Marugame Udon: Udon Know Me, Yet. August 2019
Take a stroll along 1st Street in Little Tokyo and you may catch yourself doing the sidewalk shuffle to avoid the masses that surround celebrated ramen spots. With almost 20 ramen restaurants in DTLA alone, this brothy bowl of noodles has quickly become LA’s foodie obsession. So, what in-the-land-of-the-rising-sun is udon?
To those who don’t know, udon is much like ramen. It is a hot or cold soup filled to the brim with noodles and toppings that you can sip, slurp, suck—or arouse any masticating clamor that maximizes your enjoyment. But the differences lie in the noodles and broth. Udon’s flavor is rooted in dashi; a simple broth consisting of water, kelp, and bonito fish flakes. It’s savory, delicate, and less rich than ramen’s umami heavyweight, tonkatsu. Or as Goldie Locks might say, “it’s not too salty, not too oily, it’s just right.” Udon noodles are lighter in color, thicker in size, chewier in texture, and slipperier in slurp allowing it to whip back and slap your chin like a wet towel on a bare buttock. Simply delightful.
Newly opened Marugame Udon is serving all of that and more. The Japan-based, fast-casual restaurant has over 1000 locations worldwide and chose The Bloc as its newest location to expand the udon craze. The cafeteria-style setup is designed for the lunchtime Downtowner, allowing guests to customize and observe the udon making process as they snake around the counter.
At the start of the line you’ll choose your soup ranging from the most popular kake and bukkake (no, it’s not what you think) to seasonal soups like green curry and red cayenne chicken. There you will see Japan’s other great import, an udon noodle making machine that kneads and pulls dough until it resembles the limp bristles of a drive-thru car wash. Once cut, an employee portions each serving like a perfectly tousled man bun and plops it into a bowl of piping hot broth. Now, the fun part begins. As you continue to make your way towards the cashier, a line-up of tempura-battered toppings are begging for your choosing.
Everything from fried shrimp to fried crab sticks to chicken katsu are served hot with crumbling, crusty crags. And just priced around $1.50 a piece, you can go ahead and consider ‘golden-brown’ a new food group. Lastly, you’ll be prompted to garnish your udon with green onions, cilantro, fresh ginger, chili oil, and crunchy tempura bits. Pile them on or be conservative, it doesn’t matter because this station is free and nothing tastes better than free.
For first-timers, it’s recommended to order Marugame Udon’s bestseller, the Nikutama. It features thin slices of beef, a soft boiled egg, and chewy noodles swimming in sweet, beef broth. For some customers, this is the dish that loosened their grip on their ramen allegiance, and with so many amalgamations to consider, it’s likely Marugame Udon will convert you, too.
Photos by Chimera Singer
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth
Those who know me know I’m a foodie. Those who really know me know I’m a fainter and I almost fainted as I interviewed Chef Timothy Hollingsworth for LA Downtowner.
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth
Chef Prince Of DTLA. January 2019
We live in an age where there are different levels of fame: world-famous, micro-famous and the infamous Insta-famous. But to foodies and culinary crusaders alike, there’s a category that sits between world-famous and micro-famous—we call it food-famous. That’s where Chef Timothy Hollingsworth falls. To be precise, he’s the recipient of James Beard Foundation’s Rising Chef Of The Year award, placed 6th in Bocuse d’Or, former chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, executive chef and owner of 3 DTLA restaurants, and winner of Netflix’s The Final Table. So yes, he’s a big deal in the food world.
Despite his fame and accolades, Chef Timothy remains humble. His reserved demeanor is revered, his humility is honored, his palate is applauded, and Downtown LA is proud to claim him as one of our own.
“I am really excited about Downtown not only about what we currently have but for the unique opportunity that we have here. We are a downtown that’s still in the process of being developed, and I don’t think that there’s a lot of major cities in the world where that’s even possible,” says Hollingsworth. In 2015, he took the opportunity to partner with The Broad Museum and open Otium. It’s a restaurant that breathes art from the outside in—from the architecture to furniture handcrafted by local artisans to thoughtfully plated dishes. Additionally, the rooftop garden vertically grows their produce allowing for more space, sustainability, and versatility with a single seed as they’re able to pick and use a vegetable at every stage of its growth. Otium makes contemporary art digestible.
Three years later, The Fields LA partnered with Chef Timothy to open two new restaurants: C.J. Boyds and Free Play. One serves fried chicken sandwiches the latter streams sports games; both do an about-face on fine dining yet pay homage to Hollingworth’s Southern roots. He believes success is about finding balance, whether it’s balance within in his portfolio of restaurants or balancing time between his family and work, Chef Timothy is on a constant search of balance and feels that he is on the right path. Much like the 110 Freeway at sunset, this path is congested with commitments, yet he still found time to compete and win against twenty-four of the world’s best chefs on The Final Table.
Like any hardworking human being, we want to be treated to a good meal and a cold drink. Timothy is no different. When he has the chance to roll down his sleeves, you can catch him eating spring rolls at Little Sister on 7th, sopping up naan bread at Badmaash on 2nd, or sipping a cocktail at 71Above. For the nights when one cocktail turns into several, he’ll most likely be calling Blossom on Main Street to deliver an extra large order of egg rolls. Oui, Chef!
With three restaurants and a stake in food-famous territory, Hollingworth is at the top of his career. For now, he’s focusing his efforts on his restaurants and family, but he’ll always keep an open mind for the next opportunity that may come his way.
“I’d like to explore different aspects of the culinary field. Now that I have a few restaurants, I enjoyed the process of not just creating the menu but the design, the dinnerware and developing the beauty of a space. I’d like to see how my lane opens up into more of a lifestyle adventure.”
Photos by Robiee Ziegler
Las Morelianas: You Had Us At Free Sample — November 2015
Shards of pork leap into the air as a butcher knife strikes into its tender flesh. Rapid words in Spanish volley between the customer, cashier, and cook signaling latex covered hands to grab fistfuls of steaming carnitas, then folded into warm tortillas. For many, there may be uncertainty within this sight, but those who seek out these glorious tacos know exactly what they’re getting their hungry little hands on.
Since 2008, Las Morelianas has been Grand Central Market’s prized carnitas shop serving up mounds of tender meats braised within their own savory juices. Through savings and hard work, Fernando Villagomez, his mother, and brother had introduced their traditional Michoacan carnitas to the market. “It wasn’t easy - the three of us started cooking at 5am, serve at 9am, go home at 7pm and start all over again.” Every day large vats of meats are slow cooked for 4 hours or until the meat begins involuntarily undressing the bones. It’s then taken to the butcher block and chopped up into tiny shredded pieces. Try their most popular item, Carnitas Mixta. Every part of the pork (head, nose, skin, all of those tasty bits people don’t talk about) is chopped up and mixed together. In true Mexican style, free tacos are handed out to anyone who passes by — squeeze a little lime juice, sprinkle with onions and cilantro, then take a bite while standing. Las Morelianas serves nothing but authenticity.'
“You have to cook with passion. Some people thought I was crazy, but I used to talk to the carnitas, ‘you have to taste really good, you have to be perfect.’” Crazy or not, Fernando gave the carnitas a little pep talk out of the goodness of his heart, “I have 17 employees counting on me to support their family. We have to sell carnitas to survive.” With the determination to sell tacos, the kitchen is chaotic, working like clockwork to feed the lunchtime rush. But between every guillotine chop to the pig’s head or claw-like vise grip to shredded meat are smiles, jokes, playful teasing, and the occasional flirt. The employees of Las Morelianas express genuine happiness that can be tasted in their food.
Fernando and his staff have embraced the recent change at Grand Central Market, “I don’t know what the market did but it’s good!” They sell out of carnitas everyday, never stuck with leftovers. “I learned that in Los Angeles, people want to try authentic things, they are not afraid to try us.” This past year Fernando had also opened up his second restaurant within the market, La Tostaderia, an authentic Mexican ceviche shop just beside Belcampo Meat Company. Here he introduces Mexican seafood dishes to health conscious patrons.
The next time you wander through the market’s maze, stop by Las Morelianas, grab a free taco, taste the glory, and thank Fernando. He’s a good man and he’s here to stay.
Photo & video by Kort Havens & Logan Havens
Duello: Allow Us to Reintroduce You — July 2019
In relationships and restaurants, second chances are hard to come by. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, get blocked on social media and watch me take my money elsewhere. It seems the only way to seek mercy is an intervention and a complete menu overhaul.
Duello, formerly Simone, has risen to the challenge. The highly-anticipated Arts District restaurant had been open for a mere seven months before Chef Jason Beberman was ushered in as executive chef and tasked to revamp Simone as Duello.
The new menu takes inspiration from Chef Beberman’s travels throughout Asia, which features family-style entrees kicking with flavors rooted in acid, spice, and herbs. Meanwhile, his personal influence on cooking takes inspiration from the people that surround him. From Indian dinners in the homes of childhood friends to Mexican dishes prepared by the wives of dishwashers and prep cooks, Chef Beberman’s exposure to various cultures has led him to quickly learn new ingredients and techniques. The result is an ever-evolving cooking style that’s familiar in flavor but unique in experience.
“That's also the beauty of L.A. We're inspired by diversity and everything that's around, you know, we’re not limited to anything. We have fused with a diverse community of people in the Arts District and across the river in Boyle Heights, literally every day” says Beberman.
Having spent time in Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Japan, it was only natural for Asian-inspired dining to have made its way onto the menu—including eating with hands. One standout dish is the whole roasted sea bream sitting on a bed of pickled cauliflower and spicy red sauce. It’s meant to be enjoyed with friends and without forks, simply peel back the charred skin and tear at its flaky, white meat with abandon. Don’t forget to poke at the meaty bits near the collar, that’s where the fish is most rich. There’s no shame in this act, just as long as you had washed your hands and reserve finger-licking at the end of the meal.
“In Vietnam, it’s common for people to sit on the curb with plastic stools and start picking at their food, it’s just total community. And for me, that was the ultimate expression in dining, because there's zero pretension. It’s the most informal thing ever and I want to sneak that into the dining experience here or wherever I go from here” says Beberman.
If you’re not yet ready to dine sans silverware, smaller dishes like cucumbers marinated in cultured coconut milk and pickled chayote squash are excellent when shoveled by the spoonful. The crisp, refreshing taste of cucumber bites back with a hit of acid, then neutralized by creamy, coconut milk. Think of it as a flavor drive-by for your palate. For thirsty patrons, try The Dacian, a large format cocktail swimming with tequila, mango brandy, squavit, skyr, lemon, agave and served in a novelty skull cup. Sip it, share it, and definitely Instagram it.
In just a few short months, Duello has taken on a new persona in food, drink, and service. Chef Beberman’s overhaul proves this restaurant doesn’t need a second chance from DTLA but is establishing themselves as a brand new hot spot on the block. Duello, we’re very pleased to meet you.
Photos by Jack Struz
Fried Chicken in DTLA: A Former Feathered Friend Explained — March 2019
Gritting teeth, two hands near the face and two elbows on the table. Chicken bones and soggy napkins lay in defeat while fingers are licked one by one—ending with the pinky. Eating fried chicken is no graceful act but exploring fried chicken according to culture is an honor. From Korean twice-fried chicken to Nashville Hot Chicken to Japanese karaage, here’s a breakdown of popular fried chicken styles you can find in Downtown LA.
Korean fried chicken is famously known for its crackling, double fried crust that has the ability to inhibit hearing anything but the thunderous sound of crunchy mastication. The unique frying style evolved soon after American troops first introduced the sizzling romance between chicken and hot oil to Korea during the Korean War. But it did not take long for South Koreans to remaster the recipe suited for their taste—a deep-fried chicken brushed with a candy-like, soy-garlic glaze then fried again creating a shell so delicately crunchy it resembles cracking the caramelized tops of creme brulee. The dish is usually balanced by the astringent taste of pickled radishes and always complemented with beer. Head to BBQ Chicken in Little Tokyo for a platter of double-fried chicken and other Korean offerings such as kimchi fried rice and dukbokki. They serve hormone-free, locally-grown chicken that can be served bone-in or boneless.
If you like to challenge your mental toughness, then Nashville Hot Chicken is for you. Legend has it the recipe was created by a woman who wanted to get even with her cheating husband, so she doused his dinner with the hottest spices found in the kitchen. Unfortunately, he liked it. Fortunately, he took the recipe and opened up Nashville’s BBQ Chicken Shack for others to enjoy the good kind of pain. Nashville Hot Chicken’s spice rub consists of cayenne pepper, habaneros, ghost peppers, Carolina Reapers or any spice that will make you question your existence. Eaters are challenged to try various levels of heat from mild to tell-my-family-I-love-them hot which always pairs well with cold milk, napkins & tears. Howlin’ Ray’s in Chinatown is guaranteed to give you a feeling to remember but if waiting in a 3 hour-long line is unappetizing, head over to The Red Chickz on Spring Street for the Chickz Wings or the chicken sandwich garnished with pickles and coleslaw.
Throughout Little Tokyo and select izakayas in DTLA, you’ll be sure to find karaage (pronounced ka-ra-ah-geh) on the menu. The boneless, poppable bites of soy-soaked fried chicken are prepared the way the Japanese would typically prepare anything else: calculated. Small, bite-sized chunks of dark meat chicken marinated in a mix of soy sauce, sake, sugar, and ginger are coated in potato starch for a perfectly measured meat-to-crust ratio that stays crispy long enough to last through a night of karaoke. Dip these crusty flavor kernels in Japan’s version of Miracle Whip, Kewpie, to bring out even more richness. Karayama in Little Tokyo and Pikunico at The Row serve karaage as a main course but if you’re looking for just a snack, head to Mitsuru Cafe in Little Tokyo for karaage on a stick priced at a delicious $2.50.
Photo by Gari Askew
Sam's Hofbrau: Where It Rains 365 Days a Year—June 2015
Unrelenting bass trembles behind a red velvet curtain. It is this curtain that separates smog from sugarplums and tangles grimy boots to glittered platforms. Peer past the curtain and feast your eyes on Sam’s Hofbrau: dinner, drinks, and dissipation.
A dancer enters the stage; her silhouette is back-lit against an NBA game, she moves towards the center, seducing slowly as she surveys the crowd. She sees faces — some captivated, some bashful and some flushed with fervent bloodstreams. The music gets heavier; she whips her cherry scented hair and gyrates her body like heated molecules on the verge of combustion. Dollars are thrown and she gives her undivided attention to the patron dispensing the most singles.
Sam’s was once a German beer haus that added a few poles and private booths then claimed its fame by treating customers to nights of simulated rap music videos. The floor constantly flows with women steering customers towards the walls lined with singular vinyl booths. It’s mirrored, padded, and equipped for 2-3 minutes of teasing. For $10 a song, buy a dance for yourself or gift one to a friend, it’s the Sam’s version of a gift basket. The bar is stocked with imported beers and champagnes, as well as virgin $1 dollar bills to tuck between a patch of nylon and buttercream skin.
From the suit and tie crew of Bunker Hill to the blue-collar workers of commodity warehouses and the swanky women of the Fashion District, Sam’s unites Downtowners who are looking for an even happier hour.