An Open Door to World Cuisines
Open Door is an Asian fusion restaurant that isn't afraid to mix up genres, ingredients and common sense. Set in the heart of Monterey Park, Calif., home to many dim-sum and noodle restaurants, its walls are painted like giant ukiyo-e screens and the tree sitting in the middle of the 28-seat room is lit with electric candles.
But like any good izakaya, Open Door serves tasty food that goes well with sake and beer. You don't have to look any further than the mural on the back wall for a recommendation on what to eat and drink.
I had never seen this beer in Japan or the U.S. before.
If you didn't know that you were in the middle of a restaurant, you'd think that you were on a spaceship because of the way the sake bar is illuminated. The tanuki statue to the left, along with the Japanese subway station sign hung under the ledge, reminds you that you are here to eat Japanese cuisine.
But it wasn't traditional Japanese cuisine. Melted truffle butter was drizzled on the edamame for an earthy but crunchy start to the meal.
Tonight's whitefish sashimi was halibut. Basted in a ponzu sauce with tiny crowns of chopped scallions, the dish was my favorite of the night.
When I mentioned earlier that Open Door mixes common sense, I was referring specifically to the truffle tater tots served with ketchup and mayonnaise. Though some online critics raved about the tots, I couldn't quite get into them. There were too many memories of elementary school lunches.
The seared salmon tasted as if it was torched ever so gently with a blowtorch, just as the wagyu beef in the Philly cheesesteaks at Jose Andres' Bazaar were.
The tomato and onion salad was my second least favorite dish. The caramelized onions weren't mushy or sweet enough to my liking, and the tomato slices were too cold and hard. I would have preferred the whole dish to be roasted, with only the crunchy bonito flakes dancing frenetically on the tongue.
The black cod was cooked perfectly with a sweet sauce. The presentation, however, was rather odd. Was it supposed to resemble a boat, with the shrimp crackers resembling sails and the banana leaf serving as the steer?
The beef carpaccio arrived so late in the meal that the 15 of us at the table were trying to dump it onto the other person. I would have eaten more if the beef had been sliced paper-thin.
This was one of the best examples of Asian fusion cooking: Korean-style kalbi ribs with fried potatoes.
This was another favorite of the night: steak tartare topped with a raw quail egg.
This was the surprise hit of the night: potatoes with a dollop of cream and fish roe.
We tossed all the ingredients together in a hot cast iron pot with a wood spoon. I liked this so much that I am determined to improve my knife skills just so that I can julienne the potatoes and make this dish at home.
Open Door managed to fuse French, Japanese and Korean culinary traditions in its menu. It added another country -- Mexico -- with the cinnamon-dusted churros. The pastry's sweet crunchiness complemented the earthiness from the edamame and truffle butter that kicked off the three-hour meal. The fried flutes were like exclamation points ending a long, fun evening.