Jack Benham

Food Guru

On the ground floor of The Plaza of the Rockies’ South Tower, monster-sized koi (commonly known as koi carp) encircled me. They must have been ten feet long, swimming over dark rounded stones. Nosh121’s most visually interesting feature is the mural I just described, which consists of giant red, orange, and white carp swimming over huge pond stones, painted from a birds-eye-view onto the entire circumference of the restaurant. The intimidating presence of these fish welcomed me into the restaurant. They seemed wise, somehow. Luckily, I did not sit directly underneath one of these monsters. Instead, I was positioned next to a window painted with a pink waterlily with a smaller five-foot carp swimming beneath; they seemed more comforting companions than the monster carp for my meal.

Nosh’s menu offers comfort food with a twist and elegant upgrade. The titles of the dishes are welcoming and familiar, but the descriptions reveal Nosh’s own Asian infusions into traditional crowd-pleasers. Mussels seem to be popular seafood options at many good neighborhood eateries, Nosh is no different, but their mussels are served in a “sake, coconut red curry sauce with kaffir lime leaves.” I began to see the connection between the koi—a domesticated Asian fish especially popular in Japan—and the Asian elements of the menu.

I started with the cheese plate, a quaintly portioned selection of four cheeses served with Lavosh, a light Middle Eastern flat bread. The Labna, a homemade soft cheese derived from Greek yoghurt, was smooth both in texture and complexion. With the apple slices placed on top, the appetizer seemed nourishing almost hydrating. Overall, the cheese plate was sweet: One of the other cheeses was drizzled with honey, another sat atop some crème with a brown sugar base, and another was dripping with a berry jam of some sort. My sweet tooth loved the sugary theme.

A large citrus ginger salad arrived next with tongs, presumably for sharing. It was large enough to share or order as a main dish. The pickled shiitake mushrooms added a brine aspect among the large lush lettuce and sweet Mandarin oranges. The original take on this Asian ingredient amused my palate. It was a captivating yet simple salad, but it was overshadowed by my anticipation of the chicken and waffles still to come.

Eating my entree, which came out soon after they had removed my salad plate, bordered on a downright immoral experience. The Serrano maple syrup got my nose running and burned the front of my tongue. The waiter filled my water glass up every time it got low, as if he knew I needed it full to sooth the spice from the Serrano syrup. However, the pain was beautiful because it opposed a sweet beer-battered chicken breast and the syrup. The dish was presented as a chicken and waffle sandwich—a golden tower with the chicken in the middle, and the two waffles on the top and bottom. I made a quick mess of the waffle and chicken, turning them into a syrupy amalgam at the bottom of my plate. I may have blacked out while eating the dish à la Will Ferrell in the debate scene in the film “Old School,” if it were not for a glob of whipped honey butter and a basil leaf that slapped me out of my chicken and waffle daze. The basil added a third dimension of a creamy and savory flavor.

Despite the cheese plate and my entree being very sweet, I ordered the “Blackberry Amaretto Chocolate Torte.” With my torte and a cup of coffee—that would hopefully prevent a forecasted incoming food coma—I looked back at the koi on the walls around me. They seemed more graceful and gentler than when I first encountered them. The whole atmosphere was welcoming: soft lighting that made the faces of the other customers glow and oversized green booths that invited their sitters to melt into them. It felt like I was inside a pond; it was peaceful.

My stomach sat heavy under my shirt: “Too much sugar,” I thought. I walked out of Nosh and onto South Tejon Street. I bounced down the street in long, proud strides. “How can I move with any enthusiasm at all?” I wondered. “Oh, yeah. I had just found a new favorite spot, a place to get excited to visit and share with friends.”

Nosh121 is located in on the ground floor of the South Tower in The Plaza of The Rockies at 121 South Tejon Street. The menu is very reasonably priced. Most of the menu ranges from $9-$14 dollars, and appetizers and smaller plates are cheaper. One appetizer, one entree, and one dessert runs around $30 total. It’s a three-minute drive from campus, only 10 minutes by bike, and probably 20 minutes by foot.

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