delicious food, CoCo Ichiban specialized in the warmest of comfort foods. They allowed for customized curry dishes – from choosing between potato croquettes, fried chicken, pork katsu, among numerous other items, to selecting the spice levels, rice portions and extra add-ons. My personal favorite combination was fried chicken with level 2 spice and a potato croquette and shredded cheese as add-ons (trust me, always add the cheese even if it sounds strange).

Another specialty of CoCo Ichiban’s that separated itself from the other curry houses was their jar of pickled radishes on each table. I would mix in spoonfuls of the radishes in the curry every time, sometimes even sheepishly asking the waiter to refill the jar. To be honest, I haven’t found any other curry house with anything remotely similar to the amazing pickled radish recipe this restaurant has.

All that being said, I was ecstatic to find that CoCo Ichiban was spreading its wings and opened a location in Torrance, CA a few years ago, tucked away in a little strip mall. Although the menu is a little overwhelming to look at because of the plethora of options to mix and match plates, it felt no different from when I first looked at the menu in Japan. The ambiance is casual and perfect for a quick lunch or dinner date. The quality of the food is just the same, and most importantly, sitting on each table is a jar of pickled radishes!

CoCo Ichibanya

2455 Sepulveda Blvd, Ste C

Torrance, CA 90501

Hours:

Mon. – Sun. – 11 am – 10 pm

Price Range:

$3 – $12.50 (+ any additional toppings you choose will cost extra)

Website:

http://www.ichibanyausa.com/