Home Life Kimchi on pizza? It’s 1000 times better than pineapple

Kimchi on pizza? It’s 1000 times better than pineapple

by Margaret N. Bryan

Weiser potato and kimchi pizza from Olivia

It isn’t easy to pinpoint Chef Mario Alberto’s cooking style. He grew up preparing traditional Mexican food with his mother. He spent time in the kitchens of outspoken Californian Gjelina, Peruvian restaurant Mo-Chica, plant-based Mexican restaurant Gracias Madre and popular gastropub Freddy Smalls. So it should come as no surprise that he makes a potato-kimchi pizza at his new vegetarian restaurant, in a strip mall, in Koreatown.

Kimchi on pizza

It’s been years since Roy Choi combined kimchi and melted cheese into a quesadilla on his Kogi BBQ truck. And the world (my world) was never the same. Alberto’s pizza is a clever take on this particular combination of flavors. Its crust is nicely charred, with little crispy bubbles all over. He uses both Gruyere and Beemster Gouda for a nutty, buttery cheese base that plays up the funk of the tangy, fermented cabbage. He turns up the heat with a ton of chopped kimchi that wilts and turns pasty in the oven. And he sprinkles the pie with slices of fresh jalapeño that never soften completely during cooking.

It’s a flavor combination that cheerfully challenges all food boundaries. More kimchi on pizza, please.

Shawarma at Saffy’s

The shawarma plate at Saffy’s.

(Brigitte Neman)

Ori Menashe spent a year and a half developing his shawarma recipe for the new Saffy’s restaurant in East Hollywood. That shawarma results from months of trial and error, testing and re-testing, inspired by a trip halfway around the world to visit Chef Musa Dagdeviren of Çiya Kebap and Çiya Sofrasi in Istanbul and stand in his kitchens for two days. The chef, best known for his wife Genevieve Gergis’ Bestia and Bavel, recently opened Saffy’s as a simpler operation with a menu of kebabs and shawarma.

I tried to think about the work, the thinking, and the flying miles that went into the saucer for me. But after watching the swirling flesh for over 20 minutes, dripping, glistening, and basting in its juices, I ate as if someone had fired a starter gun as it hit the table. I hastily ripped off bits of laffa and used them to rock the hot shards of shawarma, feeling guilty for completing Menashe’s nearly two years of labor of love in a matter of minutes. But I couldn’t help it.

Menashe’s shawarma is a revelation. He stacks alternating layers of thin slices of Australian Wanderer beef with pieces of California lamb and patties made from ground versions of both types of meat. “The patties hold the juices and help get the right texture,” he said during a recent meal at the restaurant.

The meat melts into itself, rich in umami, the sweetness of the beef fat, and just a hint of gaminess from the lamb. It also dissolves into the laffa and takes on an almost creamy quality nestled in the hot bread. It is served with cool tahini, the smallest dollop of ajika hot pepper paste, and a spoonful of chopped onion, parsley, and sumac salad that looked and tasted refreshingly green.

If you go, ask for some Menashe’s “chili crunch” sauce to eat with your shawarma and just about anything on the menu (it just happens to come with the skewers). It’s his version of an Asian chili crisp: hot, sweet, smoky, and crunchy with red chili flakes, Aleppo pepper, Kashmir pepper, Hungarian paprika, Urfa, cloves, and Hawaiian spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric).

Grilled sausages and crispy rice salad at Nok’s Kitchen

A selection of grilled meats from Nok’s Kitchen in Westminster, including rib-eye, left, chicken thighs, and sausages.

(Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times)

Nothing subtle about the grilled sausages at Nok’s Kitchen in Westminster. With pronounced textures, spices and sour taste, they have the complexity of fine wine and satisfy as a composite dish. They are the meat equivalent of an exhibitionist – a show pony of flavors. You could make a meal out of a few.

“I buy my meat at Costco and cut and grind it myself,” chef-owner Nokmaniphone told Sayavong on a recent visit. “I make it with lemongrass, garlic, red onion, spring onion, black pepper, and chili flakes.”

The former restaurant server and computer scientist began selling her sausages shortly after the pandemic. She recently opened her brick-and-mortar store in a small shopping center in Westminster.

She coarsely grinds the pork tenderloin for the sausages and aromatics. A bite can surprise you with a quarter clove of garlic. You might find a piece of diced scallions or a slice of red onion in another. The bitter, almost floral tartness of the lemongrass is always present.

I devoured a whole sausage before seeing a small cup of green Newsom. The sauce swells with fresh lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, and Thai chilies. You can dip the sausages in the sauce or not. With brutal dueling flavors, I opted for the latter and saved my sauce from eating with some leftover sticky rice.

“I learned the basic recipes from my mother while growing up in Laos,” she said. “I was the oldest, so I had to learn to cook when I was eight.”

A crispy rice salad was served with squares of sour sausage, shredded fresh herbs, and peanuts. It was similar to the nam khao tod I’ve eaten in many Thai restaurants, but the rice grains were clumped together, like broken bits of good tahdig with a faint coconut taste. The irregular rice patties were crispy with a soft center, something Sayavong says is due to her use of Japanese rice. It made me appreciate carbohydrate-intensive salads even more.

Olivia, 205 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 277-1723, oliviarestaurantla.comSaffy’s, 4845 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, (424) 699-4845, saffysla.comNok’s Kitchen, 9378 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 902-1338, nokskitchen.com

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