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The Varnish (Los Angeles, CA) / Copa d’Oro (Santa Monica, CA) – Cheers to Custom Cocktails

April 14, 2010

I’ve had a tough busy season. I’ve been working 17 hour days (one of those days being my 25th birthday), spending my waking hours in a cold, white room and my sleeping hours in an old hotel.

After this is all over, all I want to do is go up to a bartender, look him in the eye, say “I want ____”, and have him mix me exactly what I want.


Copa D’Oro

Ever since it opened more than a year ago, I’ve been meaning to try Copa. I would hear friends describe Copa’s expertly mixed cocktails, great vibe and attractive bartenders and wonder when I would find an excuse to drink on the Westside. Thanks to Victoria of Vixen’s LA Happy Hours though, I FINALLY found an excuse to experience Copa:

Happy Depression happy hour.
$5 drink specials.

Sounds like a good excuse to me!

First two drinks I ordered, the asian pear cocktail and a pisco sour, were from their regular priced drink menu and their happy hour, respectively. Both were well mixed, balanced in flavor, but not quite what I was craving that night. Then, remembering the original stories that lured me to Copa, I decided to order a custom crafted cocktail as my last drink.

I gave the bartender free reign over my cocktail, only dictating that I wanted vodka, cucumber (I’ve had a recent craving for all cocktails cucumber) and some kind of fruit in it. What he concocted was amazing – A combination of lemon, lime, mandarin orange, cucumber and lychee. The inital flavor was refreshing, with the cool cucumber and the bright citrus, but slowly mellowed out to end with the lychee. Everyone who had a taste was caught off guard with the lychee ending – it was deliciously unique.

Copa D’Oro
217 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-3030
Twitter: @copadoro

Copa d'Oro on Urbanspoon

The Varnish

Pick your liquor, they’ll make you a drink – Bartender’s Choice.

Now I’m a girl who enjoys a surprise now and then (especially when I’m craving a drink) so when I saw that typed on the bottom of the cocktail list, I knew that’s what I would be having that night. I asked for my drink to be made of gin (not my typical, but I was feeling adventurous that night) and was brought the following:

My Bartender’s Choice was a combination of gin, lime juice and honey. Somewhat sweet but still sophisticated, I would have to say that was the most enjoyable gin based cocktail I’ve had to date.

The Varnish
118 E Sixth St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 622-9999


Like I mentioned before, after this week, all I want to do is a bartender who can mix me exactly what I want. Basically I’m either going to The Varnish or Copa D’Oro…or both. These guys make a damn good drink.

Ricky’s Fish Tacos (Los Angeles, CA) – My First Real Fish Taco

April 3, 2010

Yesterday, I had Ricky’s Fish Tacos for the first time. The first thing that popped into my head after that first bite was:


Honestly, nothing compares – the best fish taco IN MY LIFE.

(See the guy behind the fryer? That’s Ricky.)

(See those things sitting on my plate? Those are Ricky’s fish tacos.)

The batter is super light, crispy, and not at all heavy or greasy. The fish is moist and flaky. The whole thing is topped with thinly sliced cabbage, pico de gallo, Ricky’s homemade crema sauce (made of mayo and skim milk) and salsa.

I can’t write anymore. It’s just so damn good. (Once you have your first bite, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Ricky’s Fish Tacos
Los Angeles, CA
Twitter: @rickysfishtacos

Starry Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA) – SK, Welcome to Bunker Hill

April 1, 2010

I went to Starry Kitchen three times this week.
On Day 1, I brought a coworker – he went back again the next day.
On Day 2, I brought a friend – she went back, not just the next day, but also the day after.

If that’s not enough to convince you Starry Kitchen serves good food, continue reading…


Never been to Starry Kitchen before? That’s okay. Ordering is easy:
1. Choose your meat.
2. Choose the vessel.
3. There is no Step 3. You’re done.

One of the reasons I love Starry Kitchen so much (and why I’ve been able to eat there three times this week) is because there’s so much variety! Five protein options grace their chalkboard menu on any given day, with five vessels in which to eat them. You can get your protein sandwiched in a banh mi-like sandwich, wrapped in a tortilla, on a plate with rice or atop two different types of salads.

Each week, one of these protein options rotates off the menu; each week, a new protein option rotates onto the menu. It’s a novel concept and one I appreciate because it means that, five weeks from now, I’ll have a completely new menu to choose from. However, it also means that, once a protein rotates off the menu, you’ll have to wait a good month and a half until it comes back. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?)

This week’s “bye-bye” option (as they’ve dubbed it) were the Taiwanese Fried Pork Chops. Their “hi-hi” option (as I’ve now dubbed it) were the SK Spicy Crab Cakes. I ordered them both…Twice.

Day 1 – SK Spicy Crab Cake Banh Mi; Side of Jap Chae

I still can’t get over the fact that these crab cakes were made from imitation crab. Imitation crab typically evokes an imagine of string cheese made of fake seafood with that disgusting dyed pink outside. This was flaky and actually tasted real. It was perfect in the soft baguette.

As a side note, their jap chae (i.e. glass noodles) is RIDICULOUS. I know it’s just glass noodles and mushrooms cooked in soy sauce and sesame oil and topped with scallions, but there’s got to be more to this recipe than that. A secret ingredient of some sort…like crack. Yeah, crack. (God, it’s so addicting.)

Day 2 – Taiwanese Fried Pork Chop Wrap; Side of Jap Chae

Another perfect combination of meat and vessel. Especially when you add fresh jalapenos to the breaded pork and the tortilla. (Be warned: those jalapenos have a kick to them though!)

Day 3 – Taiwanese Fried Pork Chops on a Thai Cobb Salad

In order to mix it up, I got a salad for the day. The Thai cobb salad includes cucumber, avocado, tomato, egg, blue cheese and bacon in this light honey sesame dressing. It was a perfectly healthy salad…until I added fried pork to it. (Mmm…fried pork.)


Enough about their food, I have to say the best thing about Starry Kitchen is that everyone who works there is genuinely nice. Nguyen, the guy you can’t miss working the front of the house, has an energetic personality, which is so welcome after a morning of Outlook emails and conference calls. His better half, Thi, who mans the kitchen, is quiet but when she smiles, she cares. (You can just see it in her eyes!)

There’s real heart behind this restaurant, and I’ve fallen in love with that. It just makes me want to introduce people to Starry Kitchen, to introduce them to Nguyen and Thi and show them what this little establishment has to offer. I’ve already introduced two…Can I introduce you too?

Starry Kitchen
350 S. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 617-3474
Twitter: @starrykitchen

Starry Kitchen (California Plaza) on Urbanspoon

Cream Pan (Tustin, CA) – Strawberry Croissants and Azuki Cream Pans

March 26, 2010

Sometimes I find myself, looking at food porn for hours on end. Sometimes, out of the blur of food pictures posted across the internet, one of them will catch my attention and spur me to trek across Southern California, to taste what looks like pure deliciousness.

(I hope I made that look like pure deliciousness because that’s what it tastes like.)

Cream Pan in Tustin is an Orange County staple, winning OC Weekly’s Best Bakery in 2008. In their words,

“Nothing in its triangular, hand-holdable frame can be improved upon. The croissant flakes off in crisp, buttery sheets; the custard is as cool as silk; and the sliced strawberries are perkier than a giggly, doe-eyed anime schoolgirl. And of course, it’s sprinkled with plenty of powdered sugar to make it look like you’ve just snorted some blow. Japonaise’s strawberry croissants are just as addicting.”

Yes, the strawberry croissants may be considered the #1 thing to get at Cream Pan, but I would almost argue that their azuki (i.e. red bean) cream pans are just as good, if not better.

These puffs, which look like they weight as much as a cloud, are actually chock full of cream and red bean. The lightly sugared whipped cream is airy and, upon first bite, spouts through the top like a volcano. The red bean tastes natural (i.e. without overly sweet additives) and is only enhanced by the whipped cream. The dough is soft and chewy, like freshly baked bread.

The way these goodies taste is an exact match to how I imagined them to be. I’ll add more to this Cream Pan food porn collection as I try more of their desserts – I’ll definitely be back.

Cream Pan
602 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 665-8239

Cream Pan on Urbanspoon

Daikokuya (Los Angeles, CA) – A Party of One

March 25, 2010

Most people don’t like eating alone. I’m one of them.

As much as I try to avoid it, I find myself eating alone more often than I’d like to admit. Not only do I eat alone, 90% of the time I forget to bring a book and end up sitting around watching everyone around me chow down while I sit……at a table…doing nothing…by myself. (Yeaaaaah. Sounds lame, I know. I promise you – I have friends! And social skills!)

That said, there are a very small handful of places where I will willingly eat alone as the happiness I get from that meal exceeds any discomfort of being a party of one. Of that very small handful of places, there is only one restaurant that I will willingly wait an hour – BY MYSELF – for a meal that will only take half of that time to consume.


I’ve come to realize Daikokuya doesn’t care if you’re a party of one or four – you’re going to be seated based on where your name falls on THE LIST (i.e. their wait list, which is secured on a clipboard and sits on a lone chair smack in the middle of their front entrance). See that empty space by the counter, perfect for me, myself and I? Unless you’re next on the list, it’s going to stay empty until the couple next to it leaves, when it will be then used for a party of three instead.

For me, no matter how long I find myself waiting, Daikokuya is worth the wait. The dressing on their cabbage starter salad is simply addicting. Its rich, milky tonkotsu broth washes away the troubles of the day with each warm sip. The noodles are just to my liking – not too soft, cooked just enough so it doesn’t feel like they were tossed into the bowl as an afterthought.

I can go no matter if I’m having a good day or a bad one, whether I’m with friends or by myself – it always hits the spot.

(Read my original review on Yelp.)

327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-1680
Twitter: @daikokuyaramen

Daikokuya on Urbanspoon