One of the perks of living in Los Angeles – besides all the stereotypes like great weather, beautiful people and Californian beauty – is that variety is really garden-variety. More specifically, the city draws on so many cultures and influences that amalgamations of taste, style and culture are not a surefire way to be recognized or noticed. Variety is almost commonplace. Hardwork and talent rise to the top. People even work hard to be weird here. And in this hyper competitive culinary city, restauranteurs of all types will pull out any stop necessary, weird or otherwise.
Culver City, a section of West Los Angeles, has undergone a thirty year revitalization. The area surrounding the long-defunct Helms Bakery has been renovated into a hotbed of shopping and eating for the current batch of young professionals. Twenty Gauge, a vintage steel furniture store, is pressed next to the now iconic Fathers Office. The Fathers Office remains the paradigm of the American gastro-pub. Owner Sang Yoon made fresh, Californian-influenced versions of classic pub dishes and coupled them with the best local craft beers. It seems so obvious, but before this millenium… well, it wasn’t. Now in two locations, it is safe to call the Father’s Office a Los Angeles institution with a following in all corners of the city.
Several months ago Yoon opened a Southeast Asian restaurant called Lukshon, seemingly an entry into the culinary world of new fusion cuisine. Instead of updating popular dishes with new twists, Yoon (with the help of a talented bar manager and seasoned chefs) chose to blend the tastes and culinary styles of ALL of Southeast Asia into unique juxtapositions. Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Phillipines are all represented in their own unique way. With leather dining booths, a long bar with wines on tap and Prefuse 73 humming in the background, I was inclined to wonder if the food was as modern as the style.
The results are apparent, starting with the cocktails. The Hot & Sour Gimlet above began as a lime and basil vodka drink yet revealed a backloaded spice that demanded more sips. The Fujian Cure mixed 8 year old scotch with lapsang souchong tea (mixing scotch and tea is extremely popular in China nowadays), creating a smoky undercurrent to the citrus front.
Now onto the food.
The small and raw dishes were filled with surprises and presented in a pristine, austere fashion. They were to be enjoyed visually as well… Whodathunkit!? Spanish mackarel covered in a lemongrass and papaya slaw was a wonderfully soothing and inventive dish. Baby squid stuffed with a Thai sausage drizzled in a mint sauce was confoundingly worked without a hitch. The tentacles were light, and crispy… and I wish I had a bag of them with me right now. Duck Popiah (A Fujian-based spring roll) was drenched in Hoisin sauce, almost a Southeast Asian take on the bbq sandwich. Chicken drummetes were marinated in Indonesia soy sauce spiced with Sichuan salt. They were epic little bites of chicken splendor, a modern spin on the now overdone and generic chicken wing.
As an entree we had the market fish, a whole Red Sea Bream garnished with black bean ghee. With my meager yet efficient fileting skills, I managed to procure more than a few tasty morsels of a fish cooked with care but without excess. Yet the show was stolen by the most unlikely of stars: brussel sprouts, lightly fried in a soy sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. It quickly became apparent that the little secrets of Lukshon were its weapons: Candied ginger accompanying the Fujian Cure, mint sauce with the squid, the homemade XO sauce in the rice.
At some point in this evening I was given a taste of some Indian whiskey. I’m not going to divulge much about this whiskey except its smooth vanilla flavor at start and a smoky bite that resembled a Maccallan 18 or any rare scotch. I will find it… somewhere.
My lovely dining companion, tapped out from such wonderous variety, managed to find some room to try the complimentary desserts. Sorbets paired with cakey shortbreads and delicate panna cotta fell into our gullets. I fell for the raspberry sorbet with graham cracker bits on top of sweet potato panna cotta, she gravitated towards the mango sorbet with coconut panacotta.
What struck me about Lukshon was how familiar yet dispirate flavors melded together in a way that almost anyone could eat it. Individually, the components could strike people as weird… but it is all the hardwork that makes. it. work.
Satisfaction was guaranteed early but it’s the little things that add up. Lukshon has plenty.
3239 Helms, Culver City, California