On the more memorable end of the dining spectrum, there are basically two distinct types of restaurants: those that inspire you to get up, go home and cook, and those that inspire you to remain seated and keep ordering. Lukshon, Sang Yoon’s Culver City based, pan-Asian tapas bar is definitely the latter – partly because of his über-intricate, process-oriented culinary style, but also because of his unique and utterly unrepeatable flavor combinations.
After having served countless “Office burgers” and micro-brew beers to just about every hipster on the Westside at his 14 year-old gastropub Father’s Office, chef Yoon created a seminal Southeast Asian concept-brasserie that has become a canvas for his distinctive culinary genius.
All of the communal counter tops and private tables in the contemporary teak room seem to reach out lovingly towards the lucite lined, multi megawatt kitchen. (I can only imagine how tough it must be for any of the cooks to pick their nose or adjust their groin while working under such a formidable spotlight.)
The menu starts off offering a handful of single origin (and surprisingly overlooked) Asian teas, before heading off boldly into exotica. Many items change seasonally (or due to toque boredom) but thankfully the half-dozen or so staples are just too perfect to mess with. I’m referring to the sweet, sour, hot and deliriously smooth Hawaiian Butterfish with Thai chili and lime vesicles, and the most amazingly crunchy Tea Leaf Salad that combines that wonderful chewy sourness of your favorite grandma’s slaw with all sorts of nuts and crispy lentils and even a prawn for extra panache.
The Beef Tartare arrives as a fresh and zesty foursome of thimble-sized nuggets perched (super briefly) on top of a cucumber disc.
But the two main reasons I have dragged more than forty guests to this Chinoiserie are the Spicy Chicken Pops and the Kurobuta Pork Ribs. The former gently spiced with Sichuan salts and carved into very user-friendly lollipops, and the latter slathered in the darkest of deliciously smoky, vinegary, chicory coffee barbecue sauces I have ever encountered – on an always too small half-slab of fall-off-the-bone ribs. This dish is without doubt on my pre-lethal injection final meal list.
One of the newer items is Yoon’s Lobster Roll, which is a lighter than average but relatively neutral tarragon-citrus-mayo lobster salad, wedged in between a couple of inches of Labrador-colored butter-laden toast. But it’s the almost translucent slither of smoky, salty pig’s ear terrine that launches this 3-bite snack into super-orbit.
My favorite of the wok-fried rice dishes is a crispy and hearty Black Wild Rice with a tangy XO sauce, covered by a soft fried egg that adds a luxuriously rich and silky finish.
Asian sweets are seldom a big hit among western diners, but Yoon steals many a familiar flavor like chocolate, toffee and passion fruit in his assortment of ice-cream, crumb and crust deserts, but if you’re still skeptical, do not miss the bold and robust flavored Vietnamese coffee – served with a Barbie doll tea-party-sized jug of sweetened condensed milk.