Counter: Glasses of bubbly and Pok Pok's chicken wings

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If you're reading this, you've made it through the bulk of the holiday season — the lights and celebrations, the parties and family dinners — and now the new year is around the corner like a low horizon. Congratulations. Have a cortado and some toast.
As we look backwards and forwards, getting our bearings and reworking our expectations, it's a good time to consider what's been happening in the kitchen — not only our own kitchens, but those of some notable new restaurants. Thus Jonathan Gold opens the door to chef Andy Ricker's big new restaurant Pok Pok LA, which he opened recently in Chinatown. Ricker has been busy, having opened his noodle shop farther down the street a year ago, and has been experimenting with tipping and reservation policies — issues that have come to the forefront this year, in this town and around the country.
We also check in on other new places — a tempura-focused restaurant in Beverly Hills, a tofu specialist in Little Tokyo — as well as give recommendations for what kind of bubbly to pour as we ring out 2015. It's been a year full of changes, especially here in the Food Section, and we're all taking stock (and yes, making it) and looking forward to what comes next. If you want to weigh in on that, with recommendations for the coming year, we hope you'll send us a note. Happy holidays.
Amy Scattergood

The power of chicken wings

This week, Jonathan Gold considers Pok Pok LA, the much-anticipated flagship restaurant from chef Andy Ricker. On the north edge of Chinatown in a space that seats 200, Ricker has installed an L.A. version of his signature restaurant. There is bar food, cocktails and cold Thai beer, plates of fried catfish and boar collar — and the chicken wings that first converted the critic to Ricker's food in Portland in 2007.

Kai Yaang is roasted Mary's natural chicken stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro and served with spicy/sweet/sour and tamarind dipping sauces. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

An ode to tempura

If you love tempura, you probably spend a lot of time eating variations of the same few things, and often not as well-made as you'd like. Jenn Harris reports on a restaurant that hopes to solve that. Tempura Endo, which opens in January, is devoted solely to the Japanese dish. There you'll find tempura tasting menus, composed of pieces of tempura that are fried to order — and, after your uni tempura, kobe beef tempura, scallop tempura, there's a matcha tea ceremony.

Tempura Endo in Beverly Hills. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Raise a glass of bubbly

It may be traditional to pour Champagne at the end of the year, but that can be a pricey ritual. There are, however, many excellent alternatives to the seriously expensive stuff. We check out nine very good bottles of bubbly that won't break the bank, made in the style of the good stuff, or with different grapes, and sourced from not only France, but also Switzerland, Italy and, of course, California.

Some of the best buys in sparkling wine for the holidays come not from Champagne, but other regions in France and even Germany and Italy. (Joel Saget / AFP/Getty Images)

More holiday tamales

For many of us, the holidays mean tamales — if not made at home, as we read last week, then made from one of the many tamaleras around town. And although Christmas may be over, there's still the coming New Year, and many winter dinners at home, and thus the continuing need for pork with red chile sauce tamales, and tamales with cheese and chiles. We list some of the many tamale makers who have been working through the holiday season. And after Christmas? The lines aren't near as long. 

Green chile tamale, with extra sauce, at Juanito's in East Los Angeles. (Terrence R. Rorie)

Housemade tofu in Little Tokyo

We check in on Izakaya Gazen in Little Tokyo, a newish restaurant that is the first American location of a 16-year-old chain in Japan. Gazen focuses on bar food, including a few flourishes on the regular izakaya menu — how often can you order grilled miso-marinated foie gras at a bar? But Gazen's specialty is their tofu, which is made every morning and served as part of a sampler, which showcases the various flavors.

A tofu sampler platter at Izakaya Gazen in Little Tokyo. (Christine Chiao / For The Times)

Jonathan Gold's 101

The 101 is here! Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants, the authoritative annual guide to local dining, is online for subscribers. Find the list at Official hashtag #JGOLD101.
Check us out on Instagram @latimesfood.
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