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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Starry Kitchen in Downtown Los Angeles

Ballsy, attitude, and different.  Which word better describes Starry Kitchen, I wouldn't be able to choose.  Customizable foods, creative minds, and the confidence to plate it.  Starry Kitchen.

What else is it?  It's a customizable restaurant.  They give you a protein, you choose how it'll be eaten (wrapped, with bread, etc.) and you choose a side.  Great concept.  Their menu changes often so you'll never get tired of the countless possibilities here.

The chef at Starry Kitchen knows what good food is.  Taking a chapter from Momofuku's "I'll serve it as long as it tastes good" attitude combined with Anthony Bourdain's "I don't give a F* what others think" attitude, Starry Kitchen is able to bring a new twist to the boring lunches these office workers in downtown LA face everyday.

What makes this place right?  To start off, the protein.  The proteins start off as high quality ingredients that the chef masterfully creates into whatever he wants.  Then there's the compliments.  A good amount of veggies accompany the proteins where it creates a fresh flavor profile.  I'm sure the owners are Vietnamese as there is a lot of Vietnamese notes to the food.  One minor issue I had with the veggies was that the jalapenos are cut too thick.  Instead of huge chucks, I prefer slices, or even better would be to have them julienned into matchsticks.  The 'carbs' are not overdone where it hampers the ability to taste the star proteins.

The first protein I tried was the lemongrass chicken.  Dark meat, wonderfully seasoned and perfectly cooked. Juicy, tender, succulent meat.  It was so good.  The veggies that came with it, just perfected the meat.  They suggested that I got it in a wrap, and it was pretty bomb.  I can see it working with banh mi as well.

The basil fried rice was okay.  It had some chilis thinly sliced to it and some basil (of course).  The rice itself was a bit on the bland side.  It also tasted a bit old.  Like a day old.  I know you're supposed to use old rice for fried rice, but it tasted like the actual fried rice was cooked days in ahead.

The other protein I tried was the deep fried pork chop.  This was also wonderful.  Just as ambitious as the lemongrass chicken... and well, deep fried love is deep fried love.  It was crispy, and very rich.  Very good.

But honestly, the meat wasn't the best part of the sandwich.  It was the banh mi baguette.  I can say with certainty that this was the best banh mi bread I've ever had in my life.  I've had banh mi in Vietnam and many different places.  But this bread had a buttery taste to it.  And the texture, oh my.  Normally with banh mi baguettes, I'm worried about it scratching the sides or roof of my mouth.  Not with this one.  It was just flaky and crispy enough to give it that crunch that you love from banh mi's... but without the scratches from the overly hardened exterior.  Again, best banh mi baguette, ever.

The curry noodles I got with the banh mi was actually a bit disappointing as well.  Definitely on the bland side.  I think they were trying to continue with the 'fresh' theme.  It was creamy and bright, definitely, but its lack of flavor really hurt it.  I added a splash of lime onto it for flavor which helped, but a bit of salt, or just a thicker and more affluent coconut taste to it could have helped.  They may have omitted the coconut altogether, because I did not taste any of it.

Again, this is definitely a great lunch spot.  I almost wish that I work in downtown LA just so I could have an excuse to have lunch here more often.  But alas, parking is horrible and it's so far from me (in addition to typical LA traffic) which definitely prevents me from dining here more often.  It saddens me but hopefully others will take the concepts of the Starry Kitchen and expand it.  I'm already seeing trends in customizable restaurants and I'm hoping more will make it closer to where I live.  If you're ever in the area, give this place a try.  Two huge dishes for under $20.  New, innovative, and fresh.

Starry Kitchen
350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071