Lukshon – Culver City, CA
For the most part, I shy away from new restaurant openings, figuring the eatery will need some time to get into the swing of things: for the service to get their rhythm going, for the kitchen to start consistently executing great dishes, and for the duds on the menu to get weeded out.
So I’m still scratching my head at how I ended up at Lukshon, Sang Yoon’s wildly-hyped upscale Asian restaurant, one chilly February evening, a mere week after it opened. But if tonight’s meal is anything to go by, I’m certain I’ll be making the drive over to Culver City over and over to try more of Sang Yoon’s unique upscale takes on comforting Asian food.
Shrimp Toast arrived first; I was expecting something closer to a traditional shrimp toast, but this ended up being more like fried shrimp balls.Much to my surprise, textures on these were perfect: a light, crisp, almost-airy shell gave way to a similarly light filling, one leaning closer to shrimp diced extremely fine instead of the usual shrimp paste. The balls sang with the oceanic sweetness of shrimp along with hints of cilantro and chili. And the little tub of sauce at the end? A pointless afterthought.
Given my Filipino/Chinese heritage, I couldn’t help but order a round of Duck Popiah. In the Philippines, popiah is called Lumpiang Sariwa and is essentially a fresh spring roll stuffed with minced heart of palm, shredded chicken, and crushed peanuts.Unfortunately, Lukshon’s version was mediocre at best. While the jicama did its best in imparting some brightness and a crisp texture to the dish, the best way to describe the overly-sweet textureless filling would be hoisin-flavored duck mush. And the wrapper, excessively flabby and lacking body, felt like it was trying to compete with the filling instead of holding the roll together.
At this point, I needed another drink to erase any memories of the duck popiah, and a Lukshon Sour sounded about right.Made with tamarind, lemon, kalamansi, and rye whiskey, it was Lukshon’s twist on a whiskey sour. I would’ve appreciated a bit less sugar as I like my drinks herbal and boozy, but the kalamansi, a citrus fruit somewhere between a lime and an orange and native to the Philippines, was the perfect foil to the rye.
The dish that arrived next, Squid with Ground Vietnamese Sausage, is likely the best dish at Lukshon. You cannot leave without trying this. As always, click any photo for a bigger picture, and you’ll be rewarded with a big picture of food porn.It’s so good I’m not even sure where to begin. The texture? Beyond fantastic. The bulbs of squid, so tightly stuffed with vietnamese sausage, literally snapped like a Bratwurst when I bit into them. The ground sausage, sweet, spicy, herbaceous, and loaded with umami, was so good it would silence the harshest critics. The sauce at the bottom tasted remarkably like a cilantro pesto, and when I asked our server what it was made of, he said “rau ram”, the peppery Vietnamese herb. I suspect the crispy bits of fried legs was just icing on the top, but they were so perfectly fried they disappeared within seconds.
A bowl of Mussels in Green Curry arrived next. I slurped up a mussel and followed it with a spoonful of sauce. The table suddenly grew quiet; this dish was unreal! The mussels, impossibly plump and fresh, didn’t have that musky metallic taste that stale mussels often do; the green curry sauce, intricately flavored with layers upon layers of sensual, fragrant spices, resulted in a aromatic detonation in my mouth. Fresh off the stratospheric highs of the previous squid dish, these mussels pushed me over the edge of decorum. I tried asking for bread to sop up the remaining sauce. The staff said no, so I proceeded drink the sauce straight from the bowl. Yes, it was that good. Yes, the couple sitting next to me must’ve thought I was drunk, on crack, and high.
The last savory course of the evening was described on the menu as Chiang Mai Curry Noodles. I interpreted this as Sang Yoon’s take on Khao Soi, a Chang Mai specialty that’s essentially a fiery bowl of crisp and soft noodles sitting in a spicy, creamy broth. While it wasn’t as good as the best khao soi I’ve ever had, it was a respectable effort especially after I asked for a few scoops of additional chili paste (sambal) to add into the broth. The soup was appropriately creamy with a strong heat, and the noodles, elastic and not in the least mushy, possessed great bite. While the shrimp was a bit overcooked (I wish they just let a raw shrimp sit in the hot broth to cook), the dish was still an overall success and a worthy final dish.
Desserts at Lukshon are complimentary but they’re good enough that I wouldn’t mind paying for them. Sure they’re a bit small but heck they’re free! One was a unique take on Vietnamese Ice Coffee, with crunchy chocolate bits sitting in between a coffee custard and condensed milk ice cream. The other was a piece of chocolate sitting next to the world’s smallest fortune cookie.
Jonathan Gold calls Lukshon “the new taste of Los Angeles cuisine”, and I couldn’t agree more. Sang Yoon presents Asian cuisine with a luxurious twist that feels like the result of something that’s been caught between the crossfires of the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills and the gritty Asian authenticity of the San Gabriel Valley. I’m sure I’ll be back soon, with more friends and bellies in tow.