Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lazy Ox Canteen - 01/13/2010

241 S San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-5299

Kevin decided to hit up the Lazy Ox Canteen, new gastropub that has been getting some solid reviews after being open for only a very short time. Lazy Ox is the brainchild of former Opus chef Josef Centeno and is built into the ground floor of a new condo complex, Sakura Crossing in Little Tokyo. Despite the lack of any overt signage, the restaurant was fairly packed for a Wednesday night, perhaps the condos provide a captive audience or perhaps I underestimated the sheer amount of buzz around this place. The interior is decorated in dark wood with exposed pipes giving a casual urban feel. Upon entering attention is immediately drawn to the brightly lit open air kitchen.

The official menu is heavy with small plates and shows off eclectic blend styles with apparent Asian, French, and Latin influences. I was a bit unimpressed by the official menu with very few courses really piquing my interest. Where the restaurant shines is the specials board made up of seasonal tapas as well as nightly specials. The staff recommended ordering a number of plates and sharing family style and I couldn't agree more.

We were brought a complimentary dish of toasted corn kernels seasoned with chili and lime which added an enjoyable spicy piquancy; perfect when paired with an ice cold beer.

Crispy Pig Ear with Lime & Horseradish Aioli
Next up was a bowl of fried pig ears. The strips consisted of a crunchy layer of cartilage sandwiched between two soft fatty layers of skin. I could have eaten these all day either alone or dipped in the mild creamy horseradish aioli.

Razor Clams a la Plancha
We were fortunate to arrive the night we did as one of the seasonal dishes on its way out was the razor clams. Grilled, the clams had a slightly tougher texture but were superb in terms of flavor. The grilling adding a char and really highlighting the clam's natural sweetness. Now these weren't the supple gems I experienced at Joe's, but the bold acidity and aromatic char made this preparation every bit as enjoyable, easily favorite dish of the night.

Pork Belly-Duck Rillettes
The initial flavor of the pork is pretty traditional but the duck added a subtle depth of flavor that really stood out in my mind. The rillette came with toast points which helped provide substance and a neutral base for the meat.

Khili (Moroccan-Style Beef Jerky) with Fried Egg & Salsa Verde
The thinly sliced beef had a substantial tangy spice to it accented by the salsa verde. The egg added as a tempering medium making for a perfectly salty spicy open face sandwich.

Escabeche of Branzino with Coriander
I normally find Branzino a bit boring, fairly neutral in terms of texture and flavor, the tart marinade gave an unexpected acerbic attack. A bitter salad of arugula and radish kept the harshness from being overwhelming.

The B├Ąco
The restaurant's signature dish is a flatbread topped with two weighty proteins, pork belly and braised beef, as well as greens and sauce. Individually the pork belly and braised beef are a bit dry, but matters improve dramatically when the moisture from the veggies and the smoky sauce were added to the mix.

Cod Brandade Fritters with Yuzu Aioli
Cod fritters are another dish that seems to be cropping up more and more and these were quite a treat. The simple flavor profile of fish and batter was enjoyable enough on its own but it was the yuzu aioli that made this really sing with its heft and whisper of citrus on the finish.

Fried Chicken with Biscuit & Bacon Gravy
It seems upscale fried chicken is all the rage these days; though to their credit, most restaurants usually pull it off extremely well. Lazy Ox does decently well, despite being a bit oily, the chicken was supremely tender and flavorful with a dose of rosemary for good measure.

Charred Octopus with Pickled Shallots, Lima Beans & Smoked Paprika
A heavy meaty preparation of octopus, the smoky-sweetness of the octopus was enlivened with tangy accents from the shallots. Interesting but the denseness of the octopus was a bit off-putting for me.

Buttermilk Fry Quail with Pomegranate
Much better than the preceeding chicken, the more complex flavor and texture of the quail lent itself well to the deep frying the excess oiliness. As expected, the quail was paired with bitter and tart elements in the form of pomegranate seeds

Hand-Torn Egg Pasta with Sunny-Side Egg, Brown Butter & Fines Herbs
Next up was a heaping bowl of hand torn noodles topped with an egg which proved to be the nail in the coffin. While alone, the egg wasn't as strong as some of my recent experience, the overall dish felt very homey and approachable. The noodles pasta had a rough rustic look to them that belied their firm yet light body.

White Soy Marinated Yellowtail with Crushed Avocado, Crispy Hash Brown & Creme Fraiche
The yellowtail had a snappy texture and classic flavor especially with the soy and avocado, reminiscent of the interior of a yellowtail roll. While the use of potato and creme fraiche was memorable, I found it made the course too heavy, dragging down the raw freshnenss of the fish.

Lengua with Pickled Green Tomato
This is my first experience with a large slice of lengua, typically I've had it in a taco or grilled over a hibachi. The steak lacked the snappy texture of a thin grilled slice but had a rich flavor akin to braised beef with a subtle twist.

Yogurt Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream
Visually, the cake looked like a wedge of pound cake. The taste was similar, replete with rich butteriness cut with an undertone of tangy yogurt.

Orange Flan with Brandy Cream & Hazelnut Cookie
The flan was fairly prototypical in terms of texture but imbued with the essence of orange. The layer of brandy cream added an airy complexion that helped lighten the amalgam while providing a dose of mild alcoholic fire.

The restaurant's serious treatment of seasonal ingredients in a casual setting and the emphasis placed on flavor drew immediate comparisons to Animal. However, while both place a premium on making the best tasting food, Lazy Ox seems to avoid relying solely on fat; combining the richer elements with acidity and bitterness resulting in better balance. What's more impressive is that they do so while maintaining the simplicity and integrity of the key ingredient. Based on my experience, I could see how this place could generate a loyal following quickly among the local populace. If I lived above you could be sure I'd stop in most nights for a snack and a drink.

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