Scraps: The Real Asian Tapas
The first topic of conversation that might come up when you go to Scraps will probably be the same one that came up for us: "Scraps" isn't the greatest name for a restaurant.
"It's the same as calling it 'Leftovers,'" one of my tablemates said.
"Yes, but look at the menu! Kimchi waffles and chicken wings!" I exclaimed, playing devil's advocate.
"Maybe that would've been a better thing to call it," he deadpanned.
We chuckled and recalled how not too long ago, we were at another restaurant and had a similar exchange. At the time, we concluded that "Asian Tapas" was a disingenuous title since the place turned out to be just another prototypical Chinese restaurant, albeit a very good one. But what Asian Tapas wasn't Scraps finally is: a restaurant serving Asian-style small plates with wine, beer and pitchers of sangria.
It fills a loungy space with a glowing-red "S" as a light fixture and a futuristic square-cushioned couch as one choice of seating. On the night of our visit, one of the owners typed away on a laptop at a bar where no one else sat. Maybe if Scraps had a full liquor license, the scene would've been different. The place seems as though the bartender should be pouring martinis, but right now, the restaurant is young and still finding its niche. Its chef, Jamie Ngo, is also young, a Le Cordon Bleu grad who lists time spent at Bazaar at the SLS, Pasadena's Ritz-Carlton and the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge as badges of honor.
The food is ambitious, world-trotting, as though it were cooked by someone trying very hard to live up to her résumé and prove she learned something at the places she has worked. Ngo adds Peruvian cancha to her refreshing octopus ceviche, she serves her albacore tartare fashionably on Chinese soup spoons, and her sauce repertoire includes at least four kinds of aioli. She stops short of resorting to molecular-gastronomic tricks that others who have worked at Bazaar have picked up like a bad habit. In fact, her best dishes taste more like something taught by Mom. The short rib bruchetta is particularly great, three slices of char-toasted baguette forming a platform for shreds of braised beef seeped with a Southeast Asian flavor that whispers of anise. And her deviled quail eggs speak of Ngo's playfulness. An order comes with nine halves, just so she can arrange them on the plate in bunches of three. As you pick up the diminutive things—each one no bigger than a fingernail and topped with specks of apple chutney—you wonder two things: What kind of patience does someone have to have to fill them? And what happened to the other half of the last quail egg?
As you suspected, you'll spend more than usual to get full here. The oysters, for instance, are $8 per plate of three, but it'll take as little as a split second to swallow the quarter-sized gulp of meat; you'll hardly have time to appreciate the sake butter Ngo dabbed on them. The seared salmon is her most substantial meal, served over a bowl of soba noodles coated in an Alfredo-style sauce. But if there were a dish I could've used less of, it was the fried pig's ear. Even after anticipating its crunchy cartilage chew, there's still something vaguely barnyard-y about it. Dipping the crunchy breaded sticks into roasted-bell-pepper aioli only seemed to amplify the funk.
A better aioli accompanies the coconut-crusted crab cakes, which excel in the attribute that all crab cakes from here to Maryland are judged on: content. Ngo's are composed almost entirely of crab, slightly pan-seared to somewhere near lukewarm, and served with a tart puddle of Thai basil aioli and salad, neither of which takes the focus off the crab. The same can be said of a bowl of creamy Dijon from which three jumbo, deep-fried shrimp dangled. The purposely underpowered mustard sauce did its thing, cleansing the shrimp of fry grease, but without obfuscating any sweetness.
There was a bit of unevenness with the soft-shell crab. The deep-fried crustacean reeked of fishiness, but the sweet rice that accompanied it was cooked beautifully. Ngo then surprised us with the latent spiciness of the caramelized cauliflower, but the slices of jalapeño that imparted it seemed to have picked up errant flavors from the fridge. And finally, there were the kimchi waffles and chicken wings, which, I'm sorry to say, didn't work at all. The wings were soggy, the waffles limp, and the assumption I held going in about Korean flavors going well with everything (as Roy Choi's dependable mash-ups seemed to prove) went out the window when I tasted the kimchi-flavored maple syrup. If I were Ngo, I'd suggest, well, scrapping it.
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