Test Kitchen Meets Starry Kitchen

Last night, Starry Kitchen invaded Test Kitchen. Thi Tran was the first woman chef to take on the concept of Test Kitchen. Thi and Nguyen Tran own Starry Kitchen in Downtown Los Angeles where I’ve gone numerous times for lunch. They are open for dinner a couple of days a week but last night was different.

Wolvesmouth, Kitchen Ninja, Ricardo Zarate & Suzanne Griswold of CWK

Calling on their friends in the industry, they had David Haskell doing the wine pairings, Adrian Biggs from La Descarga mixing cocktails and I spotted Chicks With Knives and Wolvesmouth in the kitchen.

Nguyen Tran of Starry Kitchen

I arrived at 6 p.m. last night to find Nguyen dressed formally with a fake ‘stache. It slipped at some point but it only added to the charm. I noticed that everyone from Stephane the General Manager to the bar staff wearing t-shirts. It was so perfect; Starry Kitchen’s easy casual cafe meets serious foodie land. I’m surprised Nguyen wasn’t playing Lady Gaga but perhaps he did after I left.

If you were unlucky to get reservations, they were taking walk-ins and serving the now famous crispy tofu balls and pandan chicken at the bar. For the rest of us, we enjoyed a 8-course Asian meal. I split a wine pairing and really enjoyed David’s explanations of the wines. My particular fave was the ’09 Batic Rose Cabernet Sauvignon from Viapava Valley, Slovenia. It comes in the most gorgeous bottle.

Rachael Narins from Chicks with Knives making chicken salad

Our first course was the SK Viet Chicken salad, aka the “goi.” The cabbage, banana blossoms, anise basil, rau ram and shredded chicken was a nice light starter.

pandan chicken

Of all the times I’ve been to Test Kitchen, this was my worst night shooting photos. I just could not sit still long enough. I was so excited to see how everyone was meshing. While I thought my first night at Test Kitchen felt like an underground club for foodies, this was a night people in the Industry got together because it was FUN. The palpable energy felt very much like Starry Kitchen’s infectious spirit.

Despite what the picture tells you, this was delicious. A bite of chicken wrapped in pandan leaf. Flavored with shallots, lemongrass and galanga, the chicken was moist and I wanted more presents to unwrap.

chicken wings- 2 ways

I hit something majorly spicy with the chicken wing. My mouth was burning. In a good way, of course. The Malaysian pineapple coconut chicken wings had habanero in ’em. I thought the pineapple beer chicken wing soup was quite tasty as well.

curry crab

Oh hi, Mr. Crab! How you doin’? Let me just pluck out the sweet flesh of your claw. Now if only you left the brains for me to slurp.

cold kimchi soup

One of my favorites was the kimchi soup. When I was discussing this with Nguyen later, he said he liked the soup cold but Thi’s original intention was for it to be hot. I guess the front of the house won that battle.

My absolute favorite dish of the night was the carmelized  claypot catfish & pork belly. First off, the SK team scoured all of San Gabriel Valley for these clay pots. The fish was tender and the pork belly kept it interesting. Though the sauce was sweet, it wasn’t too sweet. All that was needed was rice.

Yeah, we got the secret off-the-menu item; rice. It was so good, who wouldn’t want to slurp up the last dregs of it?

satay noodles with Waygu short rib

Recently, I discovered the magic of satay sauce. Oh sure, I’ve eaten it all my life but I only discovered how much it transform a bowl of noodles. Unfortunately, I thought this was a bit too oily and I didn’t get much Waygu (though the menu did say one slice).

Vietnamese Coffee Mudslide

There were 6 specialty cocktails. They were meant to be paired with the food though I went the wine pairing route. I did have the Pina Apertivo which was very light as it was made with sparkling wine. I did wonder if it would have been less watered down if it wasn’t served with crushed ice. There was also the Virgen de Guadalupe, Pisco Flipped, G.C. Buck, Jazzy Bramble and the Mudslide.

There was definitely a strong hit of Vietnamese coffee in the Mudslide. It was fun to have as dessert.

young banana tapioca in caramel coconut milk

I thought it was interesting there was that salted caramel flavor in the tapioca. I didn’t mind it but the piece of young banana I had didn’t really have much flavor and the texture was almost powdery. I would have preferred it without the actual fruit in it or maybe have it added in at the end. Overall, it was perfect with the beer David paired it with. The super cold honey ale was nice.

I’m going to Test Kitchen tomorrow. I hope I shoot better pics. God forbid I have to resort to flash photos. For other blogs (everyone has better pics), go here:


Rock My Palate

Stuffy Cheaks

Test Kitchen
9575 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Reservations online only.