Monday, February 28, 2011

Lukshon: Sang Yoon takes over Culver City with another winning restaurant

Los Angeles restaurant diners waited eagerly for the opening of Sang Yoon's new Asian restaurant Lukshon. He's gained a cult following, with many claiming that his Father's Office burger is the best in town. Personally, I haven't tried it. I dislike cheese and FO does not allow substitutions. Even though Lukshon is situation beside FO at the Helms Bakery, it's quite a different concept. The menu is Southeast Asian focused, the wine list is more prominent than beer, and the restaurant has a more upscale feel. But no substitutions here as well.

The menu draws influence from Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisines. The dishes are served family style with a selection of small dishes, entrees and sides.

There's a lot of attention to detail in terms of the decor. That's just how Yoon operates. The napkins and water carafes were all custom designed with the Lukshon logo. Side note, I appreciated that Lukshon offers complimentary water (both sparkling and flat).

Interestingly, apart from a Rosato, the other wines offered by the glass were only Whites, not Reds. I was first introduced to Albarino wine at Father's Office so I decided to order a glass at Lukshon. The Cambiata was light and crisp.

Hot & sour gimlet ~ monopolova vodka, dragon chile, lime, thai basil, kinh gioi

Baby monterey squid ~ chiang mai pork sausage, candlenut, mint, rau ram
The squid was tender and not overcooked. The aromatic chang mai sausage brought a nice unique flavor to the squid, however I only wished that it was minced so you could get the flavor without having to chew through a huge piece of meat. The rau ram added a cilantro-like flavor and some heat. The dish was topped with fried calamari which added crunch and unlike most joints, wasn't greasy at all.

Prince Edward Island Mussels ~ green chile rempah, coconut, tapioca, thai basil, lime
As much as I enjoy the traditional French mussels marinieres, Lukshon's version with curry flavoring is more mouth-watering. The thick broth was creamy and rich, and with the right amount of seasoning. The dish was only missing rice which would have been great to sop up the sauce (we asked, but they do not offer plain rice). The mussels were large and plump, with a lovely oceanic taste. There were also tiny tapioca pearls in the broth which added texture to the dish.

Lamb sausage roti canai ~ chana dal, cumin, mint, pickled cauliflower
Growing up in Singapore, I used to eat roti canai on a weekly basis so I was excited to sample Lukshon's version. The roti was crispy and thick but not doughy. I enjoyed the lamb with Indian spices and al dente lentils. The side of pickled cauliflower added a sour component that worked well with the richness of the lamb.

Heirloom black rice ~ lap cheong, onion, roasted garlic, fried egg

I like the firmer texture of black forbidden rice over white. This was a comforting dish which got its saltiness from the Chinese sausage and richness from the runny egg yolk. I thought it needed just a tad more salt but overall, this was very tasty.

Chang Mai curry noodles ~ yellow curry, lemongrass, pork belly, prawns, rice noodles
Most diners have only been exposed to curry served with rice, but my favorite pairing is curry soup with noodles (think laksa). I liked the lighter and delicate texture of rice noodles over the starchier rice. The curry flavor infused with lemongrass was well developed. The slices of pork belly were rich and buttery. My only critique was that the sprouts were raw (they had a strong flavor) and they skimped on the prawns (there was only one in the dish).

Garlic pork belly ~ do ban jian, rice cakes, cabbage, garlic chives

A closeup of the dish illustrates the fatty pieces of pork belly. I wasn't expecting the dish to look like a stir fry or something similar to moo shu pork, but I actually quite enjoyed it. The rice cakes were toasted and chewy, which reminded me of the Korean duk bok ki. The pork belly was tender and mixed in with spicy and salty black bean sauce. The flavors were good, but you could find almost similar dishes at a Chinese restaurant.

Lukshon doesn't offer dessert on their menu but they do bring by complimentary desserts. The trio selection included chocolate ganache with Vietnamese coffee struesel & coconut sorbet, Lemongrass panna cotta with pressed Asian pear with yuzu, and Pistachio madeline with pomelo marmalade and mango sorbet. Apart from the madeline which was a bit too dense, the desserts were a nice end to the meal.

Sang Yoon does an exceptional job of creating a menu that brings strong delectable Southeast Asian flavors to the table, but in a refined and exquisite way. For a restaurant that has been open for less than a month, service was spot on. Our waiters were attentive and knowledgeable, and water glasses were always filled. Lukshon is definitely off to a good start, introducing spicy and robust flavors, and quickly taking over Culver City.

Hits: mussels, black rice, chang mai noodles, roti, service
Misses: no red wine by the glass
Rating: ***1/2

3239 Helms Ave.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-6808

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bar Toscana: Finally, a real bar in Brentwood!!

I knew full well what I was getting into when I moved to Brentwood. Sure there would be a slew of amazing Italian restaurants on San Vicente and both Tavern and Katsuya have a bar section, but mainly for diners to grab a drink while waiting for their tables. There really wasn't a bar scene in the area. Thankfully a couple months ago, the owners of Toscana Restaurant decided to fix that problem. Perhaps they wanted to expand their clientele base to include a younger demographic (and by younger, I mean 30s, not 20s), or perhaps they wanted to create a place to catch the overflow from their popular and heavily booked restaurant. Whatever the impetus was, Bar Toscana opened up across the hall from its Italian sister, much to the delight of many residents.

Apart from the Italian theme and upscale feel, Bar Toscana is rather different from its restaurant sibling. The clientele at Bar Toscana is younger, the soundtrack is more on the lines of Indie music, and the bar is loungey and spacious (for Brentwood) with large couches, long bar seating and tables.

The bar features a nice cocktail list, crafted by bar manager William Perbellini. They also have daily cocktail and food specials.

Their food menu revolves around stuzzichini (small plates) and includes sharable dishes such as cheese plates, prosciutto, panini and carpaccio. The prices are definitely on the higher end for a bar and unfortunately they do not have happy hour specials, but the quality of food and service is in line with that of an upscale restaurant. And besides, this is Brentwood after all.

We were presented with foccacio that was grilled lightly with an adequate sprinkle of salt.

Cinque Terre ~ a flavorful combination of hendrick’s gin, strawberries, mint and basil bonded together with fresh lime and agave nectar
This was a well constructed cocktail. It had just the right amount of sweetness and citrus.

We also ordered a carafe of Pinot Grigio which the bartender kindly kept in an ice bucket to chill.

Zuppa di Carciofi ~ creamless baby artichoke soup with parmigiano crisps
This was a half order for $7, the full order was $14. The soup was thick like a puree and had an intense artichoke flavor that wasn't diluted with cream. The Parmesan crisp had a nice sharpness to it that was a nice accompaniment to the soup. This was a nice tasting dish but I'm not sure if it warranted a $7 price tag.

Santa Barbara Prawns ~ ricotta, yellow pepper, basil souffle
The prawns were one of the daily specials. They were large and butterflied, simply grilled and tasted extremely fresh with a touch of sweetness. My favorite was the orange roe that was still attached to the meat. The prawns were served with a basil soufflé which was soft and moist, and had the same consistency and flavoring of a frittata. I almost ignored the salad but luckily decided to give it a chance. It was refreshing and nicely dressed with citrus.

Argosta Carasau ~ lobster with tomato, ginger and basil, served with onion purée and sardinian music paper
Large chunks of fresh poached lobster were tender and seasoned well. The onion puree was a winner. It was sweet and intense in flavor, and something that I continued to spoon into my mouth even after the flat bread was gone.

Carpaccio Di Piemontese ~ piedmontese beef fillet carpaccio with marinated artichokes, pecorino and black truffle
The thinly shaved carpaccio was delicate and melt in your mouth. It worked well with the sharp and salty pecorino. The shaved truffles were aromatic and brought an elegance to the dish.

Lasagnetta Ai Funghi ~ lasagnetta slider with wild mushrooms, white meat ragout and fontina cheese.
We decided to order the half portion (the full portion included two lasagnettas). The pasta sheets were fresh and supple. The lasagnetta looked like a purse and was crispy and browned on the top. It was filled with a flavorful rich meat ragout, and topped with mild gooey cheese and meaty sauteed mushrooms. I really enjoyed this dish. It was filling and rich, and was a good representation of upscale comfort food.

Tiramisu Bar Toscana ~ "carry me up" two layers of homemade cake, soaked in a decaf espresso syrup, mascarpone mousse and chocolate shavings.
We ended our meal with the tiramisu. This was probably my least favorite dish because the flavors were mild and it lacked a sweetness that one craves in a dessert. The rum also had a tart flavor that I didn't care for.

Bar Toscana is definitely a much welcome in Brentwood. I'm looking forward to making this spot my local hangout. I was missing a grownup bar that was within walking distance from home, where I could grab a couple drinks and a good bite that didn't include something greasy. The cocktails and food are delicious, the ambiance is great but the prices are steep for a bar. But it definitely fits right in with the area - upscale, sophisticated and pricey.

Hits: only dedicated bar in the area, lasagnetta, carpaccio
Misses: pricey, tiramisu
Rating: ***

Bar Toscana
11633 San Vicente Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 826-0028

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beachside Bottomless Mimosa Brunch at Hotel Shangri-la

I've been at a loss after my favorite westside brunch spot (with $9 bottomless mimosas) Bite Bar & Bakery shut its restaurant operations. If you can't already tell, I love mimosas. And I love drinking a lot of mimosas. When I heard that Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica offered bottomless mimosas during brunch, I decided to check it out in hopes that it would be my Bite replacement.

The hotel was renovated a few years ago, and is located across the Pacific Ocean and a stones throw from 3rd Street Promenade.

The best spot to brunch on a gorgeous weekend afternoon is in the cabanas at their outside pool area. Since we got there at 11am when brunch started, we were able to grab the coveted spots. Some of the late arrivals were left to dine in the scorching sun. There are also tables in the dining room for the sun-averse.

The menu includes a few breakfast items, small plates and entrees. Bottomless mimosas or bloody marys are an additional $12 and if offered on both Saturdays and Sundays.

The mimosas were served in a tacky plastic cup, which was odd for a nice hotel in Santa Monica. The drinks were spiked with a good amount of Champagne (or I'm guessing, sparkling wine) but the waitress was tough to locate so I didn't get in as many drinks as I had hoped during the course of brunch.

Tomato, black truffle, burrata flatbread (with extra side of Chorizo)
My friend was having a tough time deciding between the two flatbreads (the other one being chorizo with petit basque) so she decided to get the best of both worlds by ordering the burrata and truffle flatbread, with an additional topping of Chorizo. I thought this would be an odd pairing and that the Chorizo would overpower the truffle but in fact, the ingredients all worked harmoniously. The chorizo added an intense saltiness to the flatbread. The melted burrata and greasy chorizo melded together.

Egg in the hole, crispy hash browns
I was really glad they used brioche instead of regular bread. The brioche was airy and buttery. I also liked that they kept the leftover circular bread on the plate. The hash browns were crispy, not too greasy and adequately seasoned. The only critique I have is that the egg could have been a little runnier.

I wouldn't say that the brunch at Hotel Shangri-La is one of the best in town, but right now, it's ranking well on my Westside mimosa brunch spot. The food is decent, the price is moderate (mid-teens for most dishes but over $20 for entrees) but the $12 bottomless mimosas and the lovely outdoor seating takes this brunch spot up a notch. Now if only the waitress would come by more often to fill those plastic mimosas glasses.

Hits: $12 bottomless mimosas, cabana seating
Misses: service
Rating: ***

Hotel Shangri-La
1301 Ocean Ave.,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 394-2791

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

16-Course Molecular Gastronomy Tasting Menu @ AnQi Restaurant

It all started when my friend LB forwarded me an article from Chowhound about AnQi, a restaurant in Costa Mesa that has a chef's table offering an exclusive molecular gastronomy menu. The private room requires a minimum of eight guests. Unfortunately, I don't have eight friends that would be willing to partake of a 16-course tasting menu. But thankfully kevineats was planning a similar dinner so he was kind enough to let us tag along. I'll let him fill you in on the background of the restaurant and chef here.

AnQi is a restaurant located in the South Coast Plaza mall. I don't do malls. It's overwhelming and massive. It's a time and money suck. The food is mostly bad. But the private dining room at AnQi isn't mall dining. In fact, it has a completely separate kitchen, waitstaff and a mostly separate menu from the regular restaurant.

The private room shares a window with the kitchen so guests can catch a glimpse of the kitchen at work. Chef Ryan Carson presented the courses and gave us a bit of background on how he conceptualized the dishes.

The Molecular menu features 16 Courses for $160.

Wine Pairing was available for an additional $80. LB and I were aghast when we saw the short list of wines but in fact, the same wine was paired with multiple courses and the waiters did come by pretty often to refill the glasses.

1) Champagne & Caviar ~ nicolas feuillatte champagne gelee, american sturgeon caviar, white chocolate fizzy
An elegant and playful way to start the meal, this was a great representation of what the menu and night would pan out to be. The sweetness of the Champagne gelee and the salty caviar was a nice pairing. The white chocolate disc ended the bite on a fizzy note.

2) AnQi Beet ~ sweet & sour salt
The shredded beet was deep fried and molded into the representation of the AnQi logo. The beet strands were delicate with a sweet and sour flavor.

3) Kumamoto Oyster~ soy mignonette, yuzu lemonade 'cloud', citrus pop rocks
The fresh and briny oyster was enhanced by the citrus lemon and tart yuzu. All the flavors really came together to form a very intense bite. Once again, the kitchen added a playfulness through a lingering sensation from the pop rock foam.

4) Hiramasa Crudo ~ avocado silk, sweet & sour tangerine veil, jalapeno-cucumber emulsion, frozen beet
This was the first dish that Carson created for the progressive menu. It was almost too pretty to eat. The crudo was fresh but almost bland, until you combined it with the tangerine gelee and jalapeño emulsion. The lemon oil powder and frozen beet added a tang to the dish.

5) Lobster Summer Roll ~ compressed mango, Vietnamese herbs, elderflower gelee, pickled rose petal
When the plate was first brought to the table, I was confused. The lobster roll seemed ordinary, very AnQi-like. But Chef Carson enhanced the dish by instructing us to pour the cup of hot water into the bowl of petals which created a floral aroma. The lobster roll was dipped in a spicy chili rose emulsion sauce. The pickled rose was picked from a friends garden. We were asked to taste the petal, which seemed to have an essence of fish sauce, as a palate cleanser.

6) Ahi Tuna Nicoise ~ white anchovy romesco, crispy haricot vert, 64*C quail egg, olive 'gushers'
This was a deconstructed nicoise salad with duck-fat fried potato at bottom of the tuna. The quail egg was cooked at three different temperatures for three hours. The olive component, in the form of a sphere, and the smokey tomato ball lent an intense flavoring to the dish. To the side was pickled shallots and a well seasoned artichoke. Lastly, the briny anchovy sauce really bound everything together.

7) "Looks Like Tartare" ~ compressed watermelon, mango 'egg yolk', dehydrated capers
Another deconstructed version of a classic, the tartare was made with compressed watermelon which had a pulpy texture and crumbled, almost like the minced beef of a traditional tartare. It was topped with capers, microgreens and a "yolk" made of mango which had similar consistency of a half boiled egg. Initially I had wished that this was fish or beef based but after the first bite, I really came to enjoy and appreciate this version.

8) Kurabota Pork Belly~ kimchi consommé, freeze dried banana, wasabi peanut butter powder, yuzu-truffle
The salt & pepper pork belly was not as tender as I had hoped, but I really enjoyed the broth. I thought it was ingenious to extract the intense kimchee flavor without adding any chunkiness to the broth. I was also impressed with the truffle, banana and peanut butter combinations. Who knew that peanut butter would work so well with kimchee?

9) Foie Gras Torchon ~ cherry-yuzu gel, 'instant' ginger-pineapple brioche, bacon dust, chinese celery
The rich foie was served with aerated brioche and a touch of savory bacon dust.

10) Misoyaki Black Cod ~ furikake rice cake, pickled garden vegetables, encapsulated foie gras miso soup
This was a healthy portion of cod and at this point, I was starting to get really full. But I can never say no to miso cod. The cod was delicious but something you could get at most Japanese izakayas. What really elevated this dish was the crunchy risotto rice cake and foie spherification. Lastly, we cleansed our palate by sucking on a pickled ginger root.

Concord grape jelly with thyme jelly and lemonade foam. It was salty and zesty.

11) Jidori Chicken Roulade ~ himalayan black truffles, oyster mushrooms, ginger, chinese mustard jus, hazelnut brittle
The sizable sous -vide Jidori chicken had truffle essence rolled into it and was tender and juicy. I was apprehensive about the hazelnut brittle but I liked the sweet and salty combination that it added to the dish. The butternut squash puree had an intense flavoring of ginger and indian spice.

12)Filet Mignon Confit ~ burnt carrot, shiitake mushroom demi-glaze, savoy cabbage, wasabi 'tater tots'
The filet was cooked nicely and served with stewed cabbage and mushrooms. The flavors reminded me of a rich Chinese stew that my mom used to make. The carrot was burnt to caramelization so it had a rich bittersweet taste. The gnocchi tots were battered in potato crumbs and was flavored with spicy wasabi. The tots were a favorite at our table.

13) Heirloom Melon Gazpacho ~ compressed heirloom melons, orange 'soup', yuzu salted mango sherbet
The pre dessert was light and citrus, and was an unofficial palate cleanser for the upcoming desserts.

14) Elderflower Parfait ~ pink rose meringue, flowering thyme gel, pomegranate 'caviar', jasmine frozen yogurt
I enjoyed the creaminess of the semi freddo parfait. The floral dessert was enhanced with intense dots of thyme gelee, sweet pomegranate tapioca caviar, a tart jasmine yogurt and lemon powder.

15) "Not Your Average" Carrot Cake ~ raisin coulis, curry crème anglaise, saffron meringue, cream cheese ice cream
This dessert was a play on everything you would find in carrot cake. I enjoyed combining the dots of curry anglais, sweet raisin coulis, pineapple chunks and crunchy sweet meringue with the moist cake. The cream cheese ice cream was brilliant.

16) Chocolate Twist ~ hazelnut praline, star anise-orange gel, popcorn ice cream
Chocolate is always the perfect end to an amazing meal. This was my favorite of the three desserts because of its seemingly normal components but the dessert was in fact comprised of a rich chocolate-y flexible ganache and aerated brioche.

After our meal, we were given a tour of the kitchen and were able to check out some of the heavy duty equipment.

I was pleased and impressed with our marathon meal at AnQi (which lasted over 5 hours). I liked Carson's use of molecular techniques. It was subtle and done with refinement. Some restaurants promise to show you techniques and preparations that you've never seen but yet they do not deliver (ahem TFL). But AnQi does succeed in bringing something unique to the table. The Champagne & Caviar and tartare dishes were both playful and something I've never experienced before. The food was solid but I thought some of the portions might have been a bit too large given that this was a 16-course menu. But if anyone can get me to drive 120 miles to and from the OC for food, AnQi can most definitely do it.

Hits: caviar, tartare, chicken, oyster, ambiance
Misses: pork belly could have been more tender, could be portioned smaller
Rating: ****

3333 S Bristol St.,
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-5679