This week, Jonathan Gold searches out Simbal, Shawn Pham's "Vietnamese izakaya, a small-plates restaurant focused on eccentric cocktails, high-acid wines and craft ales," that's hidden away in Little Tokyo. The Times critic likens the kitchen to "more of slightly funky Little Saigon fusion restaurants like Garlic & Chives than of suave post-fusion palaces like Cassia or Lukshon," and has mostly good things to say about the Vietnamese dishes:
Pham's take on the Vietnamese banh tom, dense shrimp and sweet-potato fritters transformed into a kind of crisp, pizza-size sweet-potato rösti garnished with poached shrimp and peppermint leaves, is a dish any modern Vietnamese chef would be happy to slip into his or her repertoire. The banh mi salad, the famous Vietnamese hoagie deconstructed into slivers of the pickled vegetables, cold cuts and herbs that classically fill the sandwich, tossed with chunks of toasted French bread, is a splendid idea, although I could probably do without the strong-tasting marbles of deep-fried chicken liver paste, no matter how essential they may be to Pham's conception of the dish. [LAT]
The Goldster concludes by asking, "is Simbal a tapas joint? A wine bar? New-style fusion or old-style fusion?" and recommends the larb-seasoned hanger steak tartare, crisp sweet potato with poached shrimp, bone marrow with Chinese doughnuts, and short-rib pot pie.