[My First] Restaurant Review: Magical Eating at Black Rabbit Rose and Crying Tiger (LA Weekly)
It took nearly a dozen years, but it finally happened: I wrote my first official starred restaurant review. It is for LA Weekly and I couldn't be happier that it is for my hometown paper. Let this serve as a reminder to never give up on your dreams, kids.
Originally published in LA Weekly on November 14, 2017.
As a proud native of Los Angeles, I've spent much of my life challenging out-of-towners who declare certain things as being "only in L.A." However, I admit that the new joint venture by Houston Hospitality and chefs Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip of Luv2eat Thai Bistro — Black Rabbit Rose and Crying Tiger — is exactly that.
Where else in the world would someone dip in for a plate of sweet nam tok "waterfall beef" bao bursting with fish sauce, enjoy a burlesque magic cabaret show, sip on the booziest possible rendition of a Thai iced tea, and get a tarot card reading while waiting for the restroom? And where else might you be politely denied all of this Hollywoodness at the door because your snapback violates the dress code?
As is obvious to those of us who've had the privilege of getting faded within the vicinity of Thai Town and subsequently had an epiphany over fried noodles at 3 a.m., Thai food is the official cuisine of Hollywood. After a long night in this part of town, a craving for pad kee mao kicks in like clockwork. While there are numerous late-night options generous enough to stay open past last call to feed us when we're at our worst, Black Rabbit Rose is the first of its kind. That's because Thai food is the headliner of the night, not just something to eat after drinking.
This establishment actually caters to both needs, and there are two experiences to be had: no-frills takeout from the Crying Tiger window on Hudson Avenue and a leisurely dinner inside Black Rabbit Rose's mysterious, barely lit lounge. Both are rewarding in their own ways, with plenty of diversity in their respective menus to cater to every level of Thai food enthusiast.
You really should consider Black Rabbit Rose for your next date night, as I don't know a soul who wouldn't be charmed by strong cocktails, tableside magic tricks and esoteric ambiance based on the magic arts. Here you'll find a condensed version of the menu available at Crying Tiger, with some of the takeout window's safe options, but it's enough of a variety to create a great meal. If you're a human who loves food, you will immediately gravitate to the tamarind orange chicken. And, yes, you should order it, because unlike its cloying mainstream cousin it's not too sweet.
The garlicky chicken shui mai may seem out of place outside of a dim sum restaurant, but at nighttime in the middle of Hollywood they will still disappear as soon as the plate lands on your table — because chewy, freshly steamed, juicy dumplings make for perfect drinking food. They may be traditionally Chinese but they adapt well to new surroundings. Unlike the ones you would choose off a cart, these luscious dumplings are filled with ground chicken and water chestnuts instead of the usual pork and shrimp, and topped with fried garlic rather than fish roe. In Thailand, by the way, they are called kanom jeeb and are not always affiliated with dim sum.
If a well-thought-out cocktail with your dinner makes your day as it does mine, you'll have a good time here. Try the Freddy Naff, made with tamarind and whiskey, and the Siamese Twin, which will make you ponder why you've never tried spiking a Thai iced tea with cognac. That said, I would suggest ordering only a single cocktail and washing down the rest of the meal with an ice-cold Singha. Most dishes do swerve to the sweeter side and would benefit from a few big squeezes of lime and generous dashes of fish sauce. Thus, everything goes down easier with a beer.
Those of you with a sweet tooth might have to drive down to Bhan Kanom Thai dessert shop for some pandan buns, because there are no desserts on the menu.
If timing works out, a roaming magician might come to your table and briefly trip you out with a card trick while you're stuffing your face. If your timing is not right, you'll have to settle for the real-life magic that is simply being tended to by the kindest staff I've encountered in Hollywood, complete with a door guy who welcomes you with a smile and may ask how your night is going so far. You will pay for this old-school hospitality, since there's an automatic 20 percent gratuity added to your check.
If you don't care for any of this Hollywood magic fancy stuff and just want some good old-fashioned room-temp Thai food out of clamshell containers to pig out on at home, then Crying Tiger may be the takeout window of your dreams. But don't come in a hurry. The wait times can be inconsistent. On a weekday visit at 10 p.m., the scene outside Crying Tiger could have been a deleted scene from Trainspotting. In the unexpectedly long 40 minutes it took to prepare my food, a dude propped up his backpack at a ledge next to the window (intended for brave diners to eat on) and used the surface to dissect his cigarettes and roll the most masterful, fattest spliffs I've seen.
The Crying Tiger window is located front and center on Hollywood Boulevard, right across the street from the iconic Dolores Del Río mural, so there are plenty of things to keep you entertained while your food is being prepared, assuming you don't want to cough up $30 to catch the live magic show at Black Rabbit Rose.
Once you finally get your food, you should do your best not to drive home recklessly (the appetizing smells might tempt you to become a voracious speed demon). Most of the menu items travel well, so you can drive safely. As for the ones that don't, such as the sun-dried fried beef jerky, the staff will cut the corners of the takeout box so that its contents can breathe and stay crispy. The jagged rice in the crispy rice salad is packed separately from the rest of the larb-like composition of salted ground pork and pungent vegetables, so you can mix it all up at home. It definitely hits the spot, but it won't dethrone Night + Market's or Renu Nakorn's flavor-bomb versions. Same with Crying Tiger's jade noodles with BBQ duck, which will flirt with your late-night craving for the L.A. original at Sapp Coffee Shop up the street but will not satisfy it. Both also demanded more lime juice to counter the kitchen's affinity for sweetness. Luckily I had some in the fridge.
The major disappointment was Crying Tiger's much-hyped braised baby squid with ink over rice (it's never fun to chew on a gladius — the plastic-like quill inside the squid that should ideally be cleaned out). But even so, I could still see myself making a pit stop here for some tamarind orange chicken and crispy rice after an Anti-Flag show at the Troubadour.
BLACK RABBIT ROSE | Two stars | 1719 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood | (323) 461-1464 | blackrabbitrose.com | Dinner: Tue.-Sat., 6 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., 3-10 p.m. | Appetizers: $5-$11; entrees: $9-$12 | Full bar | Valet and street parking
CRYING TIGER | Two stars | 1721 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood | cryingtigerla.com | Takeout only: Tue.-Sat., 6 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., 3-10 p.m. | Appetizers: $5-$11; entrees: $9-$12
Following the September departure of restaurant critic Besha Rodell,L.A. Weekly is publishing reviews from a number of voices. Javier Cabral has been writing about food, including for L.A. Weekly, since he was 16. His work has appeared in Saveur, Los Angeles Magazine, the L.A. Times and Vice.