The skinny on Little Fatty is a menu focused on regional specialties and inventive cocktails

By Richard Foss

Those who are familiar with Chinese pop culture may immediately think they understand why a Taiwanese restaurant in Mar Vista is called Little Fatty. That’s the nickname of a pudgy boy who became an internet meme in 2003 after he was photographed with a side-eye look of knowing skepticism. His expression was photoshopped onto everything from the Incredible Hulk to Mona Lisa, and in an unlikely turn of events he grew up to be a movie star in China.

Anyone who makes that connection might feel smug for getting the joke, but they’d be wrong. Little Fatty was also the nickname of chef David Kuo, who worked with famed chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Palmer before opening an American/Chinese fusion restaurant called Status Kuo. That restaurant won a loyal clientele for their rotisserie items and Asian fusion tapas, so it was a surprise when it changed concept and became Little Fatty, which serves a mostly authentic Chinese menu with Taiwanese specialties.

The restaurant itself is nothing to look at: a row of austere tables next to an open kitchen. The only decoration is a painted octopus on the front of the kitchen, which is odd since the place no longer serves octopus. The menu is minimalist, with little description of some fairly arcane items, so it’s a good idea to talk to your server if you have any allergies or strong dislikes.

While the restaurant identifies the cuisine as “Taiwanese soul food,” the most famous items from that region aren’t served here. Seafood is hugely popular on that island, but at Little Fatty the only item from the ocean is walnut shrimp. The region’s popular omelets are also missing. A few items like Three Cups Chicken and the noodle dish called Sunday Gravy are from Taiwan, while the rest are from various regions of China.

Taiwanese Sunday Gravy is a plateful of pork and mushroom goodness

A friend and I started a meal with an eccentric item called General Tso’s Cauliflower and a more traditional green scallion pancake. The spicy soy, vinegar and chili sauce called General Tso’s was probably invented in New York by a Taiwanese chef, and it is usually combined with chicken rather than vegetables. I found this item oddly unsatisfying because the sauce was on the bland side and the vegetable had very little breading. Some seeded jalapeno rounds and a scattering of scallions added a little kick, but the balance just wasn’t there. Our server had recommended this rather than the duck pizza, and we wished we had ordered the latter, as the people at a nearby table ate one with evident delight.

The green scallion pancake was more to our liking, a simple snack served with a dipping sauce of sesame oil and black vinegar. We toyed with the cauliflower and crunched at the pancake while enjoying cocktails from Accomplice, the bar that occupies the other half of the small building. The menu at Little Fatty only lists wine, beer and a few cocktails, but many more are available — some brilliantly eccentric. An Old Fashioned with Lapsang Souchong tea and chocolate mole bitters beckoned, but we tried an egg-free Ramos fizz and a Mar (Vista) Tini that contained Peruvian brandy, pandan sake and absinthe, among other ingredients. The balance was superb, and we decided to explore more drinks after dinner.

For main courses we decided on Taiwanese Sunday Gravy and Three Cups Chicken, the latter so-called because the sauce involves one cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce and Chinese rice wine. There are other flavors in this sauce too, and we enjoyed the robust flavors of garlic, ginger, chili, scallions and fresh basil. The dish was a winner, and probably the best rendition I have had of this classic.

Sunday Gravy, properly known as Lu Rou Fan, is an unusual dish that you might not identify as Chinese if you weren’t told in advance. It featured fresh noodles topped with a sauce of three different cuts of pork slow-stewed in a mushroom-soy sauce with rock sugar, wine, mushrooms and five-spice seasoning.

Despite the flavors of star anise, Sichuan pepper, fennel seed and cinnamon in that seasoning, the thick and mushroomy sauce feels almost like Italian-Chinese fusion. There is a dab of pickled spicy mustard greens that reminds you that this is a Chinese dish, and it was so delicious that I would ask for extra the next time I order this. There is also house-made hot sauce on the side for those who want it, but as much as I like spicy food this didn’t need it. The dish was intense and fragrant — and from the number of bowls I saw served, it is evidently very popular.

Dinner for two (with some leftover noodles, because that Sunday Gravy was filling) including two cocktails ran $72, and we felt that it was money well spent.

Taiwanese food is growing in popularity in the U.S. thanks to the mainstreaming of dumpling shops. Though Little Fatty’s menu lacks the variety of such places, there is some assured cooking going on, with spectacular drinks to match.

Little Fatty 3809 Grand View Blvd., Mar Vista (310) 574-7610 littlefattyla.com

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