For too long, Los Angeles has been bereft of contemporary Asian restaurants like The Slanted Door and the house, which makes no sense given the city’s demographics, and since L.A. leads the charge on so many other fronts. A new wave of Asian restaurants, led by Lukshon, is changing that.
Even though chef Sang Yoon built one of the most popular concepts in Los Angeles – Father’s Office – his latest restaurant at the Helms Bakery complex more or less slid under the spotlight with its late January opening. The pan-Asian restaurant is named for Yoon’s surrogate Jewish “grandmother” and debuted after well over a year of meticulous molding.
Just like at Father’s Office, the Lukshon menu eliminates the possibility of “substitutions” or “modifications,” which has been a divisive issue in the food community. Who has the right to exercise complete authority over the dining experience, the diner or the chef? Considering the continued popularity of F.O. (and FO2), Yoon has clearly won that debate, but at Lukshon, he seems to have mellowed. His menu actually includes the word “please,” Lukshon takes reservations, there’s table service and during my initial visit, the staff even did a good job of communicating our rain-soaked delay.
Apparently the space, designed by Ana Henton and MASS Architecture and located at the Helms Bakery complex, used to be a furniture store. Not that we could tell. The bar houses semi-exposed rafters, raucous communal seating and an open kitchen. If you’re a fan of flaring flames and clanging pans, sit at the kitchen counter. If you’re not ready for prime time, they’ve also got a dining room with comfortable booths and wood walls sporting hand-painted flowers.
Lukshon has seven different California wines on tap and even more bottled selections, all curated by noted sommelier Eduardo Porto Carreiro. They also stock a solid spirits list, a quartet of teas from Red Blossom Tea Company in San Francisco and feature…
…five different cocktails. We ordered four of them, including my choice of a Lukshon Sour ($11), which was indeed sour, but also fairly sweet, maybe too sweet, combining Michter’s Rye, lemon, tamarind, palm sugar and kalamansi. My friend Adam opted for a Fujian Cure ($11), which involved Isle of Skye 8yr Scotch, lemon, galangal and Lapsang Souchong black tea.
My friend Krystal went traditional, selecting a Singapore Sling ($12) with Plymouth gin, cherry heering, Benedictine, combier orange, pineapple and bitters. Tamara completed the quartet with her Hot & Sour Gimlet ($11) Monopolova vodka, dragon chile, lime, Thai basil and kinh gioi, which was one of the menu’s unrecognizable ingredients. Apparently it’s Vietnamese mint.
Our first RAW selection starred Deer Island Scallops ($17). Deer Island is located in northern Maine, and the cold waters apparently yield sweet, silky scallops. Water chestnut cucumber relish provided some textural contrast, and prawn salt accentuated the flavor of the scallop. Other dishes had much bolder flavors, but this was a nice light start to our meal.
Spanish Mackerel ($14) was even better, featuring slices of somewhat pungent, silver-skinned fish dressed with tangy coconut vinegar, spicy jalapeno and a crisp thatch of lemongrass, green papaya and red pepper.
We went big on the SMALL plates, and would have gone even bigger if they hadn’t run out of duck popiah. Instead, we had to “settle” for Baby Monterey Squid ($15), a Thai dish involving seared squid abdomens stuffed with savory Chiang Mai pork sausage. A good touch was frying the tentacles. Rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and pureed mint oil helped to balance the dish’s richness.