Tsujita, Sawtelle, Los Angeles

I recently met someone who loves ramen just as much as myself. Our never ending texts dedicated to noodles, broth, and where we can find the next bowl has become a regular thing these days. Having been on numerous ramen adventures in the short time we’ve known each other, I approached my friend Brandon to be a guest contributor (a first) on NJ in LA, not just because he knows his ramen, but because his knowledge of food continues to impress me. Born and raised in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles, Brandon is a graduate of the Art Institute with 10 years of professional cooking under his belt, including 4 years in the military, 3 years in fine dining and time spent traveling, researching + further developing his skills in Asia and Europe. His craftsmanship has been seen in the kitchens of the Royal Mail Hotel, one of the most prized restaurants Australia and here in Los Angeles, at Providence, voted the best restaurant of 2013 by Jonathan Gold of the L.A. Times.

Now that L.A. has begun to cool down, it’s our goal to slurp as many noodles as we possibly can and share our detailed account of each bowl, from two different perspectives. It was pouring rain on a rare L.A. afternoon, Brandon and I landed on Sawtelle with nothing but Tsujita on our minds. Neither us equipped with an umbrella, we hit the ground running, trying our best to see amongst drops so large it almost felt torrential. Running in the rain never felt so good, knowing that a hot bowl of goodness was awaiting us. We finally arrived at Tsujita, with a line out the door and around the corner. We waited for about 15 minutes until we were seated at one of the hottest ramen houses in L.A., I have heard of much longer waits but then again our visit was on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Many have called Tsujita the best and friends have proclaimed it life changing. The time had finally come to enjoy my very own pipping hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen.

Natalie: I ordered the Hakata Nagahama Tonkotsu Ramen, which was decorated nicely with juicy pieces of char siu (bbq pork), ajitama (a seasoned boiled egg), nori (seaweed), green onion, wood ear mushrooms and men-ma (bamboo shoots). Complimentary accoutrements on the table included beni-shoga (pickled red ginger, my absolute fave) and a jar of karashi takana (hot leaf mustard), which we quickly polished off and then asked for a re-up. The first thing I noticed, aside from the incredible fragrance emitting from my bowl, was the almost gelatinous layer that was beginning to form atop my broth. This porky liquid, slowly simmered for 60 hours, is practically a form of liquid lard, so rich you know it has to be good for the heart! I had never tasted a broth of such consistency and with each spoonful, I felt delicious drops of liquid fat roll onto my tongue, coating it with intense flavor. The noodles were thin + straight, as they typically are with tonkotsu, but I prefer my noodles on the curlier side, the standard with shoyo (soy sauce). These particular noodles were most definitely a secondary character to the immaculate broth I could not stop spooning past my lips. The flavored egg, which is my most treasured possession in a bowl of ramen, once popped open, was a beautiful hue of orange-yellow and creamy like custard. Keeping up with all things savory, this bowl included wonderfully chunky slices of pork that made chewing pieces of fat feel like buttery pieces of bubblegum. I haven’t been the same since my trip to Tsujita, a ramen join that just stepped up the game and is well worth the hype.

Tsujita Broth, L.A. Food Blog

Tsujita Ramen, L.A. Food Blog

Brandon Grey ramen feindThis is Brandon slurping noodles at Ramen Jinya, one of our many upcoming posts!

Brandon: Ooey gooey gold best describes Tsujita’s Tsukemen bowl of ramen. The key attribute of this bowl of ramen is, YOU OWN YOUR OWN DESTINY of dunking your own noodles at will. Let’s start off with the broth. Its brown and murky in color, with the viscosity of cold chicken noodle soup. An 1/8 inch of pork fat sits atop of the soup and the pork fragments nestled inside does this bowl no justice by mere appearance. This savory pig juice plays with your senses because it’s enriched with fish undertones. Dried bonito, mackerel, and sardines give this bowl an umami blast to your palate and taste buds.

My noodles were thick and perfectly springy with a texture of fresh cut Udon. They were so good, I inhaled the first serving and quickly asked for another. This time around I enveloped my noodles with this mustard leaf condiment which tasted like a Japanese version of kimchi. Lets just say, “can I get the damn recipe” to this. I heavily contemplated asking for a to-go container to smuggle some of this spicy condiment goodness, as I knew how perfectly it would compliment the ramen I create at home. The slow poached egg, once cracked into, spews out runny molting yolk. It’s quite the addition to the bowl. Other accompaniments are the standard char siu pork, nori, and a lime wedge to marry all the notes in this harmonious symphony of flavors. #flavorsonflavorsonflavors Rain or shine, sleepwalking or awake, make your way down to the west side to experience this LA gem. Just be prepared to have cash on you and an appetite for gelatinous goodness.

Tsujita L.A., 2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

Tsujita Tsukemen, L.A. Food Blog

Tsujita SpicyMustard

Free Range LA x The Golden State, Fairfax, Los Angeles

I love collaborations of any kind, especially when it comes to food. It’s cool when real recognizes real, and people come together to create something for the public to enjoy. When my friend Brandon told me that there was a Free Range x The Golden State night in the works, I knew we’d have to go! Thankfully my peeps knew those peeps and we all came together for a night of delicious fried chicken sandwiches. Although this was going to be my first time indulging in Free Range LA’s most famous creation, I was well aware of their cult following, which quickly grew from slinging chicken goodness at the Melrose Trading Post every Sunday.

We pulled up to The Golden State, which was beginning to crowd with chicken lovers from all over the city. Funny enough, we both bumped into people we knew, illustrating further the immense fandom of Free Range LA. Jesse, the mastermind behind the whole thing graciously managed to steal a few minutes away from the kitchen and welcomed me into his pop up with open arms. The passion in this young man was evident, as well was his dedication to the craft. Above all, his positive attitude and hustler’s spirit is what had me wanting to know more. It’s absolutely refreshing to meet people who simply love food and want to share it with as many people as possible, with no pretension. Keeping it casual, our table only needed beer, potatoes, and chicken to make for a happy meal. First up was a basket of Loaded Baby Potatoes, packed with tarragon ranch, candied bacon bits and chives. They were almost too easy to pop in my mouth and are the kind of culinary creations I wish I could find at movie theaters or basketball games. Lots of flavor packed into one or two bites, so easy to eat.

The time had finally come for our Fried Chicken Sandwiches to be delivered to the table. Made with tempura free range chicken, jalapeño coleslaw, and whole grain honey mustard, I knew I was in for a treat. The meat was incredibly juicy + tender, with the bun feeling like two pillows in between my hands. The coleslaw added a flavorful crunch and before I knew it, my basket was empty and all that was left was a happy mess on my hands. A great meal with good company and a positive vibe. I’m so looking forward to round 2! Find me grubbing on the corner of Fairfax / Melrose, I hope you’ll join me.

Free Range x Golden State, 426 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Free Range Fried Chicken Sandwich, L.A. Food Blog

Free Range Loaded Baby Potatoes

Free Range x Golden State

Crème Caramel, Sherman Oaks

What’s not to love about Crème Caramel LA, the crazy good sweets spot located in Sherman Oaks. I am thankful that I don’t live closer to this gem because I know that my family and friends would have me eating there at least a few times a week, it’s simply that good. Regardless of your location, this dessert destination is crucial to all who possess a sweet tooth, and their savory surprises are delightful as well! Because I can’t begin a meal with sugar – unlike many of my pals – I ordered one of their daily specials, a Spanish tortilla. This take on the dish was inspired by a trip to Spain and after a variety of runs, the potato packed creation found a place on the menu, much to my enjoyment. Crème Caramel’s version is packed with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, + feta and when warmed up, is the perfect thing to eat for breakfast or lunch. Paired with an vegan horchata or guava agua fresca (made in house) elevates this meal to a whole other level! I must say, especially being Mexican American, the horchata here is on point and I’m hoping that I can cop that recipe.

Owner Kristine de la Cruz, who I might add is one of the most beautiful people (practically radiating positive vibes) that I have met in the food world; she is really killing the sweets game. Having already tried some of her amazing creations at various farmers markets and at the L.A. Time’s Test Kitchen, I knew I was in for quite the experience. Her Bundido de Caramel, an Italian sweet treat, tasted as if it was sent down from the heavens! The creamy goodness was incredibly rich and had me moaning with each bite. Topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings, this is the kind of dessert that makes you weak in the knees. Up next was Crème Caramel’s popular ube upside-down pie. If you’re not familiar, ube is a purple yam, popular in Filipino desserts and IT IS SUCH AN AMAZING FLAVOR. Sweet crumbles with a dash of purple sprinkles is only a glimmer of the goodness that lies within. You must taste it to know it.

One thing that especially caught my eye was a giant slice of cheese covered bread, packed with spicy kale, goat cheese, apple and cheddar. I thought a couple of bites would suffice but before I knew it, the plate was polished off. Simply incredible, with savory notes in each morsel. The counter + deli case at Crème Caramel is quite the spread. Filled with custards, bread puddings, cookies, meringues, scones, and everything else you want to eat, it’s hard not to leave the shop with a box of goodies that will cure those late night cravings.

Creme Caramel LA, 14849 Burbank Blvd, Sherman Oaks CA. 91411

Creme Caramel Bundido, L.A. Food Blog

Creme Caramel Bundido Dessert, L.A. Food Blog

Creme Caramel Van Nuys

Creme Caramel Spanish Tortilla, L.A. Food Blog

Creme Caramel Spanish Tortilla

Creme Caramel Baguettes, L.A. Food Blog

Creme Caramel Bread Pudding

Creme Caramel Ube Upside down Cake

Creme Caramel chocolate chip cookies

Creme Caramel bread slice, L.A. Food Blog
Creme Caramel Agua Frescas, L.A. Food Blog

Another Kind of Sunrise, Venice

It’s not every day I find myself in Venice, one of the most interesting neighborhoods to walk, bike, and explore. When I got word about a new cereal takeaway cafe located on Abbot Kinney, I knew I had to leave the comforts of the Eastside and go peep this organic creation nestled next to Left House. Owned by beautiful couple, Greg and Diana, this cozy stand offers reprieve from the busy street surrounding it. This labor of love was beautifully designed by Greg’s brother Jordan, of architecture firm DXA studio, and shines with a courtyard touched by the hands of LA-based artist Matthew Morgan and landscape designer Patrick Cullina, creating a space dedicated to the love of cereal. AKOS shines with floor and wall murals of sunrises, and planters filled with exotic fruits, offering a tranquil environment to enjoy a healthy bowl of goodness.

Serving organic, natural and non-gmo cereal, with options for vegetarians, vegans, and those living a gluten-free or paleo lifestyle, AKOS sources food from small organic farms and local food artisans. They also serve cold pressed juices from Venice’s own Moon Juice and organic almond milk made with fresh young coconut water from MylkMan. On my visit, I had the opportunity to taste 3 of their “Tasty Bowls”, including Fafurina’s Paleo Granola, made with sprouted almonds, raw pumpkin seeds, pecans, shredded coconut, honey, maple syrup, Chia Porriage, prepped with chia seeds, fresh young coconut milk, vanilla, and the Açaí Bowl, bursting with açaí berries, blueberries, cashews, fresh young coconut milk, banana + wildflower honey granola. Each of my offerings were memorable in their own way but it was the flavorful açaí creation that had me wanting to lick my bowl. Experiencing a variety of flavor notes in one serving is all to rare in the cereal world, and for this creation, I am thankful. If you’re just trying to go the classic route, AKOS offers traditional cereals in their simple, whole grain form such as corn flakes, rice krispies, raisin bran and frosted flakes. Toppings are a plenty, with seasonal fresh fruits, sprouted nuts, flax seed, goji berries, raw honey, coconut, hemp hearts, and cocoa nibs. Sounds like a delicious way to start the morning, doesn’t it?

Another Kind of Sunrise, 1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice CA. 90291

another kind of sunrise chia bowl

Another Kind of Sunrise Acai Bowl, L.A. Food Blog

Another Kind of Sunrise Venice

Another Kind of Sunrise Venice

Another Kind of Sunrise Cereal

Another Kind of Sunrise Paleo Granola

anotherkindofsunrise_menu

Azla Vegan, Historic South-Central, Los Angeles

Ethiopian cuisine is one of my greatest culinary loves so I was psyched when a friend of mine from the Craft & Folk Art Museum invited me to come eat at his family’s new restaurant, Azla Vegan. Located in Mercado La Paloma in Historic South Central Los Angeles, this modern space is inviting with it’s vibrant food and friendly staff. Upon my visit, I was met with open arms by the beautiful Nesanet, who so eloquently runs the show, and she kindly introduced me to her mother Azla, who is the chef behind the whole operation. Azla, the only Ethiopian restaurant in South L.A., blossomed from the family’s love for healthy vegan fare but done so without sacrificing flavor. I am so thankful the family decided to share their creations with all of us!

Azla’s menu focuses on creative interpretations of traditional Ethiopian dishes, using local and organic produce. You can order a combo meal, offering 1 to 4 different items (depending on how hungry you are) and it’s paired with your choice of gluten-free injera bread or brown rice. Injera, if you are not familiar, is a porous flatbread that absorbs spices, juices, and flavors perfectly, not to mention an ideal way to eat with your hands, tearing off tiny pieces for each bite. My colorful plate consisted of a rainbow of flavors, including Keysir (marinated beets, red onion), Kale Salad with garbanzo beans + pomegranate seeds, Gomen (kale, collards, garlic), Fasolia (carrots, green beans, caramelized onions), Yatakilt (curry potatoes, carrots, cabbage), Kik (yellow split peas, tumeric, ginger) and a seasonal special of Pumpkin Curry. I had a tall glass of refreshing Sorrel with ginger, which complimented my meal, a drink that spoke to this Mexican American girl forever in love with  jamaica – hibiscus to much of the world. The beauty of eating something so incredibly healthy and dense in nutrients is that it leaves no room for a food coma, or itis if you will. Upon completion of my meal, instead of feeling like I needed a nap, I felt as if I could run a half marathon. Nes and Azla aimed to create a healthy option in the community and they most definitely succeeded.

DID SOMEONE SAY ETHIOPIAN PIZZA? My jaw dropped when Nes pulled a pizza from the oven, something they had been testing out, which has officially been added to the menu. Incredibly flavorful and unique, it’s the best vegan + gluten free pizza I have tasted, with a tomato sauce bursting with berbere, an Ethiopian mix that consists of 15 different spices. Upon my first bite, I literally jumped up in the air thinking I just ate something so few have before me – it was a special moment – and it was delicious! Azla is creating great food that makes you feel good.

Azla Vegan, 3655 S Grand Ave Ste# C2, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Azla Vegan Ethiopian, L.A. Food Blogs

Azla Vegan Ethiopian Pizza, L.A. Food Blog

Azla Vegan South Central

Azla Vegan Family

DeLuscious Cookies & Milk, Hollywood

Not typically a sweets lover, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to try a box of freshly baked cookies that would be conveniently delivered to my home. I heard the door bell ring one morning and I knew my sweet treats had arrived! I practically skipped to the door and was taken aback with just how lovely my box of cookies were, elegantly wrapped in a beautiful bow, with the words DeLuscious Cookies + Milk displayed on the side. Each cookie is prepared, packaged and delivered with impeccable quality and care; I was overwhelmed with delight as I began pulling each them out, one more intriguing than the next. Nine unique beautifully baked goods, all drool inducing and awaiting my attention. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat these alone so I enlisted the help of the parentals – who were just as eager – to sample the variations. It was clear we were about to dive into some high-quality creations, so every moment had to be savored.

From top to bottom: Red Velvet Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Decadence, Peanut Butter Kimchi, Peanut Butter, Gluten Free Oatmeal Raisin, Vegan Gluten Free Chocolate Chip, Vegan Oatmeal Raisin, Vegan Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip. This might sound crazy and if they weren’t my own words, I don’t know if I would believe them, but I was absolutely blown away by the Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie and it was undoubtedly my favorite of the bunch. All were spectacular, especially the Red Velvet Chocolate Brownie and Chocolate Decadence, but I my number one remains the same. The flavor was incredible and if you can imagine, was simultaneously soft and crispy. It looks like they’re offering a Holiday Dozen, so if you’re looking for that perfect gift of sweet, DeLuscious has you covered. If you just can’t wait and are in the L.A. area, stop by their shop and cozy up with some cookies and milk.

DeLuscious Cookies & Milk, 829 N. Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

DeLuscious Cookies & Milk, L.A. Food Blog

Vinca Giveaway: Sriracha Earrings

It’s not every day I come across food inspired jewelry that I actually want to wear, but that all changed when I was put on to VINCA. Hailing from Austin, Texas, VINCA makes all of their products in the USA and won my heart over with these sunny side up eggs and Sriracha bottle earrings. How could you not love these? I am super psyched to be giving away a pair of Sriracha earrings to one lucky NJ in LA fan. The studs are about half an inch tall, made with acrylic and surgical steel posts. The perfect accessory when you’re craving a bowl of pho! Follow these easy instructions to enter and I’ll announce a winner a week from today.

1. Like VINCA on Facebook  /   2. Follow @NJinLA on Instagram  /  3. Leave a comment on this post

Congrats to Val Joy, you’ve been chosen as the winner!

Sriracha Earrings

The Sycamore Kitchen, Mid-City, Los Angeles

The Sycamore Kitchen has been on my “why haven’t you eaten here yet?” list for a minute, so when I was invited to enjoy a lovely breakfast at this mid-city cozy zone earlier this week, I was happy to come stroll up in the a.m. Nestled between the ever growing design and street wear stores on La Brea, this sun soaked spot is quite the reprieve from the crazy L.A. streets. The space encompasses brick, varied wood, and feels warm and welcoming. Upon looking at the breakfast menu I was overwhelmed with the choices, each selection looking better that the next. I had already made up my mind on the Jerusalem Bowl, until I reached the very last option – Eggs Benedict – and I didn’t have to think twice. At this point in my life, I could probably write an eggs Benedict guide.

The eggs benny at The Sycamore Kitchen is steping up the game, made with honey-sherry glazed pancetta, poached eggs, fried rosemary and hollandaise. The pancetta was killer, easy to slice, and tasted like pork butter in my mouth. But it was the hollandaise sauce that took the dish to the next level, with the brightest flavors of citrus in each bite. I almost felt like I was eating sunshine. The eggs where perfectly prepared and as I poked each one, I watched the yolk ooze like it was a slow motion money shot.

On the sweet side, I enjoyed a Salted Caramel Pecan Babka Roll, which came straight out of the oven, and a healthy slice of Pumpkin Loaf. The selection of baked goods are prepared daily at The Sycamore Kitchen. With pastries, loaves and muffins on display at the counter, it’s hard not to loose your mind while taking in the beautiful scene. It would be difficult not to leave here without a box of buttercups, brioche, and scones, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! For those pastry addicts (and I know many), you need to make this place a priority in your life. My sweet treats paired nicely with my Stumptown Coffee soy latte while I sipped it slowly while basking in the sun. It almost felt like I was on vacation in my own city. I cannot wait to return to The Sycamore Kitchen as I want to try almost everything on the menu, like say the Cured Salmon Tartine, with avocado capers, hard boiled egg, radish and creme fraîche. Who’s with me?

The Sycamore Kitchen, 143 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

The Sycamore Kitchen Pastries, L.A. Food Blog

The Sycamore Kitchen

The Sycamore Kitchen Stumptown Coffee, L.A. Food Blog

Sycamore Kitchen loaves, L.A. Food Blog

The Sycamore Kitchen eggs benedict, L.A. Food Blog

The Sycamore Kitchen pumpkin loaf, L.A. Food Blog

Lucky Noodle King, San Gabriel

Lucky Noodle King is one of my favorite places to eat and not just because it’s a 5 minute bike ride from my house. I have been hooked on LNK since my first meal and there have been times where you could catch me eating there at least once a week. Calling me a regular would be an understatement, but with Sichuan this good and my addiction to spicy, it is hard to stay away. I bring all my friends to Lucky Noodle King and always order the same thing for their introductory meal: Dan Dan Noodles, Wontons in Chili Oil and Chongqing Chicken. I have tried numerous dishes at my Sichuan staple, but these are the ones that consistently please any newcomer I bring in. An added bonus is the plate of complimentary pickled cabbage and peanuts tossed in chili, or a special surprise from the kitchen, like a spicy cured sausage that Lee Lee was recently testing out. Yes, I am on a first name basis at Lucky Noodle King.

Dan Dan Noodles are tops for me in the Chinese culinary game. Made to order, the noodles are typically knife cut (though I’ve eaten hand cut around town) and on the softer side. Packed with dried red chilies, crushed peanuts, minced garlic, ground pork and a dollop of peanut sauce, this colorful bowl demands tossing at the table. The flavors are rich and spicy (duh, Sichuan) but I love adding even more heat with the obligatory peppers found on the table. This bowl of noodles is so delicious it’s hard not to devote your entire meal to worshiping their creation. I must warn, you will become addicted! Next up, the Wontons in Chili Oil Sauce, topped with crushed red peppers and scallions. The broth in which these wontons live is hearty and the swirls of bright red chili oil adds to the flavor in which I crave. These are most perfect on a cold day.

Paging fried chicken lovers, the Chongqing Chicken is a stellar dish of spicy fried goodness. Simply peep that heaping mound of peppers and your tongue will be able to envision the kind of heat packed in each bite. I have been eating fried chicken in the SGV since I was a kid and there is something to be said about our popcorn pieces that stand out from the rest. At LNK, it’s fun to pluck these bad boys out from under the mountain of chilies and enjoy the spicy crunch of each morsel.

Lucky Noodle King, 534 E Valley Blvd # 10, San Gabriel, CA 91776

Lucky Noodle King Dan Dan Noodles

Lucky Noodle King Owner

Lucky Noodle King

Lucky Noodle King Spicy Wonton, L.A. Food Blog

Lucky Noodle King Spicy Sausage, L.A. Food Blog

Lucky Noodle King Fried Chicken, L.A. Food Blog

Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia

A couple weeks ago I was invited by America’s Best Racing to spend an afternoon of drinking, eating and gambling at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia. Having grown up just a few miles away and spending Easter Sunday on the infield grass eating a picnic lunch as a child, I jumped at the chance of revisiting the place where I had built fond memories of placing bets with my grandfather, watching my Dad go nuts over a horse and running around with my mother and sister just for fun. I knew things were going to be different this time around being that I am now of legal age, but I decided to still keep it in the family and asked my Father to be my date.

After taking a tour of the track, we settled in the Club House were I hit the open bar and ordered a brewski. Getting turnt up while hanging with your Dad is quite the scene on a weekday afternoon. I quickly became hungry and after taking a look at the newly developed dining area, there was no doubt I was going to order a delicious prime rib sandwich. Just look at the color and fat ends of that piece of meat! I was practically foaming at the mouth. Topped with pickles, mayonaise and mustard, this sandwich is all I needed to accompany my cold beer – I felt like a real player at the track. AMR was not only kind enough to treat me to booze and food, but happily placed $50 in my hands to give the gambling a go! This is where my Dad’s knowledge became crucial, as he broke down each race, betting tactics and feeling out the vibes of the horse. Steve James knew what was up because as I kept losing – basing my choices on names that sounded like rap songs – he kept cashing in!

I was really surprised with how much fun I had just chilling at the race track, time just flew by. Made me think of the crazy time my friends and I could have hitting the bar and then screaming at the top of our lungs as our horses crossed the finished line. Really looking forward to revisiting Santa Anita when the Breeder’s Cup comes to town November 1 – 2. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Santa Anita Race Track, 285 W Huntington Dr, Arcadia, CA 91007

Santa Anita Race Track Food

Santa Anita Race Track Beer

Santa Anita Race Track

Santa Anita Race Track Breeders Cup

Santa Anita Race Track Betting

Santa Anita Interior Design