Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lazy Ox Canteen (Los Angeles, CA)

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Wed 01/13/2010, 07:20p-09:45p

Lazy Ox Canteen Exterior
You could say that Josef Centeno has worked at a lot of restaurants. The Texas native first discovered his love of cooking while attending UT Austin. After enrolling in the CIA, he staged at Daniel Boulud's eponymous Daniel and Jean Georges Vongerichten's semi-eponymous Vong, and also toqued at the French bastions of La Côte Basque and Les Celebrites. Afterwards, Centeno relocated to California, landing at Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco before heading south to Manresa, where he cooked under David Kinch. Centeno then moved even further south, all the way down to Newport Beach in fact, to work as a Sous Chef at Tim and Liza Goodell's Aubergine. When Aubergine temporary (permanently) closed in February 2005 for "renovations," Centeno was made Executive Chef of small plates concept Meson G (located at the same spot where the new Hatfield's is slated to open), another one of the Goodell's restaurants. He replaced opening Executive Chef Eric Greenspan, who's currently in charge of The Foundry on Melrose.

In 2006, Centeno made the switch over to Opus, and it was here where he first started to make his mark on LA's culinary scene. The Chef was well-known, and well-liked, for his spontaneous tasting menus at Opus, but Centeno announced his decision to leave in September of 2007. He ended up departing in January 2008, and the restaurant rapidly began to falter afterwards, before finally closing in January of this year. The reason for the departure was that Centeno, like many chefs, wanted his own place. He even had a name picked out: "Volver," which means "return." The restaurant was supposed to open in Silver Lake, and was to feature Centeno's famous degustations. Volver never did comenzar, however, and the Chef ended up opening Lot 1 Cafe with Miles and Eileen Leslie in neighboring Echo Park. Though Lot 1 debuted on Cinco de Mayo 2008, Centeno would end up leaving by the end of July. The split was not amicable, and the Chef was slapped with a $400,000 lawsuit. Centeno kept a low profile for a year or so, cooking here and there, but also consulting at tapas joint Bar Celona in Pasadena.

In 2009 (the year of the ox--clever), Centeno met Michael Hide Cardenas, former Matsuhisa GM and current principal of Innovative Dining Group (which brings us the trendy spots Sushi Roku, BOA, Robata Bar, and Katana). The duo decided to work on a concept together, and Lazy Ox Canteen was born out of that collaboration. The restaurant opened on December 17, 2009 to considerable anticipation. Situated in Little Tokyo's Sakura Crossing building, Lazy Ox is meant to be a casual, convivial place, featuring seasonal, global fare paired with interesting beers and wines, all with an eye on value.

Lazy Ox Canteen Interior
Things are casual, and cozy, inside. Amidst the swaths of wood, exposed ductwork, and mesmerizing lighting, you'll find and open, tiny kitchen, and immediately next to it, an even tinier bar (it seats about eight).

Lazy Ox Canteen Menu Lazy Ox Canteen Menu
Centeno's small plates-focused menu at Lazy Ox attempts to fuse his Franco-centric training with the culinary traditions of Japan, Mexico, and Spain. Perhaps just as appealing is the selection of tipple, chosen by General Manager Kevin Travis. Click for larger versions.

Lazy Ox Canteen Chalkboard Menu Lazy Ox Canteen Chalkboard Menu
As good as the regular menu looks, it would behoove you to choose mainly from Centeno's chalkboard specials, an ever-changing carte that even features a different family-style meal for each day of the week. Click for larger versions.

Upon being seated, we were quickly brought a dish of cancha, a type of toasted Peruvian corn, dressed here with lime and salt. Made from a special type of corn called maíz chulpe, the kernels were positively addictive--delightfully crunchy, yet with starchy, savory centers.

North Coast Scrimshaw, Napa Smith Pale Ale
To drink, we began with two of the brews on draught: North Coast Brewing's Scrimshaw Pilsner out of Fort Bragg, California [$8], and Napa Smith's Pale Ale from Napa, California [$7.50].

Crispy Pig Ear with Lime & Horseradish Aioli
Crispy Pig Ear with Lime & Horseradish Aioli [$5.00]
Upon biting in, the first thought that came to mind was "savory churro," thanks to the crunchy, yet yielding consistency of the ears. They were delightfully salty on their own, but were nicely perked up by a bit of lime juice, as well as the wonderfully tangy horseradish aioli. This was easily some of the best pig ear I've had, and was right up there with Animal's version.

Razor Clams a la Plancha
Razor Clams a la Plancha [$10.00]
Another highlight was this dish of razor clams, done a la plancha, or cooked on a flattop grill. The heat from the spices used and the subtly bitter char were fantastic complements to the slight brine of the clams.

Pork Belly-Duck Rillettes
Pork Belly-Duck Rillettes [$6.00]
Rillettes, of course, refers to a preparation wherein meat is spiced, slow-cooked with fat, shredded, then mixed with more fat to form a paste-like pâté. Pork is the most popular meat, while duck is also common, but the version here is the first I've had that claims to use both pork and duck. The flavor was definitely more porcine, at least at first, with the duck perhaps adding a bit of color on the finish.

Khlii (Moroccan-Style Beef Jerky) with Fried Egg & Salsa Verde
Khlii (Moroccan-Style Beef Jerky) with Fried Egg & Salsa Verde [$6.00]
Next up was Centeno's version of khlii, a Moroccan-inspired preparation of dehydrated beef strips, served here piled high atop a fried egg and toast. It was one of my favorite courses of the meal, with the spicy, savory jerky interacting beautifully with the creaminess of the egg, while the zesty salsa made for a piquant temper.

Escabeche of Branzino with Coriander
Escabeche of Branzino with Coriander [$8.00]
Escabeche refers to a preparation of fish that's been treated with an acidic marinade. The version here, utilizing the ever-popular branzino, did a nice job in preserving and accenting the seabass' natural fishiness. Its pungency was definitely present, but was deftly cut by the sweetness of the citrus fruit and bitterness of accompanying arugula.

The Bäco
The Bäco [$9.00]
Ah yes, and here we have the bäco (rhymes with taco), Centeno's signature dish. This taco-flatbread-gyro-pizza hybrid was created by accident while the Chef was working at Meson G: when cooking the staff's family meal, he threw together this amalgam of pork belly, braised beef, sauce, greens, and flatbread. Everyone loved it, and the Bäco was born. I was a bit wary of the dish, but it really works. The belly and the beef bring strong, but distinct flavors to the fore, while the smoky, spicy-sweet aioli gives the dish a bit of a kick. The veggies and fruit lighten things up, and the whole shebang just works. I can certainly see why this international mash-up is Centeno's pride and joy.

Ocean Weizen Ozeno Yukidoke IPA
With our beers dispensed with, we ordered up another round, this time consisting of two rather obscure Japanese brews: Kankiku Brewery's Kujukuri Ocean Beer from Chiba [$12], and the elusive Ozeno Yukidoke IPA, produced by Ryujin Shuzo in Gunma [$12].

Cod Brandade Fritters with Yuzu Aioli
Cod Brandade Fritters with Yuzu Aioli [$5.00]
Brandade refers to puréed salt cold, a French specialty. Here, it's done up in fried fritter form, with the fishiness of the cod beautifully accentuated. I rather enjoyed the brandade's strong, yet subtle flavor, countervailed by the acerbic tang of the yuzu. Quite nice.

Fried Chicken with Biscuit & Bacon Gravy
Fried Chicken with Biscuit & Bacon Gravy [$17.00]
And of course, I had to try the fried chicken. I found the "CFC" very tender, and rather succulent to boot. Delicious on its own, the chicken was further heightened by the gravy, which actually contained chunks of bacon. This made for a rather salty, heavy eating experience, so the use of the bitter (collard?) greens really helped in balancing things out. The only real problem was that some parts of the chicken were overly battered, and thus too tough and dry.

Charred Octopus with Pickled Shallots, Lima Beans & Smoked Paprika
Charred Octopus with Pickled Shallots, Lima Beans & Smoked Paprika [$15.00]
Seeing as how this was "charred octopus," I would've liked to have seen some char. Nevertheless, the octopus was still quite delectable, pleasantly chewy, yet tender, with a subtle sweetness. My favorite part of this dish, though, were the lima beans, which added swaths of earthiness, effectively moderating the interaction between the octopus, spicy paprika, and bitter greens.

Buttermilk Fry Quail with Pomegranate
Buttermilk Fry Quail with Pomegranate [$14.00]
Given how much I enjoyed the "Quail Fry" at Animal, this was a must order item. The bird, as expected, was bountiful in flavor, with a delightfully crisp consistency. Adding in the sweetness of the accompanying fruit was a bit disconcerting at first, but in the end, everything really did meld together into a sort of unified whole. The problem here, I thought, was that there wasn't enough quail (only one piece) given the amount of accoutrement present.

Hand-Torn Egg Pasta with Sunny-Side Egg, Brown Butter & Fines Herbs
Hand-Torn Egg Pasta with Sunny-Side Egg, Brown Butter & Fines Herbs [$10.00]
Next we have easily one of the best pasta dishes I've eaten in a while. I quite enjoyed the light, wispy body of the pasta, and how the fines herbes served as an absolutely perfect counter to the noodles. Those herbs, combined with the luscious, creamy egg--simply superb.

Green Flash Imperial IPA
Our next beer was a large bottle of Green Flash Imperial IPA [$9], from Vista, California. Think tons of bitter, but not overwhelming, hoppiness--exactly what I'd expect from an Imperial IPA.

White Soy Marinated Yellowtail with Crushed Avocado, Crispy Hash Brown & Creme Fraiche
White Soy Marinated Yellowtail with Crushed Avocado, Crispy Hash Brown & Creme Fraiche [$11.00]
The yellowtail itself was textbook. What set this dish apart for me, thus, was the hash brown, which served as a great temperature contrast and acted as a base on top of which the other ingredients could really sing. The crème fraiche and "guacamole" contributed loads of silkiness to the fish, while the pomegranate seeds pushed back with a tart sweetness. I loved the bits of puffed rice sprinkled on top as well.

Lengua with Pickled Green Tomato
Lengua with Pickled Green Tomato [$9.00]
And now, for our final savory course of the night, we had lengua, or beef tongue. I usually have my lengua in taco form, so this was a bit of a change for me. Think braised beef, with loads of dark flavor and a firm, yet "flaky" texture. The pickled tomato did do wonders in cutting the weight of the tongue, and the bitter vegetables provided a very fitting counterbalance as well.

Lazy Ox Canteen Dessert Menu Lazy Ox Canteen Dessert Menu
I was so full by this point that I almost considered passing on dessert. Almost. Click for larger versions.

North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, St. Louis Framboise
To pair with the sweets, we went with some "dessert beer." First up was the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout [$8], from the aforementioned North Coast Brewing. Thick and viscous, it was like drinking chocolate and malt. We also had Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck's St. Louis Framboise [$8], out of Belgium. It was your prototypical fruit lambic, loaded with plenty of raspberry punch.

Orange Flan with Brandy Cream & Hazelnut Cookie
Orange Flan with Brandy Cream & Hazelnut Cookie [$7.00]
Wanting to go with something lighter for dessert, we started with flan--always a safe bet. What set this one apart was the interaction between the brandy and orange, resulting in a lovely sweet, creamy, spicy interplay, with a bit of heat from the booze.

Yogurt Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream
Yogurt Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream [$7.00]
And last but not least, a soft, creamy, tangy yogurt cake. The weight of the ice cream made things interesting enough, while the bits of nut sprinkled about mixed things up texturally.

I walked out of Lazy Ox, button-burstingly full, first of all, but also quite impressed. I think Centeno's found a nice niche here, where he can blend the rigors of his formal training with his trademark inventiveness and flair, bringing together seemingly disparate styles into one cohesive concept--we even drew comparisons to Animal. Lazy Ox is a welcomed addition to Downtown, and I think that Centeno's got a winner on his hands. Let's just hope that he manages to stick around a bit longer this time.


Blogger Charlie Fu said...

ah thanks for the post, I was looking at this restaurant last night. Need to find places for dinner while I wait out traffic leaving downtown =)

Friday, January 15, 2010 7:23:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Looks incredible. I would not have known about it if I didn't read it here. It looks unassuming from the outside.

Friday, January 15, 2010 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review and beautiful pics as usual Kevin. I only tasted a few bites at the opening -- good to see photos of more of the dishes. Will have to return for a proper meal soon.

Friday, January 15, 2010 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger gourmetpigs said...

Oh seems like the prices are more reasonable than I expected! And I like their selection of Japanese beers (being in Little Tokyo and all).
That hand-torn pasta looks most appealing to me. Once I get over my swollen tonsils I need to go and try this place, maybe for dineLA. Are you going anywhere for dineLA week?

Friday, January 15, 2010 3:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Jai Kohli said...

I actually ate there a few days after it opened back in December and its nice to see new dishes on the menu already. I absolutely loved their braised beef paleron; in fact, I would easily give it the nod over our pot roast at Jar! Definitely a great addition to a neighborhood chalk full of fun and delicious restaurants. Next time I'm in the neighborhood, I may have to start dinner at Hama and end it at Lazy Ox.

Friday, January 15, 2010 8:48:00 PM  
Blogger Frequent Traveler said...

Good Saturday morning to you, Kevin.

The pasta and the orange flan sounded really good!

I only went to Bluefin last night because when I was hungry, I knew you'de be a good referral source so I checked out your posts :)
Thank you!

Saturday, January 16, 2010 6:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Swirl Smell Slurp said...

Ha...we thought we spied you taking pictures of the chalkboard when we were there the other night. Reminds us of a Starbucks from the street, but is warm and inviting on the inside. Really is a great spot. Sat at the bar and had a few tasty apps... and many glasses of wine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010 8:17:00 AM  
Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Quail and pomegranate seems to be a growing combination; I had a quail salad with pomegranate arils at Pelican Grill during Thanksgiving. I thought it would be weird but it was actually quite good!

I've never heard about a yogurt cake though. Wonder how that is made.

Sunday, January 17, 2010 4:45:00 PM  
Blogger Banana Wonder said...

The hand torn pasta looks and sounds amazing (among other things). Pig ears, not so much. Will have to go here soon.

Monday, January 18, 2010 12:09:00 AM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

I've been wanting to try lazy ox since it opened!

I remember chef centeno's tasting menus at opus... which i absolutely fell in love with! I remembered coming back and was utterly disappointed with the food - apparently my second visit was when he had left...

Loved your post! =)

Monday, January 18, 2010 5:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My god man,

You really have too much disposable income. The amount of money you spend on food is just silly.

Don't get me wrong. I love your blog. I've been to many of these restaurants due to the generosity of my rich ass father. Praise God for the surplus of oil in the gulf of mexico.

But I digress. Do you have a sexy twenty-something daughter? Combine oil and finance and my relatives in congress, and we have a match made both in heaven and on wall street.

I assure you that I am totally kidding.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1:21:00 AM  
Blogger The Thirsty Pig said...

I should have tried the Fried Chicken with Biscuit & Bacon Gravy. The hand torn pasta would have been my favorite, but I think I was expecting more. Great pictures and post!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 9:09:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Charlie: The place is definitely worth checking out sometime. Have you found any other restaurants in DTLA that are good for waiting out traffic? :p

sygyzy: Glad I could spread the word!

Linden: Thanks! You should return indeed--I wouldn't mind coming back myself soon, provided that the menu's changed a bit.

Fiona: Prices are quite reasonable; you can easily get out for under $40. We spent twice that, and were ridiculously full at the end. As for dineLA, I'm not planning anything. I just don't feel that the dineLA menus give me a "complete" picture of a place.

Jai: Next time, I need to get the paleron!

Annie: Glad to be of service.

SSS: You should've stopped by and said hello!

ETE: For the cake, I think that they put yogurt in the batter--gives it a nice tang.

Anna: Are you just not a fan of pig ear in general, or is there something here that isn't appealing?

Helen: I really should've tried Opus when Centeno was still there. I didn't know better back then. :p

Anon: Ha! Twenty-something daughter? Yes, I had her when I was seven.

Jimmy: Thanks. Which dishes were your favorites then?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 8:09:00 PM  
Blogger Hall-e said...

Thanks Kevin! Great write up. Can't wait to try them next week.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 1:32:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Holly! Who you going with?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 8:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin,

Read your review and quickly made my way over to the Lazy Ox for lunch. Very convenient for me as I work downtown.

Put simply, the Lazy Ox was wonderful. Excellent, flavorful food and a very friendly and welcoming staff. I sat at the bar and chatted with Eli, the bartender. We discussed all the various beers and specials (as well as our respective golf games....). Ended up order Asahi on tap as well as a local beer made in Fullerton called (I think) "Palomino." This beer was so enjoyable. Reminded me of a hot summer day despite the cold, rainy conditions

I also spoke with a waiter who, upon mentioning your website and review, said that he served you and your dining companion. What stood out with him was the incredible amount of food you consumed! It was very funny. Both he and the bartender said they were going to read the review at their earliest convenience.

As for my lunch, sadly, they were out of the razor clams and the baco due to their incredible popularity. Instead, I had the yellowtail, which was just wonderful as well as the oyster po'boy which was perfectly seasoned, and both crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside... A true delight.

For dessert, I tried the chocolate pate, which was a sublime chocolate experience for a chocolate lover.

For those that live or work nearby, this should make it into your regular rotation. For those that are hesitant to drive to downtown, it is well worth it.

Excellent review, as always, Kevin. I hope word spreads about the Lazy Ox. To me, it's a true treasure.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 3:18:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Hitting up the circuit DT in the coming month. Church & state, Water Grill, Drago, Bottega Louie, and Lazy Ox... but nothing has really appealed to me for the lesser no names. Might be better off saving money and just working out at the gym till the traffic dies away! hehe

Friday, January 22, 2010 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Anon: It's great to hear that you had an enjoyable time here. Funny that they mentioned the amount of food consumed--really, I ordered more than I should have!

Charlie: Some nice choices there. What about Patina, Rivera, Wurstkuche, or the myriad of Japanese joints up in Little Tokyo?

Saturday, January 23, 2010 8:38:00 PM  
Blogger thngotiatr said...

I've gone twice in the past week, heh. Pleasantly suprised, though both times The Baco wasn't on the menu and was disappointed. I was told the dish doesn't really fit the theme and the chef only puts on when he randomly feels like it. With that being said, the pig trotter dish was amazing!

Sunday, January 24, 2010 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

That just means you have to keep going back until the baco returns. ;) I'm going to try to get the trotter dish next time if it's available--been hearing some good things about it.

Friday, January 29, 2010 9:45:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Kevin
Compliments to the web author. Very informative. I actually liked the lazy ox because the experience reminded me of the small bistros in NewYork

Friday, April 23, 2010 9:58:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Hmm interesting--it never occurred to me that Lazy Ox would have a "New York" vibe. Care to elaborate?

Sunday, April 25, 2010 8:33:00 PM  

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