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This Week's Passion for Asian
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Diane Scalia
Diane Scalia
May 24, 2009

Celebration of delicious diversity

One of the kindest gifts from the Universe to Los Angeles - and I've said this 10000 times before - is that so many beautiful immigrants came here, and brought their food with them. It's that very gift that inspired the birth of our Melting Pot Food Tours. And, that celebration of delicious diversity is surely one of the things that makes me get out of bed every day.

We regularly entertain Angelenos from all corners of Asia on our tours and I am always needling them to tell me about their foods. Yet, it had been months, or at least weeks, since I'd had an authentic Asian meal out. My body must have been craving their flavors, as evidenced by all of the dining out I've done in the last 4 days (and daily dining out is very rare for me).

Equally rare is blogging on a Sunday, but I'm over-the-moon excited about 3 places I would love you to know about as soon as possible...in the event that you too, start to feel some Asian on the brain coming on.

Within walking distance from my home in Redondo Beach, is Casa Arigato. I was originally lured their way because I was told they make the most creative foam art on their lattes. Here we have an exquisite Japanese cafe, run by the loveliest women who care for you like family, and the espresso they serve is Pasquini from Italy (same as that served at our beloved Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts in Farmers Market). While on a much-deserved coffee break the other day - ocean breezes and sunshine + Arigato's extremely comfortable patio chairs luring us to stay longer - we decided to share one of their lunch specials once the table next to us began dining way too well.

food tour guests in la

For about $10

For about $10, we enjoyed an incredibly delicious combination platter that included butter-tender salmon, miso soup, shrimp and vegetable tempura, rice, California sushi roll, and salad. Ultra-fresh and spectacular, it was enough to fill us both up. We walked home oh-so-happily along the beach, marvelling at our good fortune.

On Friday after leading my tour of 11 grownups and two baby twins - pure pleasure, all of it - I felt like I was being divinely led to the Singapore Banana Leaf at the Farmers Market. (I was.) The joy of savoring Indonesian cuisine here in LA is rare since there are so few places that offer it. The Banana Leaf has a very sweet history at the Market, which I will elaborate on later, but for now you just have to put it on your go-yesterday list!

A big fan of their Gado-Gado salad which is a warm vegetarian salad topped with out-of-this-world peanut sauce, I wasn't that hungry and opted for their cold Rojack salad instead. It is dressed with a spicy peanut-tamarind dressing that, I promise you, I about slurped off of its banana leaf once I finished the salad of spinach, tofu, jicama, cucumber, apple, and pineapple. Thankfully, for everyone concerned, they had a spoon I could finish it with and, I did not leave one drop. I'm sure I sounded only half-lucid - because I thought I'd died and gone to heaven - when I asked to please buy some of the dressing. I promised my kind host that it was the best thing I'd ever had in my life. He was more than happy to sell some to me and I felt privileged beyond measure to hand over the money.

Last night

Last night, LuAnn saved me once again, from my own exhaustion (and sloth) when she invited me to try a new Vietnamese place that she and our friend Juli had stumbled upon earlier in the day. If you are near Torrance (and even if you're not), two words: Saigon Flavor. This little eatery at the corner of Carson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard does not have a website for us to savor, but they do have about 64 item menus, 2 of which I ate last night. Rest assured, I will be returning at least 62 more times.

They've also got at least 3 aquariums with fish and turtles that entertain you silly (especially if LuAnn is there to add color commentary), some of the funkiest dining furniture in the land, and prices that almost seem like a mistake. Dinner for 3 (including take-home for them; I'm no fool, I cleaned my plates!) cost about $33, and we were stuffed. Their photo menu is filled with traditional dishes and I was very enthusiastically impressed (just ask LuAnn and Juli) with their clean, fresh flavors and enticing presentations. If you're not familiar with this outstanding cuisine, start with the spring or egg rolls, and a Rice Vermicelli dish with your choice of meat, tofu, or shrimp. Or, just keep an open mind and select anything that you think has your name on it - you won't go wrong!

And so today, I am at home cooking and dining a little more on the 'west' side of east-meets-west. I had huevos rancheros for breakfast, have fresh Italian bread dough rising as I write, and dinner will have more of a Euro accent.

Life is such a delicious banquet. How fabulous is all that.

Oh by the way, this post doesn't even go into detail about the off-the-charts Indian cuisine Lisa and I indulged in during our Old Pasadena tour R&D. (Have I ever mentioned how much we love our jobs?) For that, you'll have to stay tuned. We're just sellin' the sizzle here, not the steak...

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday weekend,

Your Tour Maestra,

Diane Scalia

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