The Country Kitchen

Lately I’ve really been falling in love with Malibu. This beach town that seems isolated from the rest of LA, easy to dismiss as an enclave of affluence and snobbery, truly offers more than meets the eye. Of course it is an absolutely beautiful place to be, and when I drive up the PCH, each time I turn a corner and see a breathtaking vista of hills and ocean, I am reminded that yes, there is some natural beauty to be found in this sprawling, smoggy city. I know we are very lucky to live in a place with perfect year-round weather and a long stretch of Pacific coastline, but I do think it’s easy to forget how lovely this city can be when you’re driving back and forth to Hollywood or Downtown every day, staring at taillights on the 10 or construction on La Brea. The drive up to Malibu is free, and it’s really a welcome retreat. Another thing I love about Malibu is that it’s actually quite eclectic. Certainly, Malibu is home to Nobu and Geoffrey’s and the swank Malibu Country Mart, the most luxurious mall I’ve ever visited. But Malibu is also home to Cholada Thai and Malibu Seafood, two wonderful casual dining spots with beach shack vibes and relatively cheap, delicious eats. I love that over the span of one lazy afternoon spent lounging, reading, surreptitiously people watching outside of the excellent Cafecito Organico, one will probably spot at least two celebs, most likely sipping a juice or a smoothie from the popular health food spot Sun Life Organics, followed by a bunch of shoeless teenagers eating breakfast burritos from Lily’s, followed by a couple of crazy people screaming about the day's headlines. You will probably witness someone trying to get his or her script to one of the celebs, and a really hot, expensively swathed mom striking up a conversation and planning to meet up later with a young aspiring model guy. I have had a couple of delightfully strange afternoons eating my dragon bowl from Sun Life and watching it all go down.

But this is a blog about cheap eats, and I am not going to suggest that you shell out $10 or more for a Sun Life smoothie (even though I do think they’re worth it). Instead, I have a Malibu offering that will never break the bank and always over-deliver. Country Kitchen is a roadside walk-up counter under a blue awning that serves breakfast burritos all day, and you will be blown away by the deliciousness of these $5 burritos. On my first venture to Country Kitchen I ordered the burrito with egg, cheese and potatoes, and added avocado and salsa. Boy did I get a pleasant surprise when I bit into my burrito to find that the potatoes were in fact some sort of hash brown incorporated into the filling. The result was a salty, slightly spicy, eggy, cheesy, crunchy, savory breakfast of the Gods. The salsa is perhaps not spicy enough for my fiery tastes, but it is flavorful and chunky and the big pieces of tomato add a needed freshness to the burrito. The creamy avocado is the perfect foil to the crunchy potato.

There is something respectable, I think, about the fact that this place is selling coffee that is considerably worse than anything I have had off the free beverage cart on an airplane. I wouldn’t recommend buying the coffee, but I like that Country Kitchen does not have one bit of snobbishness about it. It is a legit beach shack with some old school, homestyle eats. They also offer burgers, grilled cheeses, etc. It may stick to your ribs, and you may want to wait until after you hit the beach to hit Country Kitchen. But some things are just worth a calorie splurge. And for $5, you will be full and happy for quite some time.

Incidentally, it was a student who originally suggested Country Kitchen to me, and when my husband first tasted his breakfast burrito there, he proclaimed that whoever told me about this place should get his Golden Aleph (a prize we award students with much ado when they learn every letter and vowel in the Hebrew alphabet). That’s an endorsement! Egg, cheese and potato breakfast burrito


When my husband and I traveled to Tokyo for the first time in November, we feasted on a vast array of Japanese delights, from soba to sushi, yakitori to Yamazaki (read all about the trip in great detail here). One delight perhaps unrivaled on the trip was to be found at breakfast time, in the lovely dining room of our hotel. We stayed at the Park Hyatt, where the film “Lost in Translation” was shot, a luxury we certainly couldn’t have afforded but for the fact that we have a lot of flexible travel points. The hotel was the epitome of refinement, and the staff, like everyone we met in Japan, was beyond polite. Once at breakfast someone on the wait staff noticed I had opened a packet of Vitamin C powder and was pouring it into my water glass. I opened my mouth to say to my husband, “I need a—" when the man appeared at my side with a small spoon on a napkin. It was unreal. Breakfast was included in our room rate at the Park Hyatt, and they had a lovely buffet as you may imagine, as well as a variety of menu items available, but the real treat was the Japanese Breakfast. A dazzling array of different delicacies—smoked salmon filets with a wedge of lemon and a tiny bite of sweet potato in a perfect cylinder; miso soup; steamed Japanese vegetables with sesame sauce; tamago; tiny fish (eels?) with salt and lemon; burdock and carrot salad; steamed rice, and my favorite part, two varieties of fresh tofu and boiled spinach, meant to be spooned out of their broth with a small grate provided to each diner and dipped in a ponzu/soy sauce soup. The tofu was heavenly, the consistency soft and delicate. Every item was preciously plated, light and delicious. This breakfast was a meal that made you feel…spoiled.

Japanese Breakfast at the Park Hyatt
Japanese Breakfast at the Park Hyatt

I have always thought that Japanese breakfast as we know it was perhaps a hotel invention, or at least something rarely found outside of hotel dining rooms. I know I have seen it offered at many hotels in Hawaii, and now in Japan, but had yet to find it on a restaurant menu in LA or elsewhere. You may imagine my delight at discovering Fukugawa in Gardena. Tucked into a back corner of a large strip mall, Fukugawa is a large but cozy feeling restaurant, the décor featuring paper lantern light fixtures and sliding wood paneled doors, a tatami room, and some sort of Japanese history diorama behind glass. For lunch and dinner Fukagawa is a very decent soba/udon/tempura/shabu shabu spot, but every morning from 7-11 it offers what I have so long sought out—a refined, light, and delicious Japanese breakfast. And for quite a bit less than the Park Hyatt.

I can’t resist a meal that consists of many different little dishes—variety excites me. The Japanese breakfast combinations at Fukagawa, with their endless options and variations (see dizzying chart below), provide that special experience of tasting and choosing bites. I love to opt for combination C for $10.95: grilled mackerel or salmon, marinated tofu with scallion and bonito flakes, Japanese pickles, steamed rice, seaweed, egg (4 choices for how you like your egg, I highly recommend Dashimaki, the sweet omelet I know as Tamago at sushi restaurants,) and miso soup. The miso soup is a variation on the norm, with that spongy, almost tripe-textured inari type tofu and a lot of onion cooked down in the broth. The mackerel is moist, salty, and flaky, the salmon is meaty and moist with crispy skin. There are meatless combinations for less $ on offer as well (though not vegetarian, dashi and bonito are fish products), or you can select Spanish mackerel or steak with your combo C. I’m not generally a one-meal-a-day type of person, but if you arrive at 10:50 and have this breakfast for brunch, it will really fill you up without feeling heavy.

Fukagawa breakfast menu
Fukagawa breakfast menu

I know I have perhaps favored Japanese cuisine in my selections for this blog; I could say that’s because we have an embarrassment of riches in LA when it comes to Japanese food, with Little Osaka on Sawtelle in West LA, Little Tokyo downtown and Torrance/Gardena in the South Bay all offering dozens of authentic, specialized restaurants. More truthfully, it is most likely because I find that Japanese food is probably the best cuisine on Earth. I think the sheer variety, the fact that you could probably eat 50 completely different bowls of ramen in LA alone, is incredible. In Tokyo we had dinner at a Michelin starred soba restaurant, and I had a kind of soba I’ve never seen before, the buckwheat noodles flat and wide like Tagliatelle. There is no doubt that I will be posting many more Japanese recommendations this year and in the years to come, but to start off 2014, I am happy to pay homage to my highlight of last year, the delightful five days we spent in Tokyo, by sharing Fukagawa. I hope you enjoy an opportunity to indulge in that elusive treat, the Japanese breakfast.