Whenever I find myself in Little Tokyo, I'm always impressed by the multitude of delicious food choices. And since sushi seems like the obvious way to go (there are some awesome little spots), we decided to try something a little different during our last LT outing: Simbal. With Vietnamese influences, the menu resembles Asian street food with a Modern American fine dining twist. Hidden on the second floor of a mall in Little Tokyo Village, the restaurant is actually a bit difficult to find. The address isn't helpful at all, and thankfully, the restaurant has put out signs pointing diners in the right direction. They have a quite sizable space for a Downtown spot, with high ceilings and a modern, industrial feel.
Their cocktail program is fairly new to the restaurant, which opened in the summer of 2015. I ordered the Jade of Hearts, which features local, LA-made Loft & Bear vodka. It was refreshing and a bit spicy, packing a punch from that thai basil syrup and lemongrass.
Our first dish was the pork belly, which was braised in a fresh coconut juice and came with a marinated egg. The dish seemed really simple, but was packed with flavor. The pork belly was very tender (if a bit fatty, and we weren't given knives in our set up). The fresh coconut juice, impregnated with a porky, eggy flavor, was definitely the pleasant surprise of the dish and kicked off the theme of the night: delicious broth. It was light, sweet, and salty. The marinated egg was just runny enough, and was really flavorful. All together, the dish worked together nicely, and was a fun start to the meal.
Next, we ordered the seasoned rice. This seems like a simple fried rice dish, but again surprised us with its depth of flavor-- sweet, spicy, and comforting. The chili jam, salted duck egg yolk, bonito powder, and crispy garlic added layers of intense flavor and complexity, so that every bite seemed different. The little sliver of lime added a nice (and needed) brightness and acidity. Our only complaint was that the rice was maybe a tad greasy, but didn't deter us from wanting more.
Another dish swimming in a flavorful, fun broth was the tuna crudo. The tuna itself was lean yet substantial, and I particularly enjoyed the little bites of raw onion.
Our waiter recommended the Ginger Caramel Braised Jidori Chicken Thigh, which was delicious. The chicken was really tender, and the caramel gave it a nice sticky sweetness, while the ginger balanced it out nicely. The dish was pungent, and has the potential to be a real crowd pleaser.
Finally, we got the Caramel Braised Wild Shrimp with Congee and a Poached Egg. A bit like an Asian shrimp and grits, the caramel added a delicious sweetness to the congee, which was really nice albeit a bit runny. With the poached egg, the texture was all together a bit too soft, and could've used something more substantial to balance that out. The shrimp was nice, but though it was the protein, was clearly not the centerpiece of the dish.
Overall, the meal was really delicious. Each dish was complex and packed with flavor, and definitely exemplified the mix of American fine dining influences with Vietnamese and Asian street food. It was a fun change of pace from Little Tokyo's sushi scene, and we would definitely come back. We wish the restaurant wasn't so hidden, as it's a gem that deserves to be discovered.