Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A-Frame Review: Eclectic, Bold and Reasonable

We went to the recently opened A-Frame in Culver City / Mar Vista for dinner last night.  A-Frame has received a good amount of pre-opening internet press, thanks to the buzz around one of its co-owners, Roy Choi, of Kogi BBQ trucks phenomenon and Chego fame, who was named one of the year's best new chefs by Food and Wine magazine.  We arrived at 7pm and were seated right away at our own table, although the wait was quite substantial by the time we left.  I really like the look and feel of the place; the purple lights and oversized hanging lanterns on the outside, the soaring A-frame ceiling and warm lighting, lots of blond unfinished looking wood, a well-stocked bar with a slight vintage feel, the vintage-y mismatched metal plates and servingware.  It's a lot smaller than I expected; with maybe a 6-10 tables on the inside, mostly communal, and a row of tables on the outside.
The menu describes the concept as a "modern picnic" where everything is shared family-style and mostly eaten with the hands, so we ordered a bunch of big and small plates to share.  We were famished when we sat down, so we ordered furikake kettle corn, 5-grain pan de sal with plugra butter, and bittersweet tempura with kabocha and broccoli rabe (the latter two being recommendations from our waiter) to snack on as we perused the rest of the menu.
Furikake Kettle Corn
5 Grain Bread
Broccoli rabe and kabocha tempura
It really hit the spot; everything was really tasty, albeit oily.  The kettlecorn was addicting; an awesome combination of umami (from furikake, particularly the seaweed), salty, sweet, hint of spice, and very buttery.  None of us could stop eating it.  The tempura was so airy; melting almost as soon as you bit into it, but definitely left a greasy residue.  I've never tasted broccoli rabe like that, just melting into air: pretty cool.  Gotta love deep fried veggies.  The toasty bread was a nice balance to all the oiliness (though not with the deliciously almost melted plugra better).  We ordered our main courses as we were snacking through our appetizers:
Crackling Beer Can Chicken
Korean-style Wings
Peel-n-Eat Shrimp
Blue Crab Cakes and Island Farmer's Salad
Everything was so unique and flavorful; a real exploration of tastes and textures.  Also on the heavy and rich side, but that's just to be expected and accepted from a place like this.  The chicken had nice crispy skin with a moist, perfectly cook inside, and the two dipping sauces were great. I loved the kaffir lime taste of the chilled shrimp; reminds me of the addicting Trader Joes Lime and Chili Cashews.  The crab cakes were tender and flavorful in a pool of rich lemongrass creme fraiche, balanced by the fresh greens that it was served with.  You really can't go wrong with wings, which were drenched in tangy wing sauce with fairly traditional blue cheese dressing and assorted pickled vegetables. I really liked the salad as well; refreshing with the grapefruit, pineapple and chilled tofu, with some punch, crunch and savoriness from the raw maui onions and fried garlic, with a light ginger soy vinaigrette.  Usually raw onions are too strong and give me heartburn, but they weren't overwhelming and added nice flavor to the salad.  Definitely crave some greens with all that heavy food, and the salad was pretty much the only option; this is definitely not a place for vegetarians.  I would love to see them add more vegetable options.  For dessert, we ordered the Chu Don't Know Mang: poundcake churros with malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream.  Pretty much tastes as it sounds, delicious.
Chu Don't Know Mang
Love the spherical ice cube

To drink, we had a couple of beers and a Fine Print cocktail with rum, hibiscus and orange bitters, amongst other things.  They have an awesome beer, wine and cocktail menu; you can tell a lot of care went into crafting the menu.  The food definitely pairs well with some hearty drinking and we'll definitely be back to hang out at the bar (and order some food snack on with our drinks).  The menu is definitely not light: a lot of things are fried and everything is cooked with a good amount of fat, part of the reason why everything is so tasty.   Similar to the Kogi tacos, they are quite heavy handed with the sauce and seasoning, a tad too much for my tastes.  I'm not used to such heavy food, particularly the more we cook at home; while tasty, I've found acclaimed LA restaurants like Animal and AOC to be just too rich and heavy for me.  Even Gjelina and Pizzeria Mozza are noticeably oily for me.  I am well aware of this before eating at these places so I'm not complaining, I do enjoy the experience and taste; it just makes these restaurants only occasional indulgences.  Good thing I'm still going strong with the Equinox challenge (almost done with my 25 classes and we are only halfway through the month): I tried a tread and shred (fun!) and ViPR class (interesting) earlier in the day before dinner.

Prices were really reasonable as well; most dishes are around $15, and we ordered about 1.5 dishes for every person, and we were stuffed.  I do admire Roy Choi and how he's taking LA by storm with all these new concepts and bold and interesting flavors.  Roy has really invigorated the LA dining scene and made LA a trendsetter, the city to watch and copy.  Even I have copied his Korean tacos for several BBQs at home; most recently being last Sunday when CK was in town.  Besides the obvious, he reminds me of David Chang, who has really built an incredible Momofuku empire in NYC over the last decade, which is still growing.  I've been a big fan of David Chang since the beginning, when it was just a noodle bar with the most incredible pork-y ramen, with David was still manning the stoves behind the open bar.  A-Frame most closely resembles Momofuku Ssam, which might be my favorite of the Momofuku restaurants: flavorful, somewhat random, all very tasty dishes from all sorts of ethnic cuisines in a fun, casual setting.

A-Frame Restaurant
12565 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 
(310) 398-7700

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