Location: 319 E 2nd St Suite 202, Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 626-0244
Date: October 28, 2016
Cuisine: Modern Vietnamese
Rating: Great subtle Southeast Asian flavors
In the last 1-2 years the LA Restaurant Zeitgeist seems to have picked up a decided South East Asian vibe. It’s really the “new fusion.” No one wants to use that word anymore, and it doesn’t have the old school 80s/90s X meets Y vibe (like say Asia de Cuba), but it’s fusion nonetheless. Still, I love the bright SEA flavors, so all good.
Simbal is Downtown, really more or less in Little Tokyo, across the street even from the lousy Honda-ya poke joint.
The decor is awesome modern by the very same designer that works with on Ramen Roll, the talented Terri Robison from Studio Unltd.
From my cellar: 2002 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. BH 93. This too is very opulent with a richness and breadth of aromas that is dazzling in their sheer range. Big, powerful, very masculine and exceptionally intense flavors blessed with huge extract but despite the size and weight, this also has the best acid/fruit balance of any of these 1ers plus this absolutely coats and stains the palate. In fact, there is an interesting textural quality by virtue of all the sap yet the finish is quite dry. A great effort that explodes on the backend and lingers for minutes.
Adam brought: 2012 Pierre Morey Bourgogne Blanc. BH 88. A discreet hint of wood sets off the ripe yellow orchard fruit aromas that lead to impressively rich and suave medium weight flavors that possess plenty of dry extract before concluding in a surprisingly robust and balanced finish that is appealingly dry. Good stuff for its level.
Wild Octopus Grilled. Tomato and corn salad, tamarind dressing, thai basil. Nice bright octopus prep, like a Spanish version crossed with Vietnamese.
Pungent Seasoned Rice. Chili jam, salted duck egg yolk, bonito powder, crispy garlic. Yummy umami salty blend of complex subtle flavors.
From my cellar: 2010 Quarticello Rivellino Emilia IGT. 91 points. Terrific Lambrusco, with plenty of earth, cut and cherry fruits. Completely different that what many know as Lambrusco. Not sweet or generic by any means. This wine is begging for Prosciutto. It’s deep red, with a hint of the barnyard and very very dry.
Braised Oxtail. Congee, oxtail jus, pickled mustard greens, herb salad. I loved the look, texture, and the flavor of this dish. Photos well too. Bright Vietnamese flavors, soft congee, and fatty braised oxtail. Sort of like a Vietnamese braised beef on polenta.
From my cellar: 1993 Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Champans. 94 points. Nose: Gorgeous red berries, strawberry, game, spice and leather notes. Palate: Beautifully resolved silky and balanced in the mouth. Great red fruit that gives sweet cherry, cranberry, red currant and sappy raspberry. This is backed up by minerality and a gamey note of raw duck and some sweet spices and pine notes. Complex and giving right now. Finish: Wow. grows more detailed as it finishes with a complex range of nuance.
Muscovy Duck Breast. Sesame oil, ginger, pickled hon shimeji mushrooms. Very subtle with a lovely flavor.
Jidori Chicken Thigh. Ginger caramel braised, scallions. Probably the best version of “caramel sauce chicken” I’ve had.
Heavenly Beef. Coriander, garlic, dry aged beef fat. Awesome! There seemed to even be a bit of Szechuan peppercorn in here. Very flavorful. Great version of this “French Style Beef”.
Pork Belly Braised. Fresh coconut juice, marinated egg. Melt in your mouth soft with a lot of great flavor. Not exactly lean!
Rib Eye Steak. Kecep manis glaze, roasted garlic fried potatoes. Super smokey, partially the potatoes (which were awesome). The meat was really good too.
Coconut Flan. Tamarind caramel, coconut snow (dairy free, includes eggs). I loved this. The tamarind gave it a very strong limey taste so it was extremely coconut/acid (like my coconut lime sorbet). The texture was soft and bread-like with that powdery coconut.
Overall Simbal has a fabulous kitchen (not to mention an awesome space and great service). This is a quite different take on the New Vietnamese than a place like Cassia which is spicer and has more influence from Singapore. I’d say the Eastern influence here at Simbal is almost entirely Vietnamese, and some of the dishes like the Heavenly Beef and Chicken Thigh are fairly close to their native versions. But many others are sort of crossed with the format of “New American” or more European influence. This makes the actual items on the menu seem more in a New American or New French vein, but yet each is blended with Vietnamese flavor — or interpreted through a Vietnamese filter. This is most typified by the Muscovy Duck where it’s kind of like Tea Smoked Duck meets Vietnam meets a French duck prep.