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I was first introduced to Vietnamese food when I lived in Washington DC. There is a large population of Vietnamese living in Northern Virginia and Vietnamese restaurants line the streets the way sushi restaurants do in Los Angeles. I have always been disappointed in not finding more Vietnamese restaurants here as I find Vietnamese food to be fresh, healthy and full of flavor. There is a large concentration of Vietnamese living in Southern California but most of the Vietnamese restaurants are located in Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. Of course, in Los Angeles you can find a smattering of Pho shops but now you can also find a modern take on Vietnamese food at Khong Ten LA in West LA. Khong Ten translates to "no name" in Vietnamese. Co-Owner and Chef Kim Vu and her partner Don Andes called the restaurant "no name" as they were developing the concept. Don wanted the restaurant to have a Vietnamese name and ironically, on his travels to Vietnam, learned the meaning of Khong Ten. What started as an inside joke stuck and ultimately it is the perfect name for the restaurant. Khong Ten is not a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. "There is really no name to describe what we are doing here," explained Kim Vu. "We are not a Vietnamese restaurant. It is more an exploration of Vietnamese cuisine." Kim is a first-generation Vietnamese-American but considers herself part of what she describes as the "third wave." She identifies as 100% Vietnamese but is nothing like her parents. She explained that "the first generation cooks like they are back home and then the second generation, especially in California, starts to use local, fresh ingredients that are available. The third generation re-imagines the cuisine of their parents."
Coffee shops are everywhere. In addition to the chain stores of Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Peet's that can be found on almost every corner, local coffee roasters and independent shops can also be found. But what about tea? Of course these places all serve tea, meaning they hand you a cup of super hot water and a tea bag that you will probably oversoak. A few will use loose-leaf teas and there are a few tea-centric spots around Los Angeles. I just happened across the newest one that opened on November 1st and Percolate is the Please The Palate pick of the week. I was dropping off my dry cleaning in a strip mall near my house. I had not had my morning cappuccino as I was out of milk and had not gone to the market yet. There had been an okay coffee shop in the same strip mall but they had barely lasted one year. I figured I would have to stop at a nearby chain store to get my fix as I went along on other errands. But as I parked my car, I noticed people coming out of the old coffee shop with coffee cups in hand. I looked closer and saw the sign Percolate, which I figured was a good sign! To percolate is to "filter gradually through a porous surface or substance." Quite an apropos name for this new tea (and coffee) shop.
West LA can add another restaurant to its long list of Japanese restaurants that line Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica Blvd, Olympic Blvd and Sawtelle Blvd. Originally in Valencia, Maru opened in the former home of Sasabune in 2013, only to close its doors for two years. Now the doors of Maru are officially open again. Located in the base of an office building with large windows that look out on Wilshire Blvd, there are two bars - a cocktail bar and a sushi bar, as well as a communal table and individual tables. The restaurant is spacious but the juniper wood tables add a sense of warmth to the space. Maru Sushi Bar Maru is owned by Chef Jason Park, a classically French trained chef. This is what sets Maru apart from the other Japanese restaurants in the area. The menu, which is seasonally inspired and market-driven, is French-Japanese. From sushi to steak, the menu has a range that will satisfy many.