Lazy Ox Canteen (Los Angeles, CA)

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/1/12

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Ludo’s Paella @ Domaine LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Paella by Ludovic Lefebvre
Domaine LA
6801 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 12/11/11

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I’ve been to DomaineLA a few times, a wine shop located in Mid-City/Hollywood. It’s a smallish shop but there’s enough variety to indecisively look at bottles for hours. I’ve found the wines to be both interesting and rather reasonably priced.  Ask for help; Jill can always point you in the right direction.

The wine store often offers tastings and pairings with select foods (oysters is a recurring one) and food trucks. I’ve been to one long ago, when the LudoTruck’s fried chicken was paired with a variety of sparkling wines. I’m not sure why it took me so long to return to one of the tastings, but interestingly it was again for Ludo’s food. This time, it was for something rather unexpected: Spanish paella. I love paella. For me, there’s just something about dishes where the rice cooks with the meat, sopping up all the good flavors. Arroz con pollo, jambalaya, biryani, paella. All favorites.

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At $40 a ticket, the setup was thus: 5 Spanish wines were available for tasting while Ludo cooked up paella on the spot all evening (two varieties: a saffron-based Valencian paella as well as a squid ink paella negra). He brought with him a couple paella pans, a heat source, a bunch of seafood and meats (mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, dark meat chicken, chorizo) and a box of spices. Peering into the box, I noticed a little bit of his French influence: piment d’Espelette.

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While Ludo was cooking, we tasted a couple of wines.

2010 Urki Txakolina

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2007 Pecina Blanco

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I particularly enjoyed the Urki Txakolina. Dry and crisp with some citrus notes, this definitely whet the appetite.

The event gave an up-close and personal view of the cooking. Ludo started by browning the meats and adding the seafood.

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Then added the rice.

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Then clam juice and chicken stock.

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Lastly, saffron gave it the characteristic vibrant yellow color.

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Once the broth was absorbed, the rice was left to crisp up a bit on the bottom. Voila! It was ready to serve.

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I thought this was a very good paella. Slightly on the oily side (though I’m sure that gave it a lot of flavor), the rice was al dente with a little bit of a textural crust where it was in contact with the pan. Both the meats and seafood were cooked quite well, something that I know is hard to do consistently.

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On his second pan, Ludo made another variation including chicken and shrimp. I was perplexed how the seafood was perfectly cooked even though he added it before the rice and broth. I guess that’s why he’s a chef and I’m not.

NV Mendall Poc a Poc

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2010 Tajinaste Traditional

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2009 Clos de Noi Samso

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We tasted the rest of the wines. My favorite of these was probably the last one, with its rather bold, fruity flavors coming through. It paired especially well with the chicken thighs in the paella.

Ludo alternated the saffron-based paella with this squid ink one featuring calamari and a lemon zest.

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Just like the first paella, I thought it was executed quite well. The squid ink was clearly the dominating flavor, while a last-minute touch of lemon zest really brightened everything up. Again, he was able to achieve a little bit of a crust on the rice.

While the butterscotch budino down the block at Mozza would’ve been a delicious end to the meal, there was another alternative available right inside the wine shop.

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Carmela’s salted caramel ice cream! Seriously, almost as exciting as the paella itself. Almost. DomaineLA carries a selection of the Pasadena ice creamery’s flavors.

I thought this was a very cool event. It was my first opportunity to actually watch Ludo cook and prepare something from start to finish (there was no yelling/expressing himself to be heard all evening). As much as I enjoyed eating the food, I was equally enthralled by the preparation of it.

During the LudoBites popups, Ludo is often trying to create unique flavor combinations, offering something diners have never tasted before. However, it was nice to see him preparing some homey, comfortable food here with this Spanish classic. I really like paella and his version definitely met my expectations, especially considering it was a temporary setup. I feel like there aren’t really many restaurants in LA that do a good paella so this was a treat. Oh, and I got to taste some great wines to boot.

Like all good chefs, Ludo tastes his cooking throughout the process. I can prove it.

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