Plan [to] Check [it out!]

Harbored on Sawtelle’s strip of superb Asian eats (aka Little Osaka), Plan Check s a vintage, architectural, industrial, rustic, fresh and hipster place that makes a branded burger and fries taste as good as its spatial expression. PC has been on my Bookmarks for a lengthy time, so when friends were in town visiting, I suggested to check out a cool spot on a hot day.

 

4pm on a Saturday is not your typical lunch hour, so we had pretty much the entire interior space to ourselves.

I actually got to meet and hear Terry Heller, owner of Plan Check, talk about his business at a recent Career Synergy event.

Terry purposely built Plan Check to be different than its neighboring businesses. It’s an American comfort food driven restaurant with a full bar service in a hub of many ramen, sushi and Japanese-inspired shops. To be different is a risk worth taking, especially if it proves to be successful like this!

Every ingredient is crafted in-house as much as possible and some things are just so specific like: miso mustard, ketchup leather, pig candy, spicy pickled okra.

Extra crispy fried kale on top of Swiss cheese and steak sauce, on top of portobello mushroom, on top of cheese, on top of mushroom. That’s what constitutes the Stuffed Mushroom—I wish they’d have a burger version, perfect for that vegetarian alternative.

If there’s ever a sweet potato french fry option, it’s my instinct to order it. A+ for these Sweet Potato Waffle Fries! It’s adequately crispy, mealy and toasty and I love that there’s still so much sweet potato left after the frying process. For a little more oomph, maybe some cracked black pepper and sea salt or dried parsley.

*Tip: go for the peach ketchup (top right in the photo). It’s slightly tart, kind of pulpy, and such a fun, innovative condiment.

Another weakness of mine is beet salad because it’s never really your normal tossed salad. At PC, it’s more of a worthwhile side that’s as punchy as its counterparts on the menu. Their Pickled Beet Salad is a trio of personalities: super tart and juicy beets are tamed by fresh peppercress and whipped goat cheese accessorized with pomegranate molasses and olive oil.

*Tip: dip your fresh cut fries and sweet potato fries (yes, I ordered both) into the smooth, tangy cheese along with some of that peach ketchup. Mixing and matching never tasted so good!

PC doesn’t use your average sesame bun, instead, these guys have crumbled bread crumbs on top—makes life more interesting.

Overall, a fun and retro place to hang with the gang.

Kitchen is to Bar, as Food is to Friends!

Nostalgic Noodles and Tom Yum Soup

Even for a family that doesn’t emphasize greatly on traditions, we still have our tendencies when it comes to food options. They seem to sprout and trend throughout the years. Good becomes great and then a stapled fall-back; this has especially been evident during visits back home.

For my brother, Gum Kuo Restaurant (always referred to as that small wonton noodle, Hong Kong BBQ shop in the Oakland Plaza) is his most cherished spot since junior high. Not exactly in the hippest location, but there’s something about the raw, rugged concrete building with hanging pork and weird animal parts before a glass window that screams: good, authentic and trustworthy (at least in taste). They did remodel and spruce up the rustic look in the recent past. Walls are saturated in color, menus aren’t peeling apart. Their wonton noodle soup? Still the same, brother-approved.

{Filler image until I can find one from Gum Kuo. Brother, send me one!}

Photo credit: Hoishan Chan

Curly egg noodles, juicy pork and shrimp-stuffed wontons quickly boiled in good ole’ dumpling broth is nothing short of a classic.

Photo credit: Joey L.

Most people on Yelp rave about their Jook or Congee (Chinese diluted porridge), which looks undoubtedly scrumptious.

Photo credit: Daisy T.

Second best, in my opinion, would be the Rice-wrapped Chinese donuts. The rice noodle-based wrap is sticky, chewy, wiggly because it’s so hot and fresh. Swaddle a Chinese donut (long fried dough) with it and it’s carb on carb perfection.

For my mom and I, specifically when we’re in San Francisco, it’s Tom Yum Soup and glass noodles or with rice or as is from Bangkok Noodles. A small, narrow piece of real estate on one of the city’s busiest sidewalks filled with tourists and local shoppers, Bangkok Noodles is supreme because it’s quick, sit-down Thai food made by lightning-fast chefs crafting each dish on over-exposed flames and bowl-sized ladles. The kitchen is almost half the size of the entire space vertically. Seating is congested and service is concise but for these kinds of places, the taste of food overrides all.

{below} A lighter version with clear broth, hockey puck-shaped soft tofu and glass noodles.

Soul-searching starts with Ramen

Life is all about finding your way back to the basics; with food, it’s no different.

Bar seating eating

Tatsu put together a Facebook event called Tatsu Ramen Friends & Family Nosh that serves a free bowl of ramen to anyone who gets on the guest list (by selecting “going” on the event page). After discovering today was the closing of the event, my friend, Jane and I jumped on this opportunity for ramen on the house—how RAD is that, right? Result: full-up bellies, big smiles and bright mindsets for our next ambition in life thanks to an inspirational chat with Tatsu Ramen owner, Ryu Isobe.

Ryu, owner and president of Tatsu Ramen, opened his shop which debut just last week in one of Sawtelle’s strip mall (the one with Volcano Tea House on Sawtelle and Mississippi), to craft ramen with a soul—what Ryu envisions as really good ramen

CONCEPT: “I never found a place in LA that served really good ramen, so I decided to open my own shop.” – basic explanation for a basic menu: ramen with or without broth +  just a few fresh ingredients.

Goodness starts here

Ryu, who’s originally from Tokyo, said he’s never seen this type of operation implemented in a restaurant in the States, so why not? I say, that’s one fabulous idea! (It’s almost a given; iPads are the new registers!)

People love interaction and customization, and Tatsu has just the right number of choices—not too many so you become indecisive, but enough to insure that people get what they want.

Choose between Tonkotsu (pork-based broth) or Naked (broth-less, meatless, with sauce) Ramen. Then, tailor your garlic desires, spiciness, egg no egg, and amount of green onion. Add-ons include items such as: soft egg, green onions, seaweed, sweet corn and pork cutlets. Select drinks, pay and place your order. What a fun way to check-in to a sit-down!

Bar seating

Tastu table

Photographs that ring good memories for the ramen maker.

Tatsu wall art

SPACE: In the same way the ramen isn’t over-dressed, the shop isn’t either. In fact, the space is furnished quite resourcefully: dark paint with white and red accents, wall graphics, wood flooring, ceiling panels and furniture, and thick rope that cascades the walls—just enough visuals to make it look interesting.

Naked ramen

Ramen and soft egg

I opted for Naked Ramen: “lots of garlic”, “barely spicy”, “lots of green onions”, tofu, soft egg, extra shredded seaweed and sweet corn.

This is definitely a chance to embrace the savory side! My Naked bowl was generously seasoned, super peppery, but not overly-doused in sauce. Lots of green onion paired nicely with the sauce and noodles, and that egg…still tender on the inside, spilling just a bit of yolk seals the goodness of a bowl with soul.

Ryu, Tatsu Owner

It was especially inspiring to converse with Ryu about how Tatsu Ramen came together. Thanks, again, for sharing your story. I’m so motivated by people who really just paint that vision with flying colors!

We’ll definitely be back for seconds when it’s open to the public starting May 23 and you should, too!

Itadakimasu! (Bon Apetit!)

A-Frame Gets an A

A-Frame: a basic building structure for a restaurant with anything but basic flavor!
Look out for the A-frame on Washington, pull into a small parking lot or find street parking, and step into this:

A-Frame interior

A-Frame windows

A-Frame structure

SPACE: Depending on how crowded it is, you’ll find yourself seated really closely to your neighbors who are sharing the table, but regardless, enjoy the lodge-like, cozy casual, modern hut illuminated with low, campfire-like lighting. The basic, unpolished, wooden interior with plenty of visible structure and exposed piping makes your food experience that much more “in the woods” or picnic-like. Your taste buds will be singing acapella, so listen and savor…especially since you can’t make out every detail and item on your plate (haha).

A-Frame bar

Bop away at the music; it’s awesome and many tracks are from the good ol’ 90s! Volume is set on high, so strike up the conversation by shouting and don’t be afraid to literally LOL.

FOOD: Reminiscent of Chego’s bold style, A-Frame’s food has a New-American flair and, in my opinion, an amplified level of creativity….starting with the menu!

Don’t forget to get your hands your dirty, as well as, some cavities…or one to share at least (look at the menu if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
Go all out and order courageously!

(Pardon the photos, low lights and phone camera flash won’t do the dishes justice.)

Swordfish Tacos

Swordfish tacos: I think my favorite of the night. Grilled anything creates flavorful character, especially in protein—fish, in this case! Thin slivers of red onion, lots of cilantro, grated dried parmesan, and soft-boiled tomato engulfed in soft and toasty tortilla makes a lasting impression.

Deep-fried Lobster: Just the way it sounds! With a salty exterior and stir-fried scallion, garlic and salt sprinkled all over, the lobster stands on its own, unbattered with the shell on. Like any crustacean, it takes a little effort to get to the meat, but not even your neighbor an elbow away will mind some hammering and cracking. Gotta dig for the gold!

The Veggie Nest

The Veggie Nest: A wild and colorful blend of fresh veggies: Jerusalem artichokes, kale, cauliflower, lots of toasted bread crumbs and sesame seeds, radish, mustard green and mushroom. This masterpiece is so memorable with the slightly spicy carrot vinaigrette and celery root puree. It’s definitely a saucy “salad” and had me clenching my glass of water, but for once, I didn’t mind the over-dressing…plus, the flavor had me eating in moderation.

Kitchen Fries

Kitchen Fries: Japanese purple potato, yam, and sweet potato wedges, sprinkled with sea salt, and lightly fried. The BAM comes from the kimchi sour cream dip!

Thick-ass sandwich

Dessert: Thick-ass black pepper szechuan ice cream sandwiched in salty chocolate cookies. Despite other reviews, I really enjoyed the integration of salty, cocoa, subtle peppery, creamy, cold yet soft and chewy. A more grown-up version of Diddy Reese right here.

A-Frame Menu

“let’s go bowling. with RICE.”

Chego loosely means ‘thumbs up’ in Korean. It’s like when your mouth is full and your grandmother asks how her food is, you just give her a thumbs up.”
–Roy Choi, Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2010

CONCEPT:  Bold, adventurous, and poppin’ with flavor.  The creative hybrids of Roy Choi drives your taste buds through the roof (of your mouth)! Chego is a flavor-driven joint, food-made-fast but far from fast food restaurant. While you’ll find the combination of spice, herb, seasoning, grilled, fried, sauteed to be bold and forward, every bowl is a party and you’ll wanna be with the in-crowd on this.

Chego!

Typography wall

SPACE: Just like the integration of Korean-meets-Mexican food, the interiors of Chego is bright and bold, fun and efficient. I love the loud typographic collage of C-H-E-G-O and the contrast of dark grey walls meeting a flamboyant red-orange ceiling. The wall is encompassed with neon lined shelving filled with knick-knacks and interesting found objects, reinforcing the sense of Chego playfulness. 

Chego logo

Chego sit or stand

Sit or stand at either of the two large, long tables. Eat casually, indulge socially, and enjoy the atmosphere with the company around you…unless you come on a weekday early evening, in which case, you’ll have plenty of room for grooving.

knick-knacks

FOOD: FLAVOR-FULL. The unique twang of two contrasting cuisines unleashes a revolutionary and courageous blend in the LA Food Scene. The menu is populated with fun twists, here are my recs!:

Befriend the infamous Chubby Pork Belly (without developing one of your own). I hear it’s “just. so good.”

Or if you don’t fancy meat—like me—then be inspired by Sour Cream Hen House!
Sauteed Chinese broccoli and onion with Thai basil and red jalapeno, grilled chicken (or tofu) over rice, sour cream sambal (a chili-based condiment), lots of toasted sesame seeds and lightly-fried egg. Puncture the soft yolk and lather the bowl of radiance as it binds together in hearty harmony. It’s rich, sweet, savory, grilled, spiced, peppery, toasted, aromatic, soft, crisp and creamy all at once!
Go for the Ooey Gooey fries—they are quite popular among its peers. As wild as In-n-Out’s Animal Fries, these should call out to the wild french fry-loving, sour cream appreciators.

Ooey Gooey Fries

Buttered Kimchi Chow

Buttered Kimchi Chow is a closer resemblance to Korean comfort food. I thought of it as a chaotic bibimbap. It’s spicier than the Sour Cream Hen House without the taming effects of the sour cream. I really enjoyed the herbs, Furikake (dried seasonings), and toasted sesame seeds in addition to the kimchi, red chili tofu, edamame, sauce and egg. What a party-animal concoction!

Wallets remain in safe weight range. Your appetite sits at spicy satiation And leftovers? Even better reheated the next day.

Chego is a popular take-out place, too, since service is quite speedy and the food is so portable. Place your order online, skip the line, go straight to the kitchen and holler for someone to get your order. No fear, the staff is super friendly!

What other people have to say about Chego!

Also, visited A-Frame recently. Next up: Alibi Room!

800 Degrees and Rising!

Casual, fresh food accentuated with an authentic Italian flair, a bold concept, spiked with a fun twist for Westwood, LA. 

The discovery: While taking a digestive walk after dinner, we trekked down Lindbrook Drive and were astonished to find the new, much-talked-about pizzeria! Apparently a second stomach for Dessert exists for 800 Degrees, too!

Space: the slightly swanky yet casual atmosphere dressed in dark wood furniture and black-and-white tiles connotes a masculine edginess that wires customers for a fun meal ahead—there really is something about elasticity in (food) creativity, especially in building your own pizza from the dough up! Warm lighting hit the spacious dining area, which is super populous with seating. Since there’s “no saving seats”, luckily these pies can be super portable in a graphically-appealing cardboard box you can take with you to-go.

Concept: With a Chipotle-like concept of custom-building your pie, 800 Degrees leaves you with full-up satisfaction without an over-stuffed giant burrito aftereffect. (I still love Chiptole!). You can follow your 10″ personal pizza from tossed dough to oven, which bakes quickly since the toppings are already cooked and the crust is so thin.

800 Degrees embraces tradition, too, which means they honor the Vera Pizza Napoletana style, a pizza-making method cultivated from Naples. There is an established movement to help protect the tradition of baking properly kneaded dough in a wood-fired oven for—get this—no more than 90 seconds! No processed ingredients or toppings can make it onto the dough, after all, freshness is not an acquired taste.

Feeling colorful or vegetarian-inspired? Go for the Burrata and Beet Salad.
A vegetarian’s personal pizza preferences: olives, wild mushrooms, artichokes and EXTRA garlic on Pizza Marinara (cheese-less crust). Tastes so similar to what I had in Italy!

*Caution: The pizza crust is very thin and the toppings tend to be in the center, so even using both hands will have you leaning in and playing catch with your mouth open wide.

Master your order (with no buyer’s remorse):

What do other people think about 800 Degrees?