Honey Badger Restaurant

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When I was walking back from lunch on Saturday, another storefront caught my eye.  The exposed Edison bulb chandeliers and dark wood surfaces made me think this was going to be a hip coffee place on the rejuvenated Main street in Alhambra, but it was actually Honey Badger — yes, the same Honey Badger as the popular coffee, tea, and study spot just a few blocks down on the same street.

Honey Badger Restaurant, unlike Honey Badger Cafe, has more of a focus on food. Their specialty is their house-made noodles, and you know how much I like noodles. So much that I returned to the same area for dinner just so I could try out the restaurant, even though it was in their soft-opening* phase.

From the limited menu, Will and I ordered the Honey Badger wings, roulette peppers, garlic noodles, and eggplant noodles.

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The roulette peppers are fried shishito peppers tossed with a savory, slightly tangy sauce. None of the ones I had were all that spicy.

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The Honey Badger wings was my favorite dish of the night. The sauce was garlicky, salty, with a slight tang that made it hard to resist licking my fingers after the wings were done.

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The man who took our ordered recommended the garlic noodles only if we were garlic lovers, and boy, was right about that. The bouncy, chewy noodles were doused in a lot of garlic.  So much so that it was almost too garlicky for me, and I do love a bit of garlic.

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The eggplant noodles were a little more muted in comparison. I liked the slightly sweet taste of the eggplant noodles. While the noodles were of a great texture, even slightly stretchy, the slight sauce on the noodles made them a bit too sticky for me.

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To drink with our meal, Will ordered an iced chrysanthemum herbal tea, light on the sugar.  It was shaken with crushed ice and was a wonderful refreshing drink to have with the meal.  I went with the classic almond milk tea (also light on sugar) and it definitely hit the spot.  If the mug looks large in the picture, it’s because it is very large.

It’s nice to have a new, different spot to dine at in the neighborhood and I’m curious to see what their more established menu will bring.

Honey Badger Restaurant
555 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
(free parking in a lot right next to the restaurant)

 

* Here’s my gripe about soft openings:  I understand that they’re useful for restaurants that want to try out their menu and staff, or still have a few kinks to iron out, but if that were the case, then the restaurant shouldn’t be charging full price.   If you want diners to help you test out your restaurant, then give them a discount, or make it free.  If that’s not financially feasible, then open it to only friends and family at a discount.  It seems like restaurants use the ‘soft opening’ term so that people are less critical about their dishes. I think it’s only fair that if a restaurant is charging full price, then it should be critiqued under the same standards as fully-opened restaurants.  It’s not a criticism of Honey Badger specifically — just restaurants who hide under the ‘soft opening’ term.

Modan Artisanal Ramen

Are you sick of the word ‘artisanal’ yet? Because I am. I should have known Modan Artisanal Ramen was going to be disappointing.

An average bowl of ramen at an above average price. But I did get to sit next to one of my fav chefs who was also eating there, so worth it! #modanartisinalramen

I was excited when I read about a ramen shop opening in South Pasadena, which is just a stone’s throw away from me. We already have Benten ramen, which works in a pinch if you don’t want to drive all the way to Sawtelle for Tsujita, but it’s always good to have other choices in the neighborhood. What really got me excited was that their menu said the veggie ramen was vegan!

Alas, it was not so.

When Will and I got to the restaurant a few nights later for dinner, the menu had the word ‘vegan’ crossed out. The noodles have egg in them, so the veggie ramen was just vegetarian, not vegan. For what it’s worth, the broth was decent and the agedashi tofu was a nice addition.

I was put off by the addition of truffle oil in Modan’s signature bowl of ramen, and I wasn’t in the mood for spicy, so I just went with the shoyu ramen. Apparently, I chose poorly. The broth was okay, but lacked a certain something that made it a good ramen broth. Whether it was richness or depth, the shoyu broth just didn’t taste like ramen broth. Maybe I should have just gone with the tonkatsu broth of the signature bowl, but if they’re not going to make a good shoyu ramen, why have it on the menu at all?

The noodles were nothing to write home about either, which just makes me angry. If noodles aren’t going to be vegan, then they’d better be good enough to warrant that!

The chashu also was a surprise to me. Instead of the slices of buttery soft pork I expected, I had two large slices of dry, slightly tough, grilled pork. It wasn’t tough enough that I didn’t give Robin some pieces, and I guess it was in her interest that the pork wasn’t more delicious because I would have eaten more of it myself.

Overall, Modan wasn’t good enough for me to go out of my way to return to, especially when Benten is slightly better tasting and a better value. I don’t mind paying more for ramen that’s exceptional, but in this case, it wasn’t.

Modan Artisanal Ramen
700 Fair Oaks Ave
Ste G
South Pasadena, CA 91030

KazuNori — The Chipotlezation of Sushi

In and out. 4 hand roll special. I devoured the 4th: blue crab, before snapping a pic.

Whenever I’m in San Francisco for work, the pre-lunch conversation usually goes like this:

Me: “Where to go for lunch?”

Colleague: “How about we go to blah-blah?”

Me: “What’s that?”

Colleague: “It’s Chipotle for Korean/Vietnamese/Thai/Japanese/Indian food.”

The fast-casual, assembled to order, fresh ingredient restaurant has been popular in San Francisco and I usually lament that there aren’t more of those in LA.  Well, now there’s a Chipotle for sushi right in downtown LA called Kazunori.

Unlike its SF variants, this one has a limited menu and mainly serves handrolls.  While there are sushi purists who lament this Chipotlezation of the sacred Japanese art of combining fish and rice, I embrace it.  There are times where I want sushi but I don’t want to commit to 2 hour lunch, but I also don’t want to ride the danger zone of pre-made rolls at the supermarket deli.

KazuNori is a tiny restaurant tucked next to a downtown parking structure.  The U-shaped bar has a bunch of stools pulled up to it and you’re greeted by a simple menu that can be checked off, dim sum style, upon entering.  The menu is limited to 3, 4, or 5 hand rolls or a la carte, or cut rolls for takeout.  I sat down at the nearest open spot and checked the 4 handroll option with the daily special (toro), salmon, bay scallop, and crab.

For its second week of opening, the KazuNori handroll machine is efficient.  The sushi chef handed me a roll about a minute after I turned in my menu and as I finished rolls, the next one would be made and handed to me just as quickly.

I can talk about the fish, which was of decent quality, but the stars of the handroll are the nori and rice.  The rice was served warm, bordering on hot, and seasoned assertively. Although you have dishes to pour soy sauce in, the soy sauce was unnecessary. Each bite was perfectly salted thanks to the seasoned rice.

Then, there’s the nori.  The half-life of toasted nori is a short one. The distance from the sushi chef’s hand to your mouth should be as short as possible to maximize on optimum nori time.  At KazuNori, the distance is short enough that the nori enters your mouth still toasted enough to flake off, almost like a good croissant.  The optimum toastedness of the nori makes it hard not to scarf down each handroll as it is presented in front of you.

Of the rolls I had, the bay scallop and crab roll stood out. The bay scallop had a mayonnaise-based sauce, which usually isn’t my thing, but in this case, highlighted the velvety texture of the scallops.  The tiny amount of fish roe mixed in gave it a nice textural contrast. The ubiquitous crab roll was lighter on the mayonnaise if there was any at all, and the sweet taste of the crab meat was a perfect meal-ender.  Who needs dessert when you can finish with the crab roll?

KazuNori is located at strategic spot in downtown LA.  Because a meal there is fast, it’s perfect for someone working downtown.  The price is decent, not counting the $5 to park in the lot next door.  While the craftsmanship and quality may not be as good as the 3-handroll special at Kiriko, I do like that the chef waits for you to finish each roll before making the next.  Once they get their beer license in order, I am sure its 11pm closing time will make it a popular spot for the late-night dinner crowd.

KazuNori Sushi
421 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013