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A Street Off the Beaten Culinary Path

May 4, 2011

Those of you who are fans of the Bravo series “Top Chef Masters” may know the name Susan Feniger.  She was on the first season of the show – she was the hippie-ish, funny lady who specialized in Mexican and international street food (her partner Mary Sue Milliken is on the current season). Chef Feniger owns a couple of restaurants in Los Angeles– Street and Border Grill (formerly “Ciudad”).  Street’s menu is comprised of small plates, based on street food items found in a wide variety of countries, from Singapore to Morocco, Syria to Greece, and some Japanese and southern U.S. thrown in as well.  With such a large conglomerate of flavors and creative approaches to regional cuisines, one might think there is too much variety, causing some dishes to miss the mark. It turns out that assessment is correct, but nonetheless, Street offers a delicious variety of unique flavors that satisfy the taste buds.

There were only a few patrons at 7:30 on a Thursday, but by 9:00 the place was just about full (typical of a Hollywood restaurant). Street offers both indoor and heated outdoor dining, and we elected for the latter.  Our party of six began with an assortment of adult beverages – Street has a nice wine list and a really good selection of craft beers, along with some creative signature cocktails, like the Bacon Bloody Mary. Yup, bacon. Made with bacon-infused vodka, it had a great horseradish kick to it and you could taste the subtle smokiness of the bacon flavor.

The food started out great – we were served a bowl of these little balls made of millet (a grain), marshmallows, curry powder, spices, and currants. They were outstanding – think sweet and savory popcorn balls.

Our upbeat server suggested that each person order two or three dishes, ensuring there would be enough for everyone to try each dish. So here are the 14 things we ordered: Kaya Toast, Spinach Varenyky, Ricotta Noquis, Lamb Kafta Meatballs, Bhel Puri, New Jerusalem Bread Salad, Sashimi, Asian Long Beans, Nopales Relleno, Cheese Grits, Smashed Potatoes, Sautéed Calamari, Tatsutage Fried Chicken, and the Saag Paneer and Daal.  You can tell just from the names of these dishes how varied and international Street is.

Let’s start with the few items that didn’t quite live up to our expectations. The Smashed Potatoes tasted fine, with sour cream and pepper topping the well-cooked potatoes, but it was a dish you could get anywhere; there was nothing special about it. The same could be said about the grits; they were very cheesy, but again, nothing you couldn’t find somewhere else.  The calamari was also disappointing – cooked with Greek flavors like oregano, lemon juice, garlic and almonds, we expected more flavor. But it was somewhat bland, and the calamari rings were cut so thin that we didn’t get that nice bite of the mollusk we were hoping for.  The saag paneer and daal, a usually marvelous Indian dish, was also lacking in flavor.

Now on to the highlights of the meal.  The Kaya Toast is Street’s signature dish, a Singaporean food and one of the most unusual things we tried. Coconut jam was sandwiched between pieces of white toast, served with a sunnyside up egg and a soy-based sauce. We were instructed to break the yolk, and then dip the toast into the egg-soy mixture.  It was a delightful combination of sweet and savory – the coconut flavor was fairly subtle, and the egg–soy mixture was a nice contrast.

The Spinach Varenyky were described as Ukranian in origin – they were like perogies stuffed with spinach and cheese, then pan-fried and served with onions, sour cream and lemon marmalade. They were cooked perfectly and the flavors were delicious.

The Ricotta Noquis were a play on gnocchi, but were little scoops of ricotta cheese served with tomatillo and chipotle salsas. It was an interesting combination, but worked well.

The Lamb Kofta Meatballs were one of our two favorites. The meatballs were overflowing with juicy flavors, served over Syrian cheese on pita flatbread with incredibly tasty dates. It was a beautiful dish, blending the savory meatballs with the salty Feta-like cheese and sweet dates.

Bhel Puri is an Indian sweet potato salad, with chickpeas and rice in a tamarind cilantro dressing. Again, the flavors were fantastic.  The other salad, the New Jerusalem Bread Salad, was very fresh and tasty, featuring chickpeas, Feta, croutons and veggies in a light vinaigrette.

The nopales relleno featured cactus paddles (a common ingredient in authentic Mexican cooking) stuffed with cheese, pan fried, and topped with chipotle salsa; basically it was a chile relleno with cactus instead of the chile pepper.  They were very tasty.

The sashimi had ahi tuna with a spicy mayo and ponzu sauce. It was very light, fresh, and delicious, as were the Asian Long Beans, which were coated in garlic and ginger, and were cooked perfectly.

The absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Tatsutage Fried Chicken. Marinated in soy, mirin and sake and then dipped in rice batter and fried tempura style, the chicken was juicier than any chicken we’d ever experienced. The light batter gave it great flavor; this blend of Japanese and soul food was absolutely amazing. It was served with a great carrot-radish salad and cold sesame noodles. If you go to Street, this dish and the lamb meatballs are must-haves.

We did try a few desserts, despite the protests of our full bellies. The Turkish Doughnuts were dense and flavorful, served with a tangy cardamom rose syrup. The chcocolate malt parfait was also very good, with bits of flourless chocolate cake mixed with malted whipped cream, cherry caramel and hazelnut brittle. The standout dessert was the Thai Tea Crème Caramel, a Thai tea custard infused with caramel. It tasted something like pumpkin pie and Thai iced tea – it was uniquely delicious.

Dinner at Susan Fenigar’s Street is not cheap, especially with a large group. The dishes range from $6 to $17 per plate, so be careful not to over order. But with 8 of the 12 dishes being really good, we felt it was worth it. Our constructive criticism would be that they should scale back the menu a bit, letting the mediocre dishes fall to the wayside.  But overall, great atmosphere, well-conceived and delicious food, and a friendly wait staff make it worth a road trip to Street.

The Mouse House Kitchen gives Street 4 out of 5 stars!

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