12.04.2009

A Starry Kitchen is Born


Top left: Assembling a veggie burrito w/kimchi stir-fried with king oyster mushrooms; top center:  spooning bulgogi ground beef into corn tortillas; top right: a bulgogi beef banh mi; center left: Columbian salsa; center middle: spicy mustard mayo garnishes a bulgogi beef burrito; center right: homemade tomatillo salsa; bottom right: "half and half"- one veggie and one bulgogi beef taco with a side of Asian slaw; bottom middle: The Kitchen Ninja assembles banh mi; bottom right: kimchi and king oyster mushrooms w/cilantro, pickled veg and rice, served with a ginger sesame sake sauce in a burrito. Photography by Nader Coobtee of Red Lantern Photography

It took the story of one couple to inspire me to finally begin a food blog. I had been wanting to start one for several years, but I have a procrastination problem. After hearing the story of how Starry Kitchen was born, I felt inspired to stop stalling and start blogging.

Starry Kitchen is the brainchild of Nguyen and Thi Tran. Thi is the "Kitchen Ninja," the culinary goddess responsible for the savory delights that are variations on Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian - well, let's just say Pan-Asian - cuisines. The twist is that you can have the meat or veggie option served in a taco, a burrito or a sandwich (like banh mi). Thi used to work in advertising, but she found herself unemployed earlier this year. Friends who had tasted her food encouraged her to give cooking a try. With nothing to lose, she jumped in head first into the world of food and foodies with her husband Nguyen. Nguyen is in charge of the "front of house," with an easygoing and welcoming personality. My brother found Starry Kitchen on Yelp! (check out their 5-star reviews), and luckily, my husband and I have been able to eat there twice (considering we live 2 hours away, I think this is an accomplishment!).

To test the waters in this new venture, Nguyen and Thi opened their North Hollywood apartment two days a week to foodies craving something new. Yes, I know. Eating at someone's apartment? Someone you don't even know? It sounded odd to us, too. But my brother said it was like eating at a friend's home - friendly, comforting and fun. So we went, and we had wonderful Vietnamese ground garlic pork tacos (the only thing left for us latecomers on our first visit). Warm corn tortillas filled with garlicky ground pork, paired with crisp shredded cabbage, cilantro, pickled carrot and daikon. The cool vegetables contrasted with the warm pork, and, for extra crunch, Thi included a fried egg roll wrapper "cigar." A delicious sauce made with ground chicken, fish sauce and a host of other ingredients finished off the tacos perfectly. Their adorable dog, GQ, waited patiently (and futilely) for tiny bits of food to drop. I didn't want to waste one bit of my tacos! Sorry, GQ.

That was our first visit. Here are some photos from that first visit.

The photos at the very top of the post are from our second visit. This time, we were the first ones to arrive! We were so early, they hadn't even had a chance to finish their set-up. No worries. We were happy to wait for the deliciousness that was to come. The options this time were bulgogi marinated ground beef and kimchi stir-fried with king oyster mushrooms (my newest favorite food). I couldn't decide, so I had the "half-and-half" -- one beef and one veggie taco -- served with a side of lightly-dressed Asian slaw. The beef was moist and extremely flavorful from the bulgogi marinade and the mushrooms had a meaty, abalone-like texture with a spicy kick from the kimchi. Being the voracious eater that I am, I wasn't full after the two tacos. So I ordered a bulgogi beef banh mi. The bread had the perfect combination of crisp crust and slightly chewy but tender crumb. I loved the fresh herbs and vegetables that filled the bread and contrasted with the sweet and savory beef. Frankly, I probably could have eaten another sandwich, but I didn't want to make a pig of myself (more than I already had).

Here are some photos of the Kitchen Ninja, Thi, in action.

The Starry Kitchen adventure continues with an actual restaurant space in downtown Los Angeles at the California Plaza.  They are taking over 8Fish and have had several trial runs already. We haven't had a chance to participate in the test runs, but I hope we can soon. The menu is a little different (no tacos, for example), but Thi's creative flavor profiles and inspired combinations are sure to remain. Become a Starry Kitchen fan on Facebook or follow their blog. December 11 is the day of the first Starry Kitchen Supper Club featuring Chinese hot pot with dungeness crab, scallops, live shrimp,Wagyu beef and more! Only twenty diners allowed, and seats are filling up!

If what I've described hasn't moved you in any way, I don't think you're alive. Go try Starry Kitchen! Your stomach will thank you.

BTW, if you are wondering how they chose the name, "Starry Kitchen," it's the name of Thi's favorite cooking show from Chinese TV.

7 comments:

  1. Mmmmm...those kimchi oyster mushrooms were pretty darned tasty.

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  2. Nice job Donna - I love the review!

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  3. Awwwww Donna... we can't wait to have you guys back. My mouth's watering looking at your pictures, and we MAKE the food too!

    Good job, and keep it up. You'll join the ranks of the top foodie bloggers soon enough!

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  4. Thanks, Dave!

    Starry Kitchen: we can't wait to try your downtown LA offerings. Thank you for your kind words, too. Please give our best to Thi!

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  5. Great job, Donna! Starry Kitchen sounds like a great place to eat an amazing meal.

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  6. Many thanks for bringing this eatery to my attention. Will definitely have to try it....sounds like a hidden jewel.

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  7. yay Nguyen and Thi! they're my buddies and they're grrrreat.

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