Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Vagrancy Project @ AYC - 07/24/2012

1320 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 481-0454

The restaurant and movie industries are inextricably linked with plenty of people working in the former while waiting for their break in the latter. Miles Thomson the 24 year old wunderkind behind Vagrancy Project has gone against the grain; forgoing a nascent acting career to dedicate himself to cooking. In fact the former child actor refers to his interview at Nobu Los Angeles as "my last great acting job."

During his time at Nobu, Miles rose to be the head line cook before teaming up with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo at Animal. He would remain with The Two Dudes for a number of years, rising to executive sous chef at their other restaurant, Son of a Gun. Eventually the lure of creating his own menu proved too much and in February Thompson started The Vagrancy Project, an underground supper club turned pop-up that serves as a rehearsal for his eventual permanent spot named Cottage. Previously run operating out of his apartment, Miles has since moved to the Allston Yacht Club where he is working every Monday and Tuesday through Labor Day.

Tartare - Hamachi - Strawberry - Yuzu Kocho
I was a bit dubious about the combination of fish with strawberries but this proved to be a remarkably complex and expressive amuse. The duo play off one another and both end up better for it with striking notes of floral sweetness intimately coupled with a healthy dose of fish oil. The mixture is then covered with yuzu kocho vinaigrette which adds equally bold elements of acid and spice.

Oyster - Kimchi - Pied de Cochon - Jus de Cuisson
The Luna Oysters exude a dynamic brine that is deftly countered by the calming porcine sapor of the braised pig's feet. The kimchi-tinged geleé adds a slight pungency that helps link the duo together while the refreshing bitter notes of the radish provide relief from the bowl's heavy hitters.

Garlic - Blade Steak - Tarragon - Grenobloise
Chef described the next dish as a celebration of garlic with the protein playing a supporting role instead of headlining the dish. Indeed the Blade Steak serves as a sturdy platform that is battered by alternating waves of fiery spice from the garlic chili sauce and soothing verdant tones from the garlic green goddess. The meat was also topped with a sliver of meticulously seasoned lettuce that was arguably my favorite thing on the plate.

Escargot - Country Sausage - Green Tomato - Black Eyed Pea
Instead of the typical garlic butter soaked Burgundian preparation, these snails came smothered in country gravy and topped with a colorful mix of slaw, pickled okra, and the most amazing fried green tomatoes. The soulful warmth of the Southern flavors and melange of textures were spectacular in their own right, but it was the unconventional use of escargot that made this the strongest course of the night.

Merguez - Squid - Sultana - Escarole
I'm a sucker for both sausage and squid so putting them together is always going to win points with me. The sausage had a lovely spice set off by the characteristic game of the lamb. The squid serves as a casing for the sausage giving the meat a lovely snappy contrast and slightly briny character. The bracing tang of the avocado cuts right through the richness of the sausage but is a bit jarring in its intensity.

Scallop - Hibiscus - Sword Lettuce - Plum
Next up we have a beautifully prepared scallop that had both golden brown exterior with a rare slightly translucent center that gave off delectable flavors of butter and sweet shellfish in equal abundance. The hibiscus labneh was quite intriguing, delightfully floral yet tempered by the yogurt while the Santa Rosa plums provided a resonant sugary vivacity to the shellfish.

Takabe - Chamomile - Watermelon - Yuba
Like they did in the amuse, the fish and fruit play beautifully together. The cured Takabe, Yellow Striped Butter Fish, had a surprisingly robust flavor and firm texture that yielded ever so slightly when mixed with the sugary succulence from the watermelon. I absolutely adored the fried yuba, its peppery sapor and crunch adding a stupendous intricacy to the dish. The chamomile yogurt was the only thing that didn't work for me, while the combination with the fish wasn't disconcerting per se, I just didn't care for the creamy body with the more austere texture of the fish.

Chorizo - Grapefruit - Robiola - Toast
Starting to feel a bit full, I was afraid the duet of chorizo and pig tail would be a bit much, especially with 5 courses still to come. The chorizo on toast proved to be quite good with its rich smoky rusticity but I thought the tail easily stole the show. The tender meat and unctuous tail needed no artifice to shine, but the topping of lobster cassoulet added even more depth and complexity.

Chicken Liver - Tomatillo - Black Cod - Basil
The ravioli was probably the least successful dish of the night for me. The fish, while flavorful on its own, is lost when taken as part of the dish. Likewise, I was expecting the chicken liver to be more assertive but it was the fragrance of the basil that kept standing out.

John Dory - Boba - Miso - Shiitake
I think all of us were a bit surprised to see boba resting atop the thick shiitake sauce, but the tapioca added a wonderfully playful touch to the dish. The rest of the plate was no slouch either; the dense John Dory was still flaky and moist while the sauce was bursting with an earthy butter-laden richness.

Chirashi - Tamago - Maple - Tosa-zu
Our final savory was a play on Chirashi that combined non-traditional ingredients like pickled tongue with classically Japanese elements like tamago and sashimi. Despite the sheer chaos on the plate, the ingredients work beautifully together a veritable symphony of flavors bound together by the overarching savory twang of the dashi geleé.

Cheesecake - Walnut - Maple - Sour Cream
The first of two desserts was a contemporary take on cheesecake that exhibited a nice contrast between the piquant sour cream and the sweet maple syrup drizzle.

Bavarois - Brown Butter - Lemon - Berries
It seems Miles has a penchant for a little sour with his sweets. Our final course featured a lemon curd Bavarois whose resonant acidity was just barely kept in check by the brown butter cake and fragrant Persian mint.

Without a doubt, Miles Thompson is a prodigious talent and his Vagrancy Project is deserving of all the hype surrounding it. The young chef has designed a menu that belies his years; the food is undeniably creative and progressive, but it is his sense for flavors that makes him one to watch.


Rodzilla said...

The Escargot, Merguez, and Chirashi really stood out. Looking forward to Cottage.

Epicuryan said...

Yeah the food was shockingly good. Don't hold your breath about Cottage opening in SD tho ;)

Rodzilla said...

haha yeah, unfortunately the appreciation for more progressive cooking isn't quite as high around here. We do have a few really cool things on the horizon though, worth the visit. I'll be in touch :)