One of our last big trips prior to the season premiere of Covid was a week-long stay in Los Angeles that had me going to meetings while Akemi walked the empty streets of West Hollywood (devoid of all foot traffic outside of the occasional aggressive street person). We checked out a number of great restaurants during that visit, but one of our very favorites was Nightshade under the culinary direction of James Beard nominee Chef Mei Lin (winner of Top Chef season 12). So when we heard that Chef Lin would be taking over the kitchen at local Lee Restaurant for two nights, we immediately booked a table. Then last night, we sat down for our first set menu special event in…oh…two years?
Oyster & Yuzu Ginger Mignonette – I prefer my oysters au naturel but the yuzu-ginger was a nice, subtle compliment here. I haven’t had a kusshi oyster since the last time we were in Vancouver (back in 2016?).
Choux a la Char Siu Pork – Wow. These little pastries packed an unexpected punch of flavor, redolent with the distinct aroma of the dim sum staple.
A pleasant surprise – as was the almost half dozen different pronunciations of “char sui” on the night.
Foie Gras & Truffle Rice-Stuffed Chicken Wings with Kaluga Caviar – Akemi likes neither foie gras nor truffle so, when she saw this on the menu, she assumed she’d only try a bite (while I assumed I’d be happily polishing off the rest). But just like the oyster mignonette, the ingredients of the dish complimented rather than overpowered the star. Sadly, Akemi ate her entire wing. The accompaniment of the Kaluga caviar (a sustainable alternate to Beluga) may seem like an odd pairing, but it goes surprisingly well with fried chicken. In fact, the fried chicken and caviar combo is a feature item on the Momofuku menu.
Savory Donut and Whipped Cream Curry Tofu – Possibly the greatest tofu dish I’ve ever eaten, it had the consistency of soft cheese (perfect for dipping!) with a nice, underlying herbaceousness from the kaffir limes.
Roasted Carrot & Pea Wontons “French Onion Broth” – The wontons were great but the broth was the real star here, gloriously intense in flavor which, our guest, Dr. Blackjack, likened to an haute-style Tokyo shoyu ramen.
Crispy Octopus, Charred Garlic Chive Labne, Black Garlic Potatoes – This was actually my second octopus main in as many nights, but this was the superior version – sweet, sour, salty, and savory.
Rose Lychee Sorbet, Raspberry, Caramelized with Chocolat Ganache – I’m not a huge fan of fruit and/or tart desserts, so I assumed I’d be having a bite and leaving the rest to Akemi who assumed she’d be having TWO desserts on the night. As it turned out, both of us assumed incorrectly. As I said, I’m usually not a fruit (or floral) dessert guy, but the rose-raspberry flavor profile reminded me of the Ispahan desserts that were all the rage in Japan on our last trip. Also, it was a beautifully executed dish.
Akemi declared this dessert the best thing she’s eaten all year. She talked about it so much today that I offered to book a table for the second and final night of Chef Lin’s Toronto tour. She ultimately said no. But she was tempted!
Chef Lin stopped by the table at the end of our meal and mentioned she’s opened a Szechuan fried chicken restaurant in L.A.!
Looking forward to checking this out – and return visit to Nightshade – on our next trip to L.A.!