Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lukshon Review: Upscale Asian That's Actually Worth It

Edit: review updated on 5/27/11
Last night, we tried the newly opened Lukshon (as of Feb 1) in the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City.  Lukshon is the creation of owner chef, Sang Yoon, of Father's Office fame.  I believe it's his first venture outside of the two Father's Office locations in Los Angeles, and his first formal full service restaurant.  I've been excited about this opening for awhile; I love the burgers and interesting side dishes at Father's Office, so I've been interested to see what Sang Yoon would do with a more expanded menu, especially with an Asian focus, given that he is Korean, after all.  Few, if any, of the Father's Office menu items have any Asian influence to them, so it's definitely a very different direction for the chef.  He is particularly meticulous with his cooking, carefully selecting and balancing every ingredient, as evidenced by his notorious refusal for any substitions or add-ins to his dishes (ie ketchup for burgers).  Many people refuse to go to Father's Office for this reason; luckily I like his food as is.

The space is gorgeous; cleanly modern and cool with high ceilings, lots of smooth woods, cool lighting, textured glass, leather seating, gleaming white marble floors, a long bar with backlit wine bottles, semi-covered patio with open fire place and lucite chairs, and my favorite part, a soaring white open kitchen with white tiled walls and a white bar where diners can eat facing the kitchen.  It looks like quite an expensive build-out.  It's not a very big restaurant; the patio seats about as many people as the main dining area which are mainly booths, and then there are additional bar height seats at the bar, kitchen bar, and communal table in the bar area.  We were initially seated outdoors.  Despite plenty of overhead heat lamps, I still found it cold when the wind blew so I requested to be moved indoors, where we sat at the communal table in the middle of the bar, which was much better.  It was also nice to be able to see all the action, which I find particularly interesting at a newly opened restaurant.

My only regret is that it was only the two of us, so we didn't get to try everything that we wanted off the menu.  I think we ordered very well though, because I loved everything:
Duck Popiah with hoisin
Chicken dumpling soup with 63 degree egg and fresh pea sprouts
Roti Canai with lamb sausage, corn, mint and pickled cauliflower
Okra and potato side with sambal

Dan Dan Noodles with Kurobuta pork and szechuan peppercorns
Ice cream in pineapple soup, salted chocolate, fortune cookie
Full disclaimer: I usually don't like modern / fancy Asian cuisine; generally I don't think it's better than the real deal that I can get either at home or at half the price or less in San Gabriel Valley.  I just usually find that it's not worth the money and often toned down to be geared towards a wider audience.  However, I found Lukshon to be entirely worth the relatively high prices.  There was a certain elegance, polish and refinement to the food with interesting combinations that actually enhanced the ingredients and the dish, as opposed to dumbing it down.  It was something new, and rather exciting.  Maybe even better than the original (shhh..don't tell my mom).  All the dishes were really well balanced, with clear interesting flavors that were very harmonious.  As an example, the duck popiah was delicious.  I liked the soft wrapper; sometimes the cheap wrapper at Asian restaurants can be dry or doughy, but this wrapper perfectly enveloped the moist, flavorful duck.  The cilantro and jicama added just the right amount of freshness to the dish and it was actually perfectly sauced (I hate it when places oversauce stuff).  I thought the ingredients were relatively simple, but it was executed perfectly.  He didn't try to do too much with the dishes or overcomplicate things, which can sometimes be a pitfall of modernizing cuisine.  The roti canai was another favorite; the dough was perfectly fried, crispy yet flaky-light, like a really good "cong you bing," or scallion pancake, a popular Taiwanese breakfast item.  I loved the lamb sausage with just the right amount of heat, which was tempered by the yogurt / cream sauce, mint and corn.  The pickled cauliflower was the perfect palate cleanser.  It's different from the roti canai that I'm used to, which is more like a soft pancake that you dip in curry, but I like this version too.  The chicken dumpling soup was really nice, with good clear and clean broth and delicate dumplings, although it's probably not a dish I would generally order.  K. has been under the weather, so it was the perfect dish for him.  I've heard a lot about the Dan Dan noodles, so I was excited to try it out.  It was really good; again the meat sauce was perfectly in harmony all mixed together with the soft noodles.  It was rich and decadent with a nice heat that I really liked and you could feel/taste the crunch of the szechuan peppercorns with every bite. A really fun and rather exhilarating dish (not sure of the last time I used that adjective to describe food).  I also really like the okra and potatoes; I really like the slippery okra whose seeds had a nice pop, with the soft potatoes, and a really interesting sauce, that was slightly tangy, almost like a bbq sauce. A really nice touch was the complementary sparkling (or still) water and desserts.  The desserts were the perfect ending to a really great meal; the ice cream and pineapple soup was the perfect palate cleanser after all that fiery heat and bold flavors, and the sweetness from the chocolate and fortune cookie was the perfect sweet finishing touch.  I am not a huge dessert fan, so just a taste was perfect finish for me.  We were totally stuffed.  We didn't order anything off of the "big" menu; I was more intrigued by the small plates and noodles.  The stuff from the "big" section was definitely pricey, generally $30+.  We had some Gruner Veltliner and Riesling which was the perfect complement to the food (the Riesling a little more so, as it was really able to stand up to and cut through the big flavors a bit more than the Gruner Veltliner, which was lighter) and some tea.  I believe all their wines were either white wines, with one rose, which I think is the right way to go; I've had very few red wines that pair well with Asian food.  They had an interesting cocktail list that I'm looking forward to trying.

Service was pretty good; nothing to complain about.  Each dish came out one at a time, served family style. All in all, the bill wasn't that bad, probably because we didn't order any real entrees, at $100 including tax and tip for the two of us.  I enjoyed it more than the first incarnation of the now notorious Red Medicine at Test Kitchen (see here for the story, I think it makes the restaurant look dumb)  I just found the flavors to be even more exciting and everything to be cooked a little better, much more consistent.  I'm really looking forward to returning to Lukshon and trying more menu items.

Lukshon (reservations can be made on the website)
3239 Helms Avenue
Culver City, CA
(310) 202-6808

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