Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/1/12
I’ve been to Lazy Ox Canteen a number of times and have always had a fairly positive experience (except for the time they ran out of fried chicken at 6:30). However, for me it’s been stuck in the “pretty good, not great” category and it’s been a while since I’ve returned even though I live a block away. The restaurant has undergone some dramatic changes in recent months, leading me to this latest visit.
Opening chef Josef Centeno has now moved on to focus more on his own concept a few blocks away, Baco Mercat. In his place is Perfecto Rocher, a Spanish-born chef who has spent time in a number of renowned kitchens around the world (Gary Danko, Picasso, Manresa, Martin Berasategui, El Bulli). He’s been remodeling the menu and, given his background, I’m expecting it to be drastically different from what Lazy Ox patrons have been accustomed to. As of tonight, just under half of the dishes were Rocher’s creations (and growing), with the rest being legacy Centeno plates. From Rocher’s resume, what really intrigued me was that he’s a third-generation paella maker – I love the dish and always look forward to having it.
Tuesday (3/27) was National Paella Day (yes, this is the first time I’ve heard of it too), and the the restaurant celebrated by preparing a full week’s worth of paella, presenting a different paella each day. Tonight was the final day; Rocher served up a country style paella with rabbit, escargot, chicken, artichoke and lima beans. Of course we’d order that, but we started with a few small plates.
grilled octopus tomato confit, fennel, olives, white balsamic vinaigrette
The grilled octopus, with a smoky charred flavor, was slightly chewy with a cool, crunchy asparagus and fennel salad and light acidity from the vinaigrette. A slice of tomato added some juicy sweetness as well.
roasted japanese eggplant bonito flakes, yuzu kosho creme fraiche
I really liked these. The eggplant was roasted down to a creamy consistency, while the bonito provided a lot of the depth of flavor. There was a tart yuzu flavor that was almost too acidic, but I thought these were still delicious bites.
huevo ‘arzak’ french fry purée, chorizo oil
Given Rocher’s experience, I was very intrigued by this dish inspired by Juan Mari Arzak and his eponymous 3-star restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. One of Arzak’s signatures is a poached egg resembling a pouch or a flower. This one didn’t have as much of a ‘pouchy’ resemblance as other examples I’ve seen, but it did the trick. A starchy yet creamy potato purée tasted just like French fries (without the texture) and acted as the base for the oozing egg and chorizo oil. Simple but rich and satisfying.
crispy rabbit livers hearts of palm, anchovy vinaigrette
The breading was pretty crispy, but I found the liver to be overly dry. The salad of hearts of palm and celery did a nice job of countering the richness of the organ.
country style paella rabbit, escargot, chicken, artichoke, lima beans
Finally we had the paella. We were told the paella filling was kept pretty shallow in order to maximize the amount of crispy rice on the bottom. Indeed, the charred bits added texture and flavor to the al dente rice which I really enjoyed. I found the chicken legs to be dry though, but the rabbit and escargot were more moist in what amounted to a pretty meaty dish. Shiitake mushrooms, artichokes and lima beans rounded out the fillings. The saffron flavor here was more subtle than other paellas I’ve had, but I didn’t really mind.
rice pudding caramel, pine nut crumb
This might be one of my favorite desserts in the city, and I’m glad it’s still on the menu (for now?). The rice pudding itself was pretty good, with a subtle vanilla flavor and just a little bit of texture in the rice. With the added richness from the whipped cream and sweet depth of flavor from the caramel, I savored each bite.
Lazy Ox Canteen appears headed in a very different direction under Rocher with a lot of interesting Mediterranean (particularly Spanish) based dishes. Overall though I like it – the downtown area doesn’t have anything with such a strong base of Spanish influences, one of the most exciting food regions in the world right now. I found the flavors to be clean and bright and execution to be mostly strong, so I’m curious to see what the restaurant will be like once the transformation is complete.