Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Airliner (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

The Airliner Bar
2419 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90031
Tue 05/14/2024, 08:45p-11:05p

The Airliner Exterior

Regular readers may recall that I reported on The Airliner back in August of 2021. I had a good time at the Lincoln Heights cocktail bar, but unfortunately, the place shuttered in February 2023. I was curious as to what would happen to the place, and found out when it reopened in August with a tweaked concept and a new, Asian-y menu, courtesy of Chef Vinh Nguyen and partner Gary Wang.

About the Chef: Vinh Xieng Nguyen was born in August 1979, and grew up in Southern California in a Chinese-Vietnamese family. He first got interested in food thanks to his mother, Anna Hong, but didn't pursue cooking initially. Instead, he attended UCLA from 1997 to 2001 and was on the pre-med track, graduating with a bachelor's in psychology and biobehavioral studies. During his senior year, Nguyen started working as a barback at the original Father's Office, which had just been purchased by Sang Yoon, and quickly fell in love with the hospitality biz. He soon relocated to New York, and in 2005, got a F&B job at the Rubin Museum of Art. It was also around this time when he began working on opening his own restaurant, Silent H, which ended up debuting in Williamsburg in February 2007. However, the casual Vietnamese joint shuttered at the end of 2009, though the Chef reopened it the following June as Cafe Colette, with new partners.

Nguyen decamped in May 2011 and left the country, moving to Shanghai. There, he teamed up with Gary Wang and launched The Grumpy Pig (and its accompanying Trotter Bar) in December 2011. He subsequently left the partnership in August 2013 (the place closed in March 2018) and returned to NYC. In 2014, he helped run the bar program at Chinese eatery Fung Tu, and that August, became Executive Chef at Selamat Pagi in Brooklyn. Nguyen departed the Balinese spot in December 2015, and later found employment in the wholesale division of casual seafooder Lobster Place. He moved back to SoCal and co-founded a Chinese pop-up called Stay Lucky, which was supposed to spawn a permanent restaurant in late 2018 (it never did), then started freelancing before this opportunity with The Airliner presented itself.

The Airliner Patio
The Airliner Outdoor Seating
I chose to sit outside this evening, and from what I can tell, the bar's outdoor space is basically unchanged from its previous incarnation.

The Airliner Menu: Cover The Airliner Menu The Airliner Menu & Dessert Menu The Airliner Menu: Back Cover
The food here veers toward bar-appropriate, pan-Asian-inspired fare, which makes sense. If you're wondering about those coordinates on the back cover, they point to locations in Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam, countries that I assume provided the Chef with his culinary inspiration. Click for larger versions.

The Airliner Drink Menu: Cover The Airliner Cocktail List The Airliner Wine List The Airliner Beer List The Airliner Happy Hour Menu
Drink-wise, cocktails from Avery Millard are probably the main draw, but there's also a selection of beer and natural-leaning wines. Be sure to check out the happy hour menu, too. Click for larger versions.

Miss Hanalei
Miss Hanalei [$16.00] | Rum, Tamarindo, Coconut Milk, Cinnamon, Ginger, Lime
I kicked things off with this tiki-ish cocktail, one that blended a bitter, astringent character with citrus, the creaminess of coconut milk, and an overarching layer of sweet spices.

Japanese Style Potato Salad
Japanese Style Potato Salad [$12.00] | Wakame, mustard, pickled garlic stem, furikake, bonito
I find it hard to resist potesara whenever I see it on a menu, and tonight was no departure from that rule. The Airliner's rendition featured firm, dense cuts of tater, set off by a backbone of mustard-y piquancy, the tartness of those pickles, and a marked smokiness from the katsuobushi.

Whipped Ricotta Chili Crisp
Whipped Ricotta Chili Crisp [$12.00] | Corn tostada, crispy bits, and sprouts
The ricotta managed to be a surprise standout thanks to how smartly the heat of the chili crunch melded with the cool, creamy cheese, all while the sprouts imparted a sharp zestiness to the dish. Nice crunch from those tostadas, too.

Missed Connections
Missed Connections [$18.00] | Roku Gin, Ginger Tea Vermouth, Manzanilla Sherry, Celery Juice, Goats Milk
My second cocktail was also on the creamier side, but the crux here was the drink's healthy dosing of celery, which was backed up by a creeping, sherry-fueled oxidative component, as well as a pervasive underpinning of savory spices.

Chilled Sesame Peanut Noodles
Chilled Sesame Peanut Noodles [$7.00] | Carrot cabbage slaw, chili oil
A bowl of cold noodles definitely wasn't shy about the peanut. The brightness and crunch of the slaw certainly worked, though I wanted more of it, and I also would've liked more heat from the chili oil.

Mushroom Crispy Rice
Mushroom Crispy Rice [$15.00] | Panang rice, coconut herbed wood ear salad
A puck of well-seasoned, well-spiced rice was indeed as crispy as advertised, and combined beautifully with those zippy herbs, while the mù'ěr served as a slick, crunchy textural element. However, I was left wondering if this dish might've been improved by the incorporation of more traditional-style mushrooms.

In the Same Breath
In the Same Breath [$17.00] | Mezcal, Yerba Mate Vermouth, Lemongrass, Dill
This next cocktail was perhaps my favorite of the bunch. I was impressed by its balance of smoky, vegetal, and herbaceous flavors, all contained in an expectedly boozy, yet somehow creamy package.

Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi
Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi [$16.00] | Chicken liver paté, carrot & daikon pickles, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, sriracha aioli
This retooled bánh mì delivered. I was impressed by the spicing on the chicken as well as how the pâté imparted an earthiness to the sandwich, while herbs and pickles lightened the mood. Also crucial was that bread, which arrived soft, sweet, and toasty.

Shanghai Triple Onion Noodles
Shanghai Triple Onion Noodles [$7.00] | Fortified soy sauce, roasted onion oil, crispy fried onions
My second noodle dish came out fully imbued with the satisfying savoriness of burnt onion. I wouldn't have minded some more greenery to brighten things up, though.

Szechuan City
Szechuan City [$15.00] | Toki Whisky, Szechuan Peppercorn, Lemon, Soda
This long cocktail demonstrated a stone fruit-esque sweetness up front, followed up by the unmistakable taste of the Japanese whisky, with a very, very subtle Sichuan pepper spice coming in toward the rear.

Beef Rendang on a Roll
Beef Rendang on a Roll [$19.00] | Indonesian stewed beef, cabbage, pickled red onions
Soft, flossy shreds of slow-cooked beef were teeming with dark-toned flavors as well as the sweetness of coconut, with the zing of ginger and lemongrass providing a much-needed contrast. The veggies and herbs were of course also appreciated, while the bread was on point to boot.

Black Sesame Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats
Black Sesame Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats [$11.00] | Labneh whipped cream and stone fruit
Time for some dessert. A riff on Rice Krispies Treats brought out dense cubes of the cereal, perked up by nutty sesame, the lactic tang of that whipped cream, as well as pinpricks of salt.

Nola Baby
Nola Baby [$17.00] | Rye, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Fernet, Black Raspberry
The night's final cocktail was the booziest of the lot. Think super medicinal--like cherry-flavored 'Tussin--with countering notes of citrus, herbal amaro, and dark fruit.

Hojicha Tres Leches
Hojicha Tres Leches [$12.00] | Chocolate feuilletine, whipped cream, toasted rice powder
I'm a sucker for pastel de tres leches, so this was a must-try for me. It was a winner, one that effectively combined the roastiness of the green tea with the always-gratifying sweetness of the classic cake. Nice crunch from the bits of feuilletine on top, too.

I enjoyed the last iteration of The Airliner, and this new version is a worthy successor thanks to its inventive cocktail program and solid menu of what the Chef describes as "pan-Asian izakaya food." As for the bar's upstairs space, I was told that it's still being worked, and should debut sometime this year with its own bar and music programming. A welcomed readdition to the neighborhood.


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