Dune — Frank Herbert never ate so good

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I admit to being surprised about Scott Zwiezen’s newly opened restaurant in Atwater Village. The chef that I associate with Elf Cafe is known to be an advocate of raw, vegan and vegetarian cuisine. His new venture is not in Echo Park, is not completely vegetarian nor raw. Instead, it’s middle eastern food in the form of sandwiches and is a lot more casual.

Dune soft-opened on Sunday, January 18th with the bare minimum: three types of sandwiches, two house-made drinks, and a counter to lean against while you eat your sandwich. Tucked between a dance studio and a juice bar, it offers food that’s as easy on the conscience as it is on the palate.

Zwiezen wanted the food at Dune to speak for itself. Gone is the baggage and stereotype that comes with the labels ‘raw’ and ‘vegetarian’, which can intimidate people from trying a restaurant. With the lamb and soon-to-arrive fish on the menu, Zwiezen hopes to attract people who would otherwise shy away from an all vegetarian menu.

Multiple diners in line were overheard ordering the falafel sandwich, which is no surprise, as it’s one of the best falafel sandwiches I’ve had. The deep fried balls of chopped chickpea are held together without flour, which will please the anti-gluten crowd as long as they order it sans pita. Unfortunately, ordering it without the pita also means you will miss out on the cooked-to-order pita bread that’s made in house.

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While the falafel sandwich is a no-brainer, the delicious beet sandwich was unexpected. What sounds on paper like an average beet salad served between two slices of bread was actually a playful combinations of flavors and textures. The earthiness of the beets was tamed by the briny pickle and onions, and further balanced with the rich yolk of the medium-boiled eggs. The tangy garlic sauce added a nice pungency to each sweet, savory, and tangy bite. I would say that this sandwich is easy to customize as vegan if certain elements were left out, but that would be ruining the combination that makes this a winner.

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To wash down the sandwiches, there’s also house-made root soda, which has dandelion, lapsang souchong, and a few other ingredients. It’s just sweet enough, with a slightly herbal fragrance. Fair warning though, no beverage in the restaurant will help your garlic breath afterward, so bring some breath mints if you care.

To those bookworms: yes the restaurant’s name was inspired by Frank Herbert’s magnum opus.


Dune
3143 Glendale Blvd.
Atwater Village

Pho Ngoon

This newly-opened northern Vietnamese restaurant has a concise, focused menu featuring just a handful of noodle soups and an even smaller handful of appetizers.

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The cha gio came two to an order and was of the rice-paper variety.  The rice-paper was fried to a shatteringly-crunchy texture and had a great tang to it. The filling is standard. The pickles that come with it, an afterthought.

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The dac biet contains tender and not-so-tender pieces of beef and ample offal.  The tripe is cooked to perfection — neither too chewy nor too soft.  The noodles are of the thicker rice noodle variety, which I’m a fan of. The broth, being from a northern-style place, is more subtle than the ubiquitous southern-style beef broth. Absent are the spicy notes of cinnamon and anise. Instead, the broth has a fattier mouth feel and is on the blander side.

My meal also included a free lemon iced-tea thanks to their Grand Opening promotion. The tea was on the sweet side, even after the ice had mostly melted, but the lemon taste was refreshing after a mouthful of the rich broth.

Is this going to replace Golden Deli or Nha Trang in my viet noodle-soup rotation? Probably, not.

Pho Ngoon
741 E Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776

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