Are you curious about that new restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard? The one with the social media star chef running the kitchen?
I’ve probably watched Tue Nguyen’s Thit Kho cooking video on TikTok 1,000 out of the 1.1 million views it has on the platform. The same goes for her rice paper egg rolls and chicken porridge videos.
Nguyen, who goes by Tway Da Bae (@twaydabae) on social media, is funny and relatable, talking you through her recipes like a friend. In one video, she accidentally breaks her beautiful jade bracelet while smashing cloves of garlic. She lets out a pained “Noooooooo” after the mineral cracks on the cutting board. I could feel her pain. As could the 6.5 million other people who watched the video.
When I heard that Nguyen was opening a restaurant with the h.wood group, the hospitality company behind some of the vibiest restaurants and nightlife spots around the country, I made a reservation.
Bò Lúc Lắc and Tuna Tartare at Di Di
Di Di is a Vietnamese restaurant, only “Tway-nized.”
The bánh xèo are turned into crunchy, coconut crepe taco shells. Mae ploy sweet chile sauce is reimagined as “Tway ploy.” To dine at Di Di is to fully immerse yourself in Tway world.
“I really wanted it to be a Vietnamese restaurant that’s not just about the pho or the banh mi,” she says on a recent call. “Me growing up in Vietnam, there’s so many other dishes that I love.”
Nguyen’s bò lúc lac is one of my favorite renditions of the dish. It’s a nod to her father, who frequently orders the beef at Vietnamese restaurants.
Bò lúc lac, or shaking beef, is named for the way you shake the pan while cooking. Nguyen marinates her beef in a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, garlic and sambal. She sears the beef in a wok, then gives it a good shake, adding even more of the marinade to the pan. The beef ends up saturated in the salty, garlicky marinade, perfectly caramelized and a just a tad sweet.
She serves the beef as a salad, tossed into a jumble of super fresh watercress, tons of mint, cilantro and basil dressed in a tart lime vinaigrette. Slivers of pickled onion and halved cherry tomatoes add nice pops of freshness to the heavily marinated beef. It’s everything you could ever want in a single bowl. And yes, it’s good on rice.
Her tuna tartare is another standout in a bowl, with squares of tuna, jicama, avocado and cucumber swimming in a tamarind and pickled garlic vinaigrette. Nguyen serves it alongside a giant puffy rice cracker coated in makrut lime dust. I drank whatever dressing was left in the bowl.
“It feels so surreal and I genuinely am in such a state of gratitude every day,” says Nguyen. “It’s different when you get support online versus when you have support in person. It’s a whole other thing when people take the initiative, make a reservation, take time out of their day.”
Will Nguyen’s restaurant signal a possible shift in who gets to open a restaurant and how? Owen Han (@Owen.han), if you’re reading this, please open a sandwich shop.
Souffle pancakes from Gram Cafe
This wasn't intended to be a TikTok-focused column, but here we are. It's my app of choice for scrolling when I can't sleep.
In your own scrolling, you may have come across plates of wobbly souffle pancakes. I'm late to the trend, and there more than a handful of restaurants serving up plates of fluffy pancakes around Los Angeles and Orange County.
During a recent visit to the Atlantic Times Square mall in Monterey Park (they have a good Daiso there), my mom suggested we try Gram Cafe. The Japanese pancake chain started in Osaka almost a decade ago, and now has more than 60 locations around the world. The specialty here is the Premium pancake, or the restaurant's name for a souffle pancake.
The teetering stacks take around 30 minutes to arrive. Diners rush to take photos while a pad of butter precariously slides across the top pancake before slipping over the edge.
They look like giant marshmallows perched atop each other, leaning to one side on the plate. Alone, they're like the angel food cake version of a pancake, with a texture like whipped egg whites barely held together in pancake form. They're vaguely sweet and eggy, disappearing quickly on your tongue. It's far too easy to finish a plate of two and have room for more.
For something a little more decadent, I recommend the Premium Crème Brûlée, which comes with a thick layer of custard cream cascading over the top and down the sides of the pancakes. Spots of crunchy caramelized sugar along the top mimic traditional crème brûlée for a few bites with a satisfying crack.
Add your name to the wait list via the iPad outside as soon as you arrive. It's typically faster than the time quoted, even on a weekend. But you'll have enough time to buy some house slippers and a back scratcher at the Daiso a few doors down.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.