Lukshon, Los Angeles review

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.)

Tea Leaf Salad - Lukshon

Tea Leaf Salad

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.

Beef Tartare - Lukshon

Beef Tartare

The Beef Tartare arrives as a fresh and zesty foursome of thimble-sized nuggets perched (super briefly) on top of a cucumber disc.

Spicy Chicken Pops - Lukshon

Spicy Chicken Pops

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.

Kurobuta Pork Ribs - Lukshon

Kurobuta Pork Ribs

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.

Lobster Roll - Lukshon

Lobster Roll

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.

Lukshon.com

Bestia, Los Angeles review

If landing a table at Bestia wasn’t challenging enough (I could teach a puppy to play chess in less time), when you arrive at the graveyard of derelict factories on the darkest of alleys in the so-called “Arts District” of downtown Los Angeles – a mere Molotov cocktail away from skid row – that uncomfortable lump that you feel in the pit of your stomach is a curious mixture of anticipation and regret: The thrill and satisfaction of finally being able to sample one of LA’s white-hot “it” places, diluted by the frightening realization that this might very well be your “last supper!” But you surrender your car keys to the shadowy figure emerging from the darkness anyway, realizing that there’s just no going back.

The former warehouse is a crowded hive of exposed light bulbs, raw bricks, time-weathered steel girders and industrial doors. And in stark contrast to all the old wood, antique bric-a-brac and semi-middle-aged crowd, there is youthful electricity oozing from the asymmetrical hairdos of the gaggle of handsome, black T-shirted twentysomethings, whose charm and hospitality are only eclipsed by their cocky confidence as they rattle off recommendations from the exhaustively prolific menu. Even the open kitchen, running the length of the room, exposes more than just the hearty preparations of 41 items – it reveals an even cockier bandana-clad cooking crew of even more twentysomethings. The kids have clearly taken control of the ship – and they’re teaching the grownups a thing or two about a thing or two! Not that we tried to or anything, but there wasn’t a single query that could stump our waiter. Even the origin of the stemware was just another aspect of his limitless lexicon of information.

Executive chef Ori Menashe has created far more than just an eclecto-rustic Italian test kitchen. His prowess as a truly gifted salumiere, pizza & pasta maker, and his uncanny ability to sidestep conventional ingredients to give his hearty dishes an unpretentious reinvention, will inspire future snout-to-tail toques, who from hereon out will be referred to as the “Post-Bestia Generation”.

Sea Urchin Crostino - Bestia

Sea Urchin Crostino

The plates grow in sharability as you move down the page. Things start timidly enough with Homemade Country Bread (Menashe grows his own yeast), which reappears toasted under a variety of Crostinos, from Chicken Livers with herbs to Sea Urchin (the latter having to regrettably yield its briny flavor to the garlic and chilies).

Farro Salad - Bestia

Farro Salad

But then there’s a noisy explosion of options, building from the delightfully sweet and tangy Farro Salad in a pickled chili and avocado dressing, to the much-blogged-about Roasted Marrow Bone, and of course the adorably photogenic aged-wood plank of 4 or 5 impeccably house-cured Salumi (including duck), with sour pickled vegetables and a mild, mermaid-green mustard for company. Thanks to the revocation of the California law, Foie Gras Terrine has returned to the menu, and the spreadable ‘Nduja sausage makes a number of spicy appearances – as the flavor driver for Mussels and Clams and as a feature in one of the three San Marzano tomato-based pizzas.

Salumi - Bestia

Salumi

I’m always a bit weary that an octopod can become mushy when tossed in a dressing. But chef Menashe keeps his cheerful Grilled Octopus and Calamari moist, tangy and shatter crisp, with a refreshing and citrusy chili vinaigrette. His pastas aren’t just house made, they’re house leavened! The melt-in-your-mouth worm-shaped Pici with hearty chunks of deliciously salty lamb ragu and crunchy breadcrumbs will emit a sigh of delight from even the staunchest of Italian die-hards.

Pici with lamb ragu - Bestia

Pici with lamb ragu

Given that Bestia means beast, the selection of land animals is surprisingly short, but the family style Prime Aged Ribeye, fileted to boast a succulent pink interior that tears apart effortlessly, delivers a simple, salty, fire-grilled, tender morsel of umami heaven.

Aspen Ridge Prime Aged Ribeye - Bestia

Aspen Ridge Prime Aged Ribeye

Pastry chef Genevieve Gergis (Menashe’s wife) peppers her half dozen desserts with seasonal fruits like persimmons, tangerines, winter lemons or pink lady apples, but the olive oil and salted caramel Valrhona Chocolate Budino is by far the strongest contender.

Grilled Octopus and Calamari - Bestia

Grilled Octopus and Calamari

Bestia might well be LA’s turning point in defiance of convention, categorization, expectation and formality, heralding a brand new genre of dining on the left coast.

http://www.bestiala.com/

The Cronut

Now that the Cronut craze is over a year old, I thought it was time to take stock of where things stand. The lines of New York’s fried-dough-obsessed outside Dominique Ansel Bakery are no shorter than they were when the newest must-have pastry was born in 2013. According to those far braver than me (and clearly with far more time on their hands), you have to get there by 5am, stand in line for well over an hour – only to discover that they sell out five minutes after opening. Really? Time Out Magazine credits Mr. Ansel for creating another iconic New York food invention that joins the ranks of such staples as Chicken ‘n Waffles, the Bloody Mary, Eggs Benedict and even the Hot Dog! But having finally sampled a Cronut for myself, I think it’s time for a big spoonful of reality to help the sugar go down.

Cronut - Dominique Ansel Bakery

Cronut

The Cronut is an exotic, illegitimate son of a mixed pastry marriage – a French Croissant father and an American Donut mother. The dough is a mixture of layered pastry that has been baptized in boiling oil – giving it a Mediterranean tan, before being inoculated with rich custard crèmes or fruit preserves (depending on the day) and then dressed in a splattering of flavored sugar-frosting. The texture is an incongruous combination of crispy and soft, but the diabetes-inducing blast of sugar will postpone your dessert appetite until well into the summer.

Croissants - Buvette

Buvette Croissants

So what was so terribly wrong with the Croissant that would send a shower of dark flakes onto your lap as you bit through the blistered crust and multiple golden layers seemingly held together by nothing but air and butter? Did we somehow guarantee its place on the breakfast menu by deep-frying it?

And given that the Cupcake has now been officially sidelined by the unstoppable resurgence of the Doughnut, was there something so boring about the consistency of the ring of fried dough that needed flaky layers to make it easier to handle?

Or is our real dilemma a question of not being able to decide between the two and therefore needing them both cloned together?

I think not!

Hibiscus Donut - Dough Doughnuts

Hibiscus Donut

It’s pretty simple: If you are looking for the city’s best Croissants, you’ll find them at Buvette, Maison Kayser or Maialino. And while Doughnut Plant has taken the world by sugar storm, Dough Doughnuts in the Flatiron district will make your (weekly) carb binge worth every crumb. Their scarlet colored Hibiscus Flower easily knocked out the Mocha-Almond Crunch – but let’s not split calories between friends.

http://dominiqueansel.com/

http://doughnutplant.com/

http://www.ilovebuvette.com/

http://maison-kayser-usa.com/

http://maialinonyc.com/

http://www.doughbrooklyn.com/#!

Mocha-Almond Crunch - Dough Doughnuts

Mocha-Almond Crunch