Friday, October 12, 2007

J. Gold and Eating L.A. agree to disagree on Larkin's

now that's a lotta blue cheese dressing...
We love Jonathan Gold, his writing is irreverent and evocative and he has helped us all discover many many places we wouldn't have ferreted out ourselves. Our only quibble is that when you carefully read his reviews, it is sometimes very hard to tell which dishes are actually good at the restaurant. Take Larkin's: He was eating there the same night we were, so I imagine our experiences were fairly consistent. Reading his review this week, there's very few things that are actually recommended, although he does a great job of describing the ambiance. And perhaps our tastes differ, because I really didn't like those collard greens.
Anyway, here's my review from the Los Feliz Ledger, which is not available online.
Taste test: Larkin's
After several months of preview dinners, Larkin’s has finally settled comfortably into a craftsman bungalow at the outer edge of Eagle Rock. First time restaurateur Larkin Mackey has poured his soul into giving Northeast L.A. some down-home cooking, and Larkin’s has fast become a comfy hangout for the neighborhood, with lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends.
Sit outside on the pleasant wraparound porch of the 1920s cottage, or inside where the house’s former living room is warm with vintage paneling, framed photos and tables made from recycled painted doors. The quaint touches are charming, if not always successful. Mason jar glasses might work better as flower vases than as drinking vessels, and the glass-topped tables are slippery, with no placemats to keep giant plates of ribs from gliding precariously towards the edge.
The concept is contemporary soul food, and while it’s certainly understandable that a culinary school graduate with vegetarian leanings like Mackey would want to lighten and update the soul food canon, whether it’s what people really want to eat is harder to say.
The food is competent, but some dishes fall short of the flavor and comfort that define Southern cooking. Certainly no Southern grandma would serve a salad garnished with candied walnuts, goat cheese and pomegranate vinaigrette, but it might be a better choice than the iceberg lettuce wedge with a gluey blue cheese dressing that could use more tang.
Diners get a small bowl of “Southern caviar” made with black-eyed peas to nibble on while waiting, and main dishes are served with a basket of mini corn muffins. The pork ribs smell enticing as the sweet smoke drifts over the front porch, even though they’re just warmed up on a gas barbecue. At $20, it’s a big and meaty portion that could use some slow smoking so that the meat separates more easily from the bone. Fortunately the kitchen has a light hand with the barbecue sauce, and garlic mashed potatoes make a hearty side.
Catfish ($15) is perfectly fried with a crunchy cornmeal crust, but the tomatoes and peppers mixed into the accompanying greens have a spicy kick that doesn’t really mesh with the pungent collards. Other main dish choices include fried chicken, jambalaya and smothered pork chops.
Desserts, which include sweet potato pie and banana pudding, tend to be on the sweet side. Red velvet strawberry shortcake ($8) is an interesting idea, but doesn’t work when the red velvet cake is hard and dry. Blackberry/blueberry cobbler ($7) is served in a cup, with no evident crust, just something soggy and cakey at the bottom.
With a cozy setting and friendly service, Larkin’s is a welcome addition to the fast-growing Eagle Rock dining scene. Many locals, however, would embrace even more soul in the cooking – and maybe even some lard in the collard greens.

13 comments:

oddlyme said...

I too love Jonathan Gold - he got me to try Bollini's, which was great!

But I've got to say, yes, you're right - you couldn't quite tell what was truly great at Larkins - and for what they are charging, I'd want it to be a slam dunk!

Perhaps he was impressed with what they are trying to do and just wanted to honor that?

Pat said...

Exactly -- and I too think they're really trying and I want them to succeed. But for now, the cooking is wildly uneven, and I feel like someone should point that out.
And I'm looking forward to trying Bollini's!

brian said...

Perhaps the spotty cooking and service at Larkin's not only varies from night to night but also table to table or dish to dish. My few dining experiences there have all be schizophrenic like that, with some dishes being good, others being bad, and then returning to order the same dish that was once good, is no longer that good.

Joseph said...

I thought the collard greens at Larkins were some of the best I've ever had. I loved how spicy they were.

Dave R said...

I wholly enjoyed my meal at Larkins (especially that killer coconut cream cake) and cheerfully look forward to my next.

But I can understand the ambiguous comments and reviews. It is evident that Larkins is still finding its restaurant legs. It suffered from that awful, extended permit process before opening, which is enough to throw anyone off their best game. And isn't this the owners' first venture? If so, it's going to be a bit rocky.

So I suggest enjoying Larkins as what it is--a warm, friendly, local place that will only get better with experience.

Anonymous said...

Actually, both the reviews can be summed up identically: Larkin's is likeable, but some dishes are better than others.

Biffles said...

I agree that Larkin's is uneven...loved the catfish, was not crazy about the collards (and didn't like how defensive the host, Larkin's significant other, was when I asked about them), and one of my pieces of fried chicken was raw -- not half cooked, not juicy -- at the bone. A hazard with fried chicken, but not one I want on my plate.

Anonymous said...

Not a fan of the collards either... and agree hit or miss with food. When it hits it hits hard, when it misses, waa! Regardless, you leave the place totally charmed and won over. They really try to make you feel like you are in their home. It is one of the warmest and most welcoming resturants I have been to in LA.

christina said...

i love j. gold, but i'm with you on this one, pat.
http://exeuntomnes.vox.com/library/post/coulda-been-better-brunch-at-larkins.html

christina said...

what i thought of larkins

Tokyoastrogirl said...

That blue cheese dressing looks like cottage cheese.....not so appetizing. I'd like to try their fried chicken but not much else.

Anonymous said...

I think most of you have not been to a soul food spot before, service, there is usually no such thing. You get your food on plastic and hope for the best, maybe its a cultural thing and only Mr. Gold is experianced enough to compare. It is now my favorite spot in La la land and Mr. Gold does it justice, did you read the article or are you offended cuz he disagreed with you. I love it. I have been going since the tastings, and all of my family and friends do too!

Anonymous said...

I live in eagle rock and I really want Larkin's to succeed but I can't go there anymore. the food is the blandest of the bland and I've been there several times. I love the ambiance, the staff and the whole vibe of the place, but the food is just not up to much. Also, drinking wine from jam jars is disgusting.