First Bite: Lukshon, Sang Yoon's Latest
F. Friesema Jonagold apples
We can be forgiven for surmising that something's up at Lukshon, can't we? Because we are at a Sang Yoon restaurant, nobody has tried to tackle us on the way to our (reserved!) table, and we are drinking Singapore Slings or an Beaujolais-style Canary Islands wine called Listan Negra instead of garagiste ale bitter enough to kill a half-acre of lawn.
Lukshon, tucked next to Father's Office in the Helms Bakery complex, is Yoon's most completely realized concept yet, an edgy, grownup restaurant serving an Asian-ized, farm-centered, technique-oriented small plates menu, very much on the path blazed by places like Animal, Lazy Ox and Red Medicine: the new taste of Los Angeles cuisine.
So when you order beef tartare, the lozenges of raw, chopped meat come out resembling the Isaan tartare called koi soi, a raw-beef salad seasoned with citrus, ground rice and herbs, although not, I suspect, with the requisite beef bile, and the slivered Spanish mackerel with green papaya and coconut vinegar is a riff on a traditional Filipino ceviche. I've never had anything quite like the dish of tiny bulbs of squid stuffed with fermented ground pork, but I've stared at recipes for it in Vietnamese cookbooks; the sauce, a kind of pesto made with the pungent Vietnamese herb rau ram and Malaysian candlenuts, is from a fantasyland where Liguria meets Kuala Lumpur.
Smooth, cool cubes of foie gras "ganache," dusted with powdered carob and sprinkled with nuggets of what resembles Rice Krispies treats, probably could be sold as fancy chocolates in Beverly Hills. You may know roti canai from the few Malaysian restaurants that serve the floppy fried pancakes with tepid curry, but Sang Yoon's version -- crisp, small and layered with lamb sausage, pickled vegetables and a kind of deconstructed chutney -- is like a Malaysian pizza. The rice plates -- black rice with Chinese sausage and a fried egg; jasmine rice with homemade X.O. sauce and a fried egg -- are closer to Roy Choi's rice bowls at Chego than they are to simple side dishes.
Lukshon would have made a great contrast to the late Beacon, just around the corner, which was run by the chef behind L.A.'s first wave of Asian cooking. Welcome to the neighborhood.